HeLa Cells © Joyce L Carrier

HeLa Cells: Henrietta Lacks

Joyce L Carrier

Bluemont, Virginia, USA

Artist Statement

I picked up a book, not knowing what to expect, only to find a wonderful story about the life of Henrietta Lacks and her unwitting contribution to the world through the harvesting of her cervical cancer cells, which in turn gave us so many medical breakthroughs. Her story touched me deeply and when given the opportunity to participate with the HerStory challenge, she was the first woman to come to mind, and I am honored to share about the life of Henrietta Lacks.

How to depict her and her story was an easy process for me, the image of her actual cells are beautiful; persistent and aggressive though they be. Her cells became known as HeLa cells in the medical community. Since images of the HeLa cells are in the public domain, I was able to fairly accurately portray them by using fabric and thread, a medium that allows me to give depth and texture to my work.

The use of rayon thread and cotton fabric gives this piece vibrancy and movement, it almost feel as if the cells are still growing.

HeLa cells have become an immortal line of cultured cells, living on today and still providing the basis for medical research.

Woman’s Groundbreaking Accomplishment

The cancer cells of African American Henrietta Lacks taken without her permission during a medical procedure in 1951 have become immortal, continuing to grow and multiply. They have been used in many research projects and will provide many medical advancements such as cures for AIDS, cancer treatments and the vaccine for polio.


Two cotton fabrics were layered over batting and heavyweight interfacing, black shapes were cut away to reveal the teal layer. I used two shades of rayon thread in the upper needle at the same time to create a more textured feel to the piece. Red rayon thread was used to fill in the black areas and the edges of each shape was finished with cotton cording.


Commercial cotton fabric, heavyweight interfacing, cotton batting. Cotton and rayon threads, cotton cording.