Sacred Heart alumna lives out Goal Three through storytelling

One of Ms. Irwin's monotypes in progess.
Courtesy of instagram.com/girwinart

One of Ms. Irwin's monotypes in progess. Courtesy of instagram.com/girwinart

Sacred Heart Greenwich’s newest artist-in-residence, alumna Ms. Genevieve Irwin ’08, is displaying her artwork and shedding light on the importance of protecting endangered animals through her children’s book Zolushka. The exhibit is located in Sacred Heart’s Mclaughlin Gallery and will show Ms. Irwin’s art until April 7.

Ms. Genevieve Irwin ’08 showcased her art at the opening reception for the exhibit.
Daisy Steinthal ’19

Throughout the month of March, Ms. Irwin will lead gallery talks, teach students about creative writing and illustration, and display her graduate school thesis, a nonfiction children’s book telling the story of an endangered tiger cub named Zolushka. The gallery exhibit focuses on the book and features her sketches and final illustrations, as well as the reference photographs she used while creating her art.
Ms. Irwin graduated from Sacred Heart in 2008 and went on to receive a bachelor of comparative literature and visual arts degree from Princeton University. Following her studies at Princeton, she worked at an architecture firm where she created watercolor renderings of the building designs.

 I enjoyed the process of creating an image that served a specific purpose and liked the challenge of bringing to life someone else’s vision, but I also missed being able to tell a greater range of stories,” Ms. Irwin said. 

Ms. Irwin’s illustrated alphabet. Courtesy of genevieveirwin.carbonmade.com

Ms. Irwin then shifted her studies to storytelling and illustration. She attended the Royal Drawing School in London, and she is currently earning a master’s degree in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

She wrote two books during her studies in illustration. The first is unpublished and tells the story of the childhood of the grandfather of a family friend growing up in India. As a part of the book, she created an illustrated alphabet which paired each letter with an Indian animal or plant.

Last May, she self-published a collection of illustrations and stories she created while sitting in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, titled “Mornings in the Garden.” Zolushka is, however, her first book for children. She decided that a children’s book was the best way to tell her story and raise awareness about these endangered tigers because she wanted to make an impact on a perceptive audience.

“When I think about the art form that has influenced me most in my life, it has been children’s books. The images from these stories have stuck with me my entire life and have shaped the way in which I understand the world,” Ms. Irwin said.

Ms. Irwin is using her thesis to challenge her artistic abilities and to push herself creatively. Although she primarily works with watercolor to create paintings, for this book she is using monotype printing to create the illustrations.

One of Ms. Irwin’s monotypes in progress.
Courtesy of instagram.com/girwinart

Monotype printing involves spreading an oil based paint onto plexiglass, then using different tools to scrape away the paint to create a design. Ms. Irwin then rolls the plexiglass through a special printing press to create the image.

I knew that I wanted to experiment with making monotypes, which are suited to texture, bold color, and movement. Illustrating a book about tigers in a dramatic landscape seemed like a perfect subject matter for the medium,” Ms. Irwin said.

The book tells the true story of Zolushka, an orphan Amur tiger cub, dubbed the Tiger Princess because she shares her name with the Russian language’s equivalent of Cinderella. Amur tigers are native to Eastern Russia and are extremely endangered. Only around 400 Amur tigers remain outside of captivity. Through her story, Ms. Irwin hopes to bring focus to this problem and encourage people to help save these tigers from extinction.

When studying fine art in college, I loved the process of making paintings, but I struggled to figure out how my work could serve a wider community. I was drawn to Zolushka’s story primarily because I was touched by the devotion of the individuals who raised her and wanted their efforts to be celebrated,” Ms. Irwin said.

Two hunters found Zolushka alone and nearly frozen in the snow. They brought her to a local wildlife organization, which treated her for severe hypothermia. Although Zolushka was only four months old at the time, the hunters found her completely alone. The wildlife organization caring for her believes that poachers killed her mother and left Zolushka in the snow to die, according to thewildlife.wbur.org.
Once she was back in good health, the organization brought Zolushka to the Bastak Nature Reserve in Eastern Russia. The reserve had not seen an Amur tiger in 40 years, making Zolushka’s journey even more miraculous. Zolushka’s story is a model for tiger rehabilitation all throughout Russia. Her story illustrates that with proper care, wildlife organizations can save this tiger breed and others like it from extinction.

Ms. Genevieve Irwin ’08 explaining her thesis project to one of her old teachers, Dr. William Mottolese.
Daisy Steinthal ’19

“This is a story not just about one young tigress surviving and returning to the wild, but about recolonizing an area where tigers no longer exist,” the head of the Russia Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society Mr. Dale Miquelle said, according to thewildlife.wbur.org.

Ms. Irwin relates her work back to the social education she gained at Sacred Heart. The ideals of social awareness she learned at Sacred Heart motivate her to promote change and raise awareness for these animals and the people who care for them.

“Sacred Heart helped instill in me the sense of being part of a global community, which has influenced the subject matter and motivation behind my work. The more I learn about Amur tigers and the dedication of the individuals who are working to protect them, the more motivated I feel to support their cause and to get others interested,” Ms. Irwin said. 

During her residency, Ms. Irwin will also be speaking in the gallery and visiting students to talk about her experience pursuing a career in the arts. Ms. Irwin explained that a career in the arts can come in many different forms and students should be open to the different ways they can use their talents. Ms. Irwin hopes that she can influence students by showing them that a career in the arts is a realistic goal.

“I look forward to engaging with a new generation of students and encouraging their own creative pursuits,” Ms. Irwin said. “One of the biggest lessons that I have learned over the past few years is that people respond the most to pieces that you enjoyed making. When thinking about a career in the arts, it is important to consider your audience, but it is equally important not to lose sight of your own vision.”

-Daisy Steinthal, Staff Writer