The #METOO and #TIMESUP Movements have brought inspiration to women and men across the world. It’s generated tributes to women through television, red carpet events and music. Time magazine even named its annual person of the year “the silence breakers” who spoke out about sexual harassment in their workplaces.

A Tale of Inspiration and Transformation

For Avalon Hester, it helped educate her about women she never heard of. And it inspired her to make a dress.

Avalon Hester modeling her creation; Photo by Zaela Newcomb

Hester, 19, looked to the forgotten women of history in The New York Time’s series “Overlooked,” which gives obituaries for historical women the Time’s didn’t write during the time of their death. Hester featured the faces of these “Overlooked” women on a dress she made for her final project at an arts school.

The project was for the Oxbow School, a single-semester arts school in Napa, California.  The school, founded in 1998, allows gap-year students and high school juniors and seniors to attend.

Hester’s project wasn’t originally conceived as a dress. She started by painting portraits of the women in “Overlooked” whom she found inspiring. The women featured on Hester’s dress include Margaret Abbott, the first American woman to win an Olympic championship, and Qiu Jin, a Chinese revolutionary, feminist and poet.

A New Concept of Fashion

It took Hester two weeks to complete her dress. It included stitching seven oil and acrylic canvas paintings, each 27 inches wide, together. Surprisingly, Hester told The New York Times she doesn’t consider herself a seamstress and had never really sewn before this colossal project. But that didn’t stop her from adding newspaper clippings from #MeToo-related New York Times articles to the dress’s skirt. In total, the dress weighed 12 pounds.

The New York Times began its “Overlooked” series in March 2018, as women’s rights and sexual harassment protests bubbled over into the mainstream. In the more than 167 years of printing history of The New York Times, only 15 percent of its obituaries have been of women. This series was conceived to make up for ignoring revolutionary women of their times, like Charlotte Brontë and Ida B. Wells, while celebrating the women of today.

“This piece used that project to talk about our culture of dismissing women, and how the vulnerability of sharing experiences can abolish it,” she wrote on her Instagram about her dress.

If you look into Avalon Hester’s Instagram, it’s no surprise her final project had such a feminist message. Her page features original drawings of legendary women from Malala Yousafzai to Wonder Woman.

An Engaging Artist

This isn’t the first time Hester’s art has made headlines. On the last performance with the original cast of Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton,” Hester stood outside the musical’s theatre and painted a 72-inch-tall oil pastel portrait of the show’s writer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Hester plans to go to the University of Washington and said she puts great value in her schooling. “I think when you get a well-rounded education it makes your art a lot cooler,” she told The New York Times.

While her piece was about women of the past, Hester told The New York Times some of her inspiration came from the artists of today. Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, who each recently created official portraits for Barack and Michelle Obama, inspired her to explore storytelling through portraits “What are the underappreciated stories that relate to my own life?” she said.