Jane Washburn

Collection of the Lowe Art Museum
Gift of the Artist
Location: Frost School of Music, Pick Music Library

Lowe Art Museum Collection

In the beginning, there was Chaos, the abyss. Out of it first emerged Gaia, the earth, which is the foundation of all. - Hesiod, Theogony, ca. 700 BCE *** 

Jane Washburn’s Genesis was added to the Lowe’s permanent collection in 1958, making it one of the Museum’s earliest acquisitions. Indeed, the University Art Gallery (as the Lowe was originally known) was inaugurated only eight years before the work was accessioned into the embryonic museum’s rapidly growing collection. 1958 is also the same year that Washburn carved this figure from limestone, suggesting that the piece was acquired directly from the artist. As its name suggests, Genesis is clearly a meditation on creation. The title may lead those familiar with the Judeo-Christian tradition to assume that the sculpture personifies God’s creation of the world and all its creatures—including the first man and first woman—as recounted in “Genesis,” the first book of the Old Testament. But the work also lends itself to a much broader, more nuanced interpretation.

All societies across time and space have origin or creation stories. Life springs from chaos or darkness or mud or the murky depths with the same outcome: the genesis of humanity and all that entails (see, e.g., Creation Stories from around the World). Thus, the figure—who is assuredly human but whose gender is ambiguous—represents all of us, including those who came before and those who will follow. This universal theme reminds us of the ties that bind all living creatures to one another as well as to our shared Mother Earth. It also reminds us that, literally and metaphorically, art is what makes us human.

Student Works Inspired By Genesis

Kyle Norris

The sculpture I chose to musically “sculpt” was Jane Washburn’s Genesis. The sculpture, to me, looks reminiscent of a person crouching and covering themselves—showing no facial features. Using body language, I knew that my musical composition would embody characteristics such as depression, anxiety, stress, and sadness. I needed a minor key for this circumstance, hence F minor. The melancholy acoustic guitars in the beginning are an introduction to this person’s sorrow. The bass comes in after the first cycle of the first chord progression, adding more weight to the feeling of sadness. The main theme now comes into play with the lead guitar. It starts out with a slow tempo phrase, attempting to evoke the message: “Help me”. After this phrase ends, the next phrase was intended to model the character giving up and as a result, ending it all. At the end of this phrase, the lead guitar starts picking up speed drastically with many notes to meet the drums as it comes in. This sudden slew of musical notes with the dynamics of the drums was intended to symbolize the character’s mind racing, but this time with anxiety. A panic attack is happening. The character is shaking and clinching his arms tighter. The final phrase is now slow, much like the opening phrase of the theme. At the end of this phrase, each bend of the guitar string symbolizes a gasp of air. The final bend of the lead guitar is a last call for help. As the acoustic and bass guitars fade, so does the character’s mind as it relaxes and sobs quietly. I wanted to make a story arc with the character in the sculpture, and really capture the emotions that I felt when observing the sculpture. The lead guitar would act as the lyrics of the instrumental, to hopefully portray the sadness and other emotions the sculpture might've felt.