Artist Interview with Hanako O’Leary

Published: December 13, 2023

Categories: Artist Stories | Artists | Fall Campaign | Featured

“Artist Trust has played a major role in helping establish myself as an artist.”


Our support for artists is powered by fundraising! As part of our effort to raise $200,000 before the end of the year, we are sharing interviews with artists from across Washington State. We ask about their hopes for the future and how we can best support artists. Read more below and make a gift today

This week we spoke with 2023 Artist Trust Fellowship Award recipient Hanako O’Leary. Hanako is a craft-based sculptor and installation artist. She was born and raised by her Japanese mother and American father in the American Midwest. She grew up speaking Japanese at home, but English in school and everywhere else. Until Hanako turned 18, every year, for 2 months during the summer, her mother Sumiko brought her and her siblings back to their maternal home in the Seto Inlet Sea of Japan. This deeply influenced her spiritual beliefs, artistic voice, and feminine ideals. 

Building off this personal history, Hanako looks to Japanese folk traditions of the Setonaikai Islands as a basis for her artwork. Through handmade objects, installations, and storytelling, Hanako explores this relationship with her matriarchal lineage and the complexities of feminine love, sexuality, and power. 

Her major artistic accomplishments include solo shows in galleries such as Method, Edmonds Community College, King Street Station, and most recently Frye art Museum and Gallery 4Culture. Major awards include the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture City Artist Grant, Bernie Funk Fellowship, Robert B. McMillen Grant, Neddy Award Finalist, and Artist Trust Fellowship. 

What has Artist Trust’s support meant to you?

Artist Trust has helped me in many ways, not just financially. I have been invited to panels, community gatherings, and focus groups. These opportunities have given me a chance to not only fund my work, but learn about the panel process, meet fellow artists, and get a better understanding of how the art world works. Throughout the years, Artist Trust has played a major role in helping establish myself as an artist in Seattle. 

What are your hopes for the future of artists in Washington State? What would an ideal world look like for artists?

I would like to see opportunities for artists to work big in Washington State. Ideally, this means that there is not only plenty of financial support, but also opportunities to secure a project specific workspace. Studio space is so expensive, especially in the city. I would love to see more support for those of us who need ample physical space to create our work. 

What is something you’re looking forward to with your work, practice, or community?

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of recognition given to ceramic artists. It is exciting to see this craft-based medium getting attention from fine art platforms that historically ignore clay. I look forward to seeing more support given to artists who make conceptual work in more traditional craft-based mediums.

What support do you think artists and artist communities need right now, and in the future? Why is it important to support individual artists right now?

I can only speak for artists in the Seattle area, but we need space. Rent is so expensive. Many of us live in small spaces that cannot support our artistic practice. Rent is so high that most grants would only cover a few months of rent in a studio space. Six months to one year of access to a dedicated work space would make a huge difference in the lives of individual artists. 

Why do you think it’s important for people to support Artist Trust as donors?

Artist Trust has been a reliable resource for artists in WA state for years. It is one of the first places we go to find support, opportunities, and resources for our projects, businesses, and practice. Without organizations like Artist Trust the arts community in towns and cities all over the state would suffer dramatically.

We hope you will join us in supporting Washington State artists! To make your tax-deductible donation today, visit


2023Artist StoryFall AppealHanako O'learyInterview