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Grace Hilliard-Koshinsky demonstrating a technique on a steel teddy bear of inflation which she learned from mentor Elizabeth Brim. This technique involves inflating fabricated thin gauge metal like a balloon while it's red hot in order to achieve a desired fabric effect.

Grace Hilliard-Koshinsky has woven a life at the intersection of art and child welfare. She herself is a former foster child and adoptee from the Ohio child-welfare system. “For most people, those are two disparate professions, but they are actually very connected for me,” she said.

Since graduating from Columbus College of Art & Design with a Fine Arts degree in 2009, Hilliard-Koshinsky has gone on to pursue art and creativity through many channels — she teaches metalsmithing, she is a sculptor and sometimes a painter, and has multiple roles in nonprofit organizations that support and advocate for current and former foster youth. She doesn’t do the term “day job.”

I understand where people are coming from when they think of what it’s like to be an artist," she said. "But that’s not how I divide my life, and I would encourage people not to do so either, because it’s really limiting."
Hilliard-Koshinsky wearing a Baby Bjorn. Neglect was welded, fabricated and inflated out of 20-gauge steel. “Some of my work is about being left and some of my work is about what you take with you physically and psychologically,” she said.

Hilliard-Koshinksy credits several CCAD teachers, including professors Doug Norman, Kelly Malec-Kosak, and Arthur Wang for propelling her to develop and expand her practice.

“Kelly was extremely formative,” Hilliard-Koshinsky said. “She was someone who was talking about objects and putting the pieces we were making into historical context. You can’t just ignore that part as far as how people are reading your work.”

Most of the objects Hilliard-Koshinsky creates today are made of metal. She discovered metalsmithing at CCAD, with Malec-Kosak, and focused on it during her master’s degree work at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “I’m a metalsmith from a steel town,” she said. She’s the kind of person who took photos of “crusty, beautiful pieces of rust” on a road trip through Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls. Her objects often contemplate the tension between permanence (the material) and transience (the shape of a duffel bag or suitcase). It’s heavy stuff — literally and symbolically. She turns to two-dimensional work sometimes (watercolors, portraits) as “a respite or deep inhale/exhale. Portraits are about appreciating people and reveling in that.”

Universal Luggage
Universal Luggage of Foster Care is a suitcase built on a steel armature with an exterior of quilted, branded Hefty 30-gallon trash liners.

Hilliard-Koshinsky entered graduate school believing she would be a jeweler. But her thesis advisor encouraged her to loosen her grip and instead allow her practice to lead her.

“I don’t think anyone should go to graduate school unless they’re prepared to cash in a several-years commitment for intense personal introspection,” she said. “My work is about being estranged from community and experiences. Grad school also forced me to talk about things I wasn’t comfortable with. What is the heart of the matter? If you haven’t resolved that, you can’t talk to other people. If you can’t resonate with people, you’re just making art for art’s sake.”

Hilliard-Koshinsky is closing out the most lucrative year yet for her sculpture practice; she made more this year than any previous year, mostly on commissions won through years of building a strong professional network. How does she keep all her many proverbial balls in the air? She’s devised a color-coding system that lets her see how her hours are being spent.

“You can’t just expect that things are going to happen if you don’t make time. I’m the kind of person who will fit in going to the studio between 4 and 7 a.m. It sustains me; it doesn’t drain me,” she said. “You have to be a project manager of your life. I guess for me it’s about living intentionally.”

Grace unveiling MassNFCA Connect during an Annual Thanksgiving dinner for former foster youth and friends of foster care in Massachusetts. MassNFCA Connect is the first online platform of its kind, functioning as a combination of Yelp, LinkedIn, and MeetUp for current and former foster youth.

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