Found, Lost, Found Again––Upcycled Art
Artist Stephanie Jaffe painstakingly turns shards into exquisite art
Stephanie Jaffe, in her Berkshire barn, is among five artists exhibiting at the Becket Arts Center from July 15-29.
Photo by Lisa Vollmer
“Sorry I’m late, we got in at one o’clock this morning,” says Stephanie Jaffe, fresh off a flight from Miami, where she lives with her partner, Gregg Goldfarb. She is dressed in mostly black, but with a bright blue top, and she is carrying three bags that she does not let go, even after multiple offers to relieve her. We climb a few sets of stairs in the gray barn that fronts her family’s wooded property. Like the land itself which also borders Lake Buel, the barn is secluded yet airy, and full of light. And very quiet.
“This is definitely the place where I get inspired, big time,” says Jaffe, finally putting down the bags filled with her artwork. She is clearly relieved to be here. “This is the heart of our family.”
Jaffe works on privately commissioned projects and public installations both from her family’s Monterey compound and her home in Miami, both a far cry from her birthplace on Long Island. Starting out as a glass artist, she moved to Florida in 1988. With two young children in tow, it wasn’t until Jaffe enrolled in a mosaic class at the South Florida Art Center that she later began to identify as a collage artist and find inspiration in her exotic surroundings.
Jaffe also spends a lot of time in the Berkshires, where she has a built a community of friends and fellow artists. To that end, she will be exhibiting a range of her work—along with local artists Karlene McConnell, Ivan Rosenblum, Alan Seppa, and Rose Tannenbaum—at the Becket Arts Center. The opening reception is July 15 at 2 p.m. “Exhibition 2,” which runs through July 29, will include a range of Jaffe’s work. Her topiary sculptures, “Urban Roosters,” stand just over a foot high and are constructed entirely of handmade ceramic flowers and “found objects” that include layers of broken china pieces in blues and reds and golds. The painstaking detail continues all the way around the sculptures. Underneath the mosaic canopy of the tail feathers, Jaffe has tucked away a ceramic bird on a branch—a world within a world.
The roosters are extraordinary, and outrageous. The heads are constructed of tiny, “matching” chips of broken china, some not even a centimeter wide, but each within the same color scape. Their plump bodies are comprised mostly of intricate ceramic flowers—like ones you would see on a wedding cake—which Jaffe makes by hand. The tail plumage is made up of more busted china, each vibrant piece (and there are hundreds of pieces) whittled down and then heavily layered to create abundant “feathers.” Jaffe has found that sweet spot between total extravagance, nostalgia, and creative wonder. So creative, in fact, that she has been receiving commissions from clients to reimagine their personal collections—heirloom china from grandmother, figurines that take up yards of wall space—into three-dimensional works of art.
“Everybody is working with excess, and they’re concerned with upcycling and repurposing,” says Jaffe. “I’m totally fascinated by creating pieces from other people’s collections. So far, they have given me complete artistic license. And the end result is that they have an art piece that is beautiful, meaningful and can also be displayed instead of hiding in a box somewhere forever. It takes something that is not in use and makes it precious again.”
Jaffe’s Monterey barn and her Miami studio are chock full of china, beads, sequins, and bins all organized mostly according to color, all gathered from various flea markets and tag sales and antique shops from the Berkshires to Florida.
“I’m always hunting in the Shopper’s Guide, there is a treasure trove here,” she says. “It’s really about the hunt. And in the case of my work, less is not enough.”
Judging by the “great wall of china” in the barn, it seems Jaffe is reluctant to part with anything that she can use in her work. But every few months, Goldfarb encourages her to clean out the studio space to make room for more projects and, perhaps, avoid being totally overwhelmed by stuff. The creative process is an arduous one, especially working with private collections, and can take anywhere from one to three months depending on what clients are looking for.
“She’s up very late at night,” adds Goldfarb. “It becomes an obsession.” And it’s no wonder it’s oftentimes a painstakingly long process. Jaffe’s public art installations range from a 177-square-foot “Wall of Wonder” mosaic at the Miami Country Day School, a collection of historical-themed mosaic paintings in the Lexington Hotel in Manhattan, and giant fiberglass golf tees on a mosaic green sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods in Old Boynton Beach. She is now working on proposals for two public art projects created entirely from metal.
“Unlike an art show that comes down after a month or so, a public art piece is lasting,” says Jaffe. “I love the idea of the permanence.”