When a small group of parishioners at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, began a discussion on sexual harassment led by parishioner and artist Elin Whitney-Smith, the number of incidents revealed by the assembled males and females per person numbered anywhere from one to over 100 cumulating in over 1,350 total. Shocked and grieved by the number of both the people and incidents revealed, the parish felt they must pursue an effective, non-judgmental and hopefully healing message to show compassion for the intensity and the volume in a therapeutic way.
Despite the impact of the #MeToo movement, a massive number of people are still uncomfortable admitting and speaking about their personal experiences. The people at St. Mark’s wanted to provide a sense of well-being to anyone who had been abused.
What could they do?
Whitney-Smith decided to make origami owls.
“That’s when ‘The Owls are Watching’ started,” she explained. “I wanted it to be a demonstration, a proof that sexual harassment happens every day, everywhere. I wanted it to be owls because owls are symbols of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. They are silent, ever-watchful flyers, so you won’t know when they are watching, and they rid the world of vermin. I also wanted the project to be fun, cheerful and healing.”
The number of owls created mirrored the over 1,350 instances providing a visual of the persecution within the healing process of paper folding and the Japanese belief in owls as protectors, givers of fortune and the symbol of great knowledge.
The owls symbolize the message that those who have experienced sexual harassment are not alone, are not to blame and are believed. The parishioners aimed to build solidarity within the beautiful and thoughtful exhibit.
Thus, in the beginning of 2019 the church, entrances, windows and parish hall displayed the over 1,350 parishioners’ origami owls.
Strangers off the street as well as attendees at numerous St. Mark’s services and gatherings observed and admired the owls. Many found a sense of solace and camaraderie while immersing themselves in the therapeutic feeling of restorative beauty.
Editor’s Note: As this blog was being prepared for publication, Elin Whitney-Smith was traveling to Indiana where she will be doing an owl-folding, spreading this important message even further.
Special thanks to our author, Grace Aspinall, who took the photographs for this heartwarming piece.
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About Our Author
Grace Aspinall was born and raised in Williamstown, Massachusetts where she was a freelance journalist, photo-journalist and photographer for many years. She currently lives in Clifton, Virginia, and pursues her passions for her horse, her husband, her photography and her grandchildren. Grace has a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Skidmore College and Master’s of Arts in Corporate Communications from Norwich University. During her years in Metro Washington DC she exhibits her talent for technical writing on numerous government contracts.