I recently sat down with artist and sculptor, Debora Meltz, to discuss two very important things in her life. The first is her art, and the second is DASI (pronounced “daisy”), an agency located in a town called Newton and found within the boarders of New Jersey’s Sussex County. DASI’s main mission is to: “Foster mutual respect and healthy relationships by providing comprehensive services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families, community education, prevention programs, and advocacy.”
Meltz’s two passions have come together in one special way, and that’s to benefit DASI’s outreach programs. Meltz has donated a significant portion of sculpture (work she’s created over the past few years) to DASI’s up-scale resale shop, Morning Glory, located in adjoining town, Andover, NJ.
Upon seeing Morning Glory’s new display of Meltz’s work, I asked manager, Jenna Wetmore, if she’d be so kind as to inquire about an interview with Ms. Meltz for me, and what seemed to be a flash in time had me sitting down with her to discuss DASI and her sculptural work.
July 31, 2012
P.K. Hi Debora, and thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for SPA. First, let me say, it’s quite wonderful that you’re supporting DASI in such a way. I read in you bio that you’ve had strong ties to the organization for quite some time, can you tell me more about how this introduction began, and subsequent involvement with DASI?
D.M. And thanks to you Paul for taking interest in supporting DASI, too. Yes, let me see. In 1991 I traveled to a pro-choice march on Washington. I knew some people in the non-profit community who were sitting behind me– they were affiliated with DASI, and when I returned home I got a call from Sally Gibson asking if I’d like to be on its board. And, I didn’t even know what DASI was, so we met for coffee and she and another board member explained to me what the agency was all about. So after doing some thinking, I said “yes, why not do it.”
P.K. What was your role at this time; back in the beginning?
D.M. I realized what the agency needed was good public relations, that there were misconceptions from the community about battered women. They’d ask “why doesn’t she just leave?” And so from there, we produced a handbook that was aimed at the community, and not the battered woman. It’s an educational handbook with all the information a person in an abusive relationship would need to access help. We’re now in our 5th printing. This is what I started doing.
P.K. That’s sounds like a very insightful publication, and no doubt, a rewarding accomplishment.
D.M. Yes, I felt as thought I was doing something really important, and DASI members are a team, they truly do appreciate every person’s contribution. Over the course of it all, I’ve been on the board for 16 or 17 years, and even served as its president. The true reward, years later, was having some women I knew; more than casually, say that the handbook saved their lives. They knew that had to take action—in that reading it, they suddenly realized “This is me. This is what I have to do.” It helped them out of, and on into a new life.
P.K. It is great and so much needed in the community … the importance of such an effort and how acts of charity, such as your donation, help make such a great difference. And with this in mind, tell me about the work. I was quite taken with it upon walking in [to Morning Glory] the other day, and I see, of course, that clay exists in your work, but was wondering to what extend this is so. Are you a potter? Were you an artist during your time with DASI?
D.M. Many people think that to work with clay, that you a potter. But me, I’m a sculptor whose medium is clay. It’s funny, I collect pottery because I can’t do it! When I first started working in clay, just to learn about it, I made bowls and birdbaths and things like that, and then, until I really got comfortable, I began doing sculpture. It was a learning process and you see, I really needed to just keep making things and then all of a sudden, one day, everything coalesced, and boom, I found my clay voice!” [Debora holds a BFA at The Cooper Union and a Masters in Printmaking from William Patterson University.]
P.K. And how long ago was this?
D.M. I’d say, about seven or eight years ago. I’ve always had an interest in clay, but you know, you have to wedge the clay, mix the glazes and all that, well … I’m very lazy this way. And then I just stumbled upon Joyce Sullivan. Do you know her?
P.K. Yes, I did an interview with her a couple years back on her time spent at Waterloo Village.
D.M. Yes, yes. I bought a number of her pieces and I said, “if you’re ever giving a class in sculpture, I’d love to take it.” I bumped into her and she said “I was just going to call you, we have someone who is going to be giving a sculpture class.” So I said, “sign me up.” So through Joyce’s studio I met Beverly Stern, my mentor and teacher who now happens to be a dear friend and colleague at Satsang Studio Ceramic Arts, in West Caldwell. But it was while working with paper-clay when everything I had ever learned in school came together.
P.K. Debora, I’m looking at the assemblage of characters you’ve made – what’s going on here?
D.M. You know, people ask me this question, “what do you get your inspiration from. How do you make the sculpture, or what’s going on with it?” I have had a life-long interest in mythology of all kinds –mythologies, fairtales, of the images that they evoke and the reasons we develop them, or how we use them and how they influence our lives.
P.K. So these animals, they’re all part of this?
D.M. Yes, they are influenced by a trip to Japan in 2008. The influence is the kami, or if you know of, the Japanese shinto gods. I’d start making something and then the clay would take me wherever it wanted to go. So the spirit is there.
P.K. And the names each work has been given?
D.M. They come after, with few exceptions. They all reference a primitive art, an ancient art of sorts. So, it’s all kind of floating around out there [influences] and it comes down into the piece. This one here, he’s the Keeper of Ancient Wisdom, he just looks wise.
P.K. And what about this one here?
D.M. Ah, the Amusing Guest. I never put her out [for sale] because I couldn’t find a name for her. And a few months ago a friend saw this and mentioned a party she had had. She said a woman came who looked just like that– she was so amusing. And I thought, there she is, the amusing guest.
P.K. Debora, what is the inspiration for the pieces with the legs?
D.M. These are part of the Baba Yaga’s Hut series, are you familiar with that?
P.K. No, I’ve never heard of Baba Yaga. Who is Baba Yaga?
D.M. Oh, it’s an old Russian fairytale. Baba Yaga was an old witch who lived deep in the forest. She was very tall and very thin and she had steel teeth that were pointed. She propelled herself around in a mortar and pestle and kidnaped small children, but her big claim to fame was that she had a house that stood on giant chicken legs and when she was out of the house, the house would run; spinning and screaming through the woods, terrifying everyone. When she wanted to go home, she’d whistle and it would come back and step into it’s little yard which was fenced in with bones and a skull. It would crouch down, open up and she’d go in and the door would slam behind her. It would then stand up and it was, then, quite all night.
P.K. Thanks! They certainly stand on their own [We both laugh at my bad pun] … but seriously, this story adds another whole dimension to the huts, and is, perhaps, some of your work that directly references your love for folklore?
D.M. Yes, they’re the only works here that do this. I have others, but here I’ve chosen these two to benefit DASI.
P.K. What’s headed for the future? Or rather, what ideas or challenges do you face in your work today?
D.M. Well, I’m now trying to push the paper-clay, because it is so strong in the greenware stage; to push it to certain limitations. I’m amazed at how strong it is, even when fired. Even changing the surfaces to resemble dark clay … even get a bit larger . I’d love the work to get larger, and the clay will allow for this to happen.
P.K. Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me … the work is fantastic, and certainly memorable. And the cause … it’s something I hope will continue here at Morning Glory.
D.M. Yes, we’d like to have shows like this, perhaps even a group showing where artists can come together and donate some work. Morning Glory is such a great place, and the community that supports us is also just as great. And thanks to you for taking interest in us.
P.K. Well, it’s a worthwhile effort … and please, count us in!
Supporting DASI: The works illustrated here are available through DASI’s Morning Glory re-sale shop located on Route 206 N in Andover Boro, NJ – please call for availability. For more information about the Morning Glory Store, click here or the logo below, or call them directly at 973.786.0018. Morning Glory also accepts credit card purchases over the phone and takes full care in preparing all parcels for shipment.