Photo Taken by Class and Style Productions
Janelle Washington is a self-taught paper-cut and silhouette from Richmond, Virginia. She graduated from VCU with a BFA in Fashion Design and worked as a children's wear designer for 12 years. While designing, she found interest in paper cutting after being presented with an opportunity to display other artistic talents during a company show and tell presentation. Creating with paper proved to be quite an exciting concept, and after extensive research, she designed and made her first paper cut.
Through the simplicity of paper, Janelle creates images that showcase African Americans' courage, achievements, and grace in difficult situations. In addition, her work explores Black culture, history, identity, family, and feminine beauty themes.
She has commissioned silhouettes housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and art installations at the historic St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. In addition, Janelle's silhouettes have been published in the Oprah magazine, September 2020 issue for the #SayHerName campaign featuring Breonna Taylor. She was also interviewed and featured in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper by the 2021 Pultizer Prize Winner, Michael Paul Williams.
Janelle made her debut as a picture book illustrator, winning the 2023 Caldecott Honor Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for Choosing Brave.
Janelle is a member of The Guild of American Papercutters, Artist/Scholars of Color Collective, Art Impact USA, Inc., and Ikouii. Janelle currently lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband while enjoying reading sci-fi and fiction books from the library and researching new paper-cut ideas.
Using paper as my medium, I unearth forgotten or untold stories that highlight the struggles and perseverance of Black people in America. I explore themes of history, identity, family, and feminine beauty in Black culture.
Working with a simple sheet of black or white paper and a box of blades, I cut multifaceted designs to weave stories of strength, perseverance, and pride. Using paper reminds me of my ancestors and how a transformation can occur from humble beginnings, creating something extraordinary. Drawing on history and poetry, I collaborate with poets like Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks by allowing their words and poetic rhythms to influence my work. With these influences, I sometimes incorporate details like thread, gold leaf, painted backgrounds, and tissue paper infills to reflect the different shades of melanin and to add a present-day point of view to my paper cut designs.
My work represents the act of understanding and appreciating those that came before me, giving space to their struggles and achievements while highlighting the joy and beauty of being Black in America.
Photo Taken by Jeffery Albright- PBF