Hannah Werchan (BFA '19)

Photo of TWU student Hannah Werchan
Hannah Werchan, a 22-year-old art student at TWU and the first prize winner of the 2018 VSA Emerging Young Artists Competition.

For Hannah Werchan, art doesn’t imitate life. Life inspires art.

The senior art student at Texas Woman’s University has created an entire series of self-portrait oil paintings that can attest to that.

Werchan, 22, has a rare congenital disorder called Stickler Syndrome. It is manifested by bone and joint abnormalities, hearing and sight loss, and chronic pain. It is her experiences with the disorder that serve as the foundation for her painting series. One of the paintings, which she named “Growth,” won first prize --- $10,000 --- in the Kennedy Center’s 2018 VSA Emerging Young Artists Competition. The contest recognizes the work of artists with disabilities between 16 and 25 years old.

She traveled to Washington, D.C., this month to be recognized for the award and to take part in a professional development workshop along with 14 other finalists. Her winning artwork will be exhibited in a year-long national tour beginning this month and ending in November 2019.

“I am so drawn to portraiture and figures because I have so many issues with my body,” Werchan says. “So I like being able to put that on a canvas.”

Although there is no cure for Stickler Syndrome, Werchan’s symptoms are treated through a combination of surgeries, therapy and pain management. “After 21 surgeries, I wanted to raise awareness about this rare disorder. I find art to be a powerful and dynamic medium to showcase these aspects surrounding Stickler Syndrome,” Werchan says.

I am so drawn to portraiture and figures because I have so many issues with my body. So I like being able to put that on a canvas.

Her enthusiasm and her hard work have caught the attention of faculty. Her TWU painting professor and adviser, Gary Washmon, said that Werchan is a model student. “She is very demanding of herself and always sets the bar very high, producing artwork that is powerful, personal, and always executed with great deal of skill and care. Hannah has an amazing, positive attitude and is very brave and open in dealing with her disabilities in her work,” Washmon says.

Werchan is currently pursuing her bachelor of fine arts degree in art with a concentration in painting and drawing, and is scheduled to graduate in May 2019. She then plans to begin graduate school at TWU the following semester. Eventually, she’d like to teach art at the high school or university level, she says.

She acknowledges the challenges of living with a disorder that will only get progressively worse, but she stays positive knowing that she can express herself freely through her art.

“There are days that are definitely harder than others, but life is too short to throw yourself a pity party,” Werchan says, laughing.

After 21 surgeries, I wanted to raise awareness about this rare disorder. I find art to be a powerful and dynamic medium to showcase these aspects surrounding Stickler Syndrome.

Hannah Werchan's winning painting,
Hannah Werchan's winning painting, "Growth," is an impressionistic self-portrait that conveys her experience living with Stickler Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder.

Page last updated 9:01 AM, September 14, 2018