Santa Fean Joyce Stolaroff is a ceramic and sculpture artist who has a special connection with dogs and is known for her ceramic dog sculptures. She has used her art to support of animal shelters and to increase adoption awareness. Originally from New Jersey, Stolaroff moved to Santa Fe in the ’80s, moved back East for a time, and has called Santa Fe home for the last ten years. She started her career as a painter, but it was in Santa Fe where Stolaroff took a clay class and never looked back. She finds that clay is a wonderful, fluid medium that allows her the flexibility she craves in her art. Her sculptures are shown at form & concept gallery, where Stolaroff feels grateful that her work is embraced with enthusiasm.
What draws you to do art? To become an artist?
For me, there weren’t a lot of options other than being an artist. I was thinking about becoming a veterinarian, but didn’t have support from my family, so I did what I’ve always done: I drew. When it came time to make a decision about a career, I went to art school. No one told me it was hard. It’s not the easiest thing to be a professional artist, but if people stick with it, it seems to work out. I’ve detoured with a few side businesses, but I feel like I’m back on track and putting one-hundred percent of my energy into it now.
Your sculptures are all dogs. Why? What draws you to this animal specifically?
A lot of people say they love dogs, and I really do love dogs. But it’s deeper than that. I really feel an incredible connection with them: they give me comfort and love. I think it’s important to draw attention to the plight of dogs — they get a raw deal with shelters and euthanasia. It’s rough out there for them. I want to kind of create some empathy with my sculptures to talk about dogs and show what they give to us.
You used your 2014 show, Black Dog Down, to call attention to the plight of black dogs, who are less likely to be adopted. How did you learn about the challenge black dogs face in getting adopted?
I probably came across the information on the internet, and I have a niece who started her own rescue in Asheville, North Carolina. She validated it. She told me that black dogs have a harder time than the other ones, so I brought attention to that with the project. I think at least two people adopted black dogs because of the show.
I have two pit bull mixes now. It’s a breed I didn’t ever go out of my way to get because you only hear the negative stuff. One of my “pits” is black, and since I got drawn into the pit bull thing, I’ve found that they’re demonized because of what they are. I’ve learned a lot about it; it’s a lot of nature vs. nurture.
How did you become involved in helping shelters and increasing adoption awareness?
When I was younger, and when Santa Fe was different, I had a group of friends and we would always find stray dogs. We grabbed dogs in need, rehabbed them and rehoused them. I had a show with one of my friends who rescued dogs with me, and we had another show for her after she passed away. I gave a little bit to the shelter in her name. You do what you can. For my black dog show, I gave a percentage of my sales to the shelter. I used to foster [dogs] a lot more, but now I just adopt, and that’s a different kind of decision. But it’s always a part of me; they’re always on my mind.
What is your overall goal with your art?
One thing that I find is that when you start talking about dogs or making art with them, then there’s a connection, and people start telling you stories about their own experiences with them. I think it really brings people together in a way that draws on a community. It’s a lovely way for people to connect and share stories and get to know each other — through dogs. I think we need that, especially right now.
Katerina Barton grew up in Santa Fe and recently received a dual-MA degree from NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Institute in journalism and in European and Mediterranean studies. She is now a freelance writer and journalist in New York City, but the magic of the Southwest still calls to her.