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The Receptacle Project: An Artistic Work in Progress

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June 8, 2021

By James Carsey–

The Receptacle Project, created by Dobbs Ferry artist Harriet Cherry Cheney, doesn’t quite fit into one particular artistic medium. You won’t see oil on canvas, charcoal lines, or clay modeling in this piece, but it’s just as thought-provoking and full of texture as any other piece of artwork.

Cheney’s work is a bit more conceptual. Uplifting handwritten notes from the public are sealed into recycled Quaker Oats cannisters and then embellished with found objects, beads, and woven or sewn textiles.  Cheney interconnects the cannisters by color, design, and texture. The process, which is known as assemblage, has been around for decades and uses everyday objects to create 3-D works of art.

Perhaps the best way to understand the Receptacle Project is to look back at Cheney’s earliest inspiration for it. February 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic was wreaking havoc on the world. The political climate in the United States was super-charged and the nation was divided down the middle. Cheney, who has always been politically active, started to feel helpless as she watched things fall apart in society. Because of quarantine measures and new public health guidelines of social distancing she was unable to help the current situation through political activism, and that affected her negatively.

Hoping to rebound from the gloominess of the pandemic, Cheney came up with the idea of collecting positive written messages from people and placing them into handmade receptacles. “It was the humblest plan I could come up with at the time,” she said. The busywork of collecting the oatmeal containers, finding contributors, and sourcing textile and found objects distracted her from the world events.

Cheney holds an unwavering belief that art heals. Her Receptacle Project attempts to counter all of the negativity from the pandemic, recent political turmoil, and tragic national events.  “People are forgetting how to be human. There is so much hate, cynicism, and sarcasm in the world. People just want to tear everyone down; it’s sad,” Cheney said. “In many ways it’s the anti-snark movement.”

She hopes that the collective positive energy generated from the handwritten notes will elevate the human consciousness and make the world a better place one positive message at a time. According to Cheney, the Receptacle Project is a deliberate work in progress with no end date in sight. She’s committed to making the receptacles as long as the positive messages keep pouring in.  “I started just a few months ago with nine receptacles and I currently have 37. I’ll stop when the messages stop,” Cheney said.

Cheney uses art to deliver her message of positivity. It’s conceptual, timely, and it feels authentic, mostly because it doesn’t have that blind optimism found in many change the world messages. The project feels like less of a cliché and more of a necessity because of our turbulent times. Cheney is hoping for the best. “It’s an experiment in humanity,” she said chuckling, “Do you think it’s possible? I think it’s possible”

The artist at work

For anyone wanting to take part in the social experiment, Cheney suggests starting with a little self-exploration before writing the words. “Focus on your inner concerns, hopes, dreams, and good intentions. Take a moment to think about how you want to grow as a person. How you want to be a more tolerant, patient, and loving,” she said. The note should be sealed or placed in a smaller envelope. According to the artist, privacy is maintained. The notes will not be displayed, read, or photographed.


To contribute to the Receptacle Project mail your message to:

The Receptacle Project

P.O. Box 117

Ardsley, New York 10502-0117

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