How Hannah Gaffney Weaves Her Jewish Heritage



April 9, 2024

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Havurah on March 26, 2024.

Hannah Gaffney, an emerging artist from Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, is currently enrolled at The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where she is honing her skills in Fiber. Her portfolio ranges from mixed media collage to bookbinding, weaving to illustrative pattern design and more. Drawing heavily on the textures and tales of found photos, antique trinkets, and family traditions, Gaffney sees her art as an extension of herself. A way to “express my energy and find a deeper meaning in my art throughout the creation process,” she shared with Havurah.

Art provided a vital lifeline for Gaffney during her high school years, a time clouded by her battle with chronic Lyme disease. “Art was the only thing that I consistently felt the motivation to pursue. If I wasn’t creating, I was thinking about why that was, and what spark of curiosity I could follow to lead me to my next project,” Gaffney recounted. This period not only tested her resilience but also deepened her connection to her craft, teaching her the importance of process over style.

Gaffney’s journey into integrating her Jewish identity with her art began relatively recently. “It wasn’t until about a year ago that I began incorporating Judaism into my art,” she noted. The escalation of antisemitism, particularly following the events of October 7th, spurred Gaffney to use her art as a form of resistance and expression. “Since the horrific events of October 7th, I feel ever-present in my Jewish identity and my need to express that,” she told us, emphasizing her commitment to not let antisemitism silence her creative voice.

“I’m not going to sit back and let the world diminish my existence; I’m going to express the truest forms of myself in my art and let the anti-Semites know that I won’t be quiet.”

Her engagement with the Jewish community, both through Hillel at SCAD and online via Havurah, has provided a nurturing environment for her artistic and personal growth. Gaffney’s latest creation, a piece for Hillel and Havurah, showcases her innovative approach to Jewish art through the medium of laser-cut leather, inspired by traditional Jewish paper cutting. This piece, deeply reflective of her Jewish identity and family history, also serves as a poignant commentary on the current climate of antisemitism. Gaffney decided to retain the smoke residue from the laser cutting on the leather, explaining, “I decided to keep the burning and residue as it speaks to the horrendous acts that were and are endured by the Jewish people as well as how in the face of hatred, we always find beauty in our interconnectedness.”

Hannah Gaffney’s artistic narrative is one of resilience, innovation, and the powerful blend of personal and cultural exploration. Through her art, she not only navigates her own identity and experiences but also offers a voice of strength and beauty in the face of adversity. Her work is a vibrant contribution to the ongoing dialogue of Jewish identity in the arts, standing as a beacon of creativity and resilience.