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The Bodice Project: Exhibit features entire collection of breast cancer-inspired sculptures

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Sep 4, 2020

Shepherdstown artist Cynthia Fraula-Hahn, right, poses with her friend Lou Ann Thompson, beside the sculpture Fraula-Hahn made in honor of Thompson's fight with breast cancer, in The Bodice Project exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Jeff Taylor for the Chronicle

SHEPHERDSTOWN — In 2014, Shepherdstown artist Cynthia Fraula-Hahn decided that after helping with the Identity Crisis fundraiser for four years, she wanted to increase community awareness of it and its beneficiary organization, Breast Cancer Awareness-Cumberland Valley, by placing breast cancer-inspired art in the German Street storefront windows. The art exhibit drew so much attention that Fraula-Hahn realized she could develop it into something larger.

Today, the Bodice Project features 23 sculptures created by 16 local artists, including Fraula-Hahn, who recently added a sculpture, titled “The Golden Thread,” inspired by breast cancer survivor and her longtime friend, Lou Ann Thompson.

“She’s a dear friend. I was her advocate and with her every step of the way. I went with her to all her appointments in Winchester,” Fraula-Hahn said of Thompson. “Lou Ann was my catalyst to begin making the sculptures back in 2014 to support Identity Crisis. She was the inspiration to keep pursuing this concept.”

While Fraula-Hahn has spent her life creating art, this exhibit has taken off like none other she has been a part of. It has been shown in locations across the country, from the American Association for Cancer Research 2018 conference in Chicago, Ill. to Popodicon.

Currently, it is on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley through Nov. 1. This is the first time all of the project’s pieces have been on display together, as most locations are too small to accommodate the entire collection.

“One opportunity after another after another came, and we became The Bodice Project and then we became a nonprofit,” Fraula-Hahn said of the 501(c)3 organization. “Every time we put the exhibit up, we got a great response.

“Each piece is dedicated to a particular survivor that each artist worked with,” Fraula-Hahn said, mentioning the exhibit features both male and female breast cancer survivors. “The whole reason for The Bodice Project is to examine ‘Who am I now after surviving breast cancer?’ because doctors can’t heal the emotional scars.”

According to Fraula-Hahn, each piece is intended to reflect the survivor it was inspired by. Her recently completed sculpture features apple blossoms, because of Thompson’s 35-year involvement in the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Va.

“You’re seeing the pieces by all of these different artists, and each story is so unique!” Fraula-Hahn said, mentioning most of the models have chosen to remain anonymous, although parts of their stories are shared with their sculptures. “Each person’s diagnosis is unique, and each person’s journey is individual — it’s so personal, what happened before, during and afterwards.”

While Fraula-Hahn recognizes many of Shepherdstown’s long-time residents have seen pieces from the show before, she said the current exhibit has taken the project to a new level.

“When I saw it for the first time, it was like a dream come true — it was like we had reached a pinnacle,” Fraula-Hahn said, mentioning a friend of hers, Dr. Lori Gavinetz, raised the funds needed to make the exhibit happen.

“We decided to bring The Bodice Project to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley because it addresses an important audience, one that we had not engaged specifically in a special exhibition before,” said MSV Community Relations Deputy Director Julie Armel. “Breast cancer is a battle that many of us are familiar with today, whether that be from personal experience, a loved one, a friend or a colleague. We thought this was a great opportunity to serve those that are fighting or have fought this disease, to show that others are aware of what they are going through, that they are not alone.

“The Bodice Project is a wonderful example of how artists can use their talents to share their experiences and help others cope with issues impacting their lives. This exhibition promotes a message of acceptance, perseverance and healing. It takes something frightening or traumatic, and transforms it into thought-provoking demonstration of strength and resilience,” Armel said. “This is art that moves you.”

To learn more visit https://www.themsv.org.