I asked our current Vice-President (and our upcoming President) to answer some questions for any members who have yet to meet her, or who know her as a most energetic and long-serving contributor to WCA/NH, but want to know a bit more about her.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I grew up in Jamestown, RI, an island in Narragansett Bay, surrounded by water and rocky shores. It was a quirky small town, where everyone knew everyone else, but with a large summer population which made it even more interesting. Summer people from Providence and Cranston seemed so cosmopolitan. And there’s a highway sign in Jamestown that points to New York City. How strange it that? New York is two states away. So I was drawn to NYC as well, and lived there for 6 years when I was in my twenties.
I’ve been living in NH since 1988. I was always drawn to the state. One of my earliest memories is of visiting Storyland when I was 5. I still remember how amazed I was by Humpty Dumpty. So it seemed natural to eventually live here. I live in South Sutton, NH, with my wife Bonnie, at the end of a dirt road. I’m surrounded by woods, but it’s a short ¼ mile walk to our little village, which is comprised of the Post Office, an old Meeting House and a handful of houses. It’s such a small town that we have a hard time getting packages delivered. It’s as if our zip code doesn’t exist. We joke that it would be a great place to live if you were in the witness protection program. We have an annual 4th of July parade that is comprised of about a dozen people and goes for one block. It must be the shortest, smallest parade in the country. The marchers dress in weird antique costumes. Last year I dragged a wagon with a plastic penguin on it. My neighbor fires a tiny cannon by the Civil War monument. It’s like Mayberry here, but eccentric.
What is your artist story?
One of my earliest memories of creating art is of drawing a coffee percolator, and my Mom acting so impressed by my skill. It propelled me into a life of art and a love of everyday objects (and coffee). I was incredibly shy as a child, and I have always preferred making things to socializing. I drew constantly and doodled my way through school, and I was always considered the “artistic one” in the class. I started painting in oils around 3rd or 4th grade, and took painting and drawing lessons after school and on Saturdays, till high school. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would grow up to be an artist.
I went to Bennington College in Vermont and majored in Visual Art. Then I got very interested in film-making and moved to NYC where I took film workshops at the Women’s Interart Center in Manhattan. I worked on a few low budget feature films and decided the film industry was not for me, so I took classes in graphic design and found work in that field. When I eventually moved to Massachusetts, I took design classes in the evenings at Mass Art. In 2005 I decided to go back to school and got an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art at Goddard College in Vermont. It is a non-resident program so I was able to continue working and go to school at the same time. It’s a wonderful program.
After many years working as a designer in the printing industry I transitioned to teacher and taught Graphic Design at Hesser College in Manchester, NH for 14 years. I taught just about every subject, from Typography to Color Theory, and History, Drawing, and all the Adobe programs. The skills of graphic design are wonderful tools. I wish more people would study it, especially typography. Artists, small business owners, anyone who decides to make a flyer should study the basics of graphic design. Please. My eyes hurt every time I see a sign with bad kerning. (Don’t you wish you knew what kerning is?)
What is your favorite medium lately? What other mediums have you worked in or studied?
I’ve worked in watercolor, oils, pastels, sculpture, film and video, animation, mixed media, photography, digital collage. Am I forgetting anything? Right this minute I’ve been grooving on photography. I don’t consider myself very good at it, but I do enjoy taking photos everyday with my phone. Capturing little snippets of nature while on my daily walks is fun. I’m also experimenting with drawing and painting lately, which I haven’t done in years, and my latest pieces utilize mixed media and collage. I like to work in a series. Often, I’ll work on 2-4 pieces at once. I find that ideas and images nurture more ideas and pieces. So I’ll start with one, but then the inspiration will spill over into a second, third or fourth. Four at one time is my maximum. At that point it becomes too difficult for me to concentrate and nothing gets accomplished.
What is your current work about?
I’m drawn to reveal the ironies in daily life, which has taken me down a path to create work that is often political, environmental, feminist, or a critique on consumerism or popular culture. I’m an NPR junkie, a news addict, and I like to read non-fiction books on the history of just about any quirky thing: frozen food, spam, you name it. So data, history, statistics, odd factoids, all perk my interest and often get my creative juices going. I enjoy anything retro, vintage, old, dusty, peculiar and funny. I was into retro before it was hip. I just like the squeaky clean, exuberance that exudes from old magazine ads: women gushing over cleaning products and their appliances. It’s fun fodder for juxtaposing with more serious content. By seducing the viewer with fun retro graphics, I can slip a more serious message in there without alienating anyone. As an example, I took models from a 1970s Sears Catalog and changed the description of the clothing to portray the horrors of water shortages in drought stricken countries. At first glance it looks like a fun collage. You have to read the content to understand the seriousness of the piece. Sometimes I wonder if I’m affecting anyone in a subliminal way, like those split second images of Coke and popcorn shown at the movies in the 1950s!
What other themes or artists have interested you?
I’m inspired by all types of art, but my biggest influences have been artists that use graphic design and typography in their work and include social/political messages such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. They made me realize I could use graphic design in my pieces and it would still be art. But mostly I groove on the work of my artist friends and peers here in NH. Our WCA/NH artists are so inspiring. I’m amazed at their breadth of work, their skill, creativity, and messages. There are too many names to list here. Better just to attend one of our exhibits to see for yourself. And when you join a group like WCA and remain in it for many years you have the opportunity to watch the other members’ skills grow, improve, mature, and develop. Observing the evolution of my fellow members’ work has been most inspiring!
How did you hear about the Women’s Caucus for Art?
What interested you about the organization?
It’s a joy to be a part of an organization that works like a finely tuned machine. No matter who volunteers, or who is on the board, our organization seems to run smoothly. I think it’s because of the organizational skills of past and present volunteers who have created procedures for exhibiting, communicating with our members, and more. I like that anyone can attend board or exhibitions meetings, get involved and contribute ideas. And we continually strive to improve and change as new technologies appear and as our member’s needs change.
What do you see as WCA/NH’s greatest strength?
Another wonderful feature of WCA/NH is that we allow non-members to participate in many of our activities. We are more interested in the goals of the organization and helping fellow women artists than we are in collecting money and dues. And we are a non-juried organization, so anyone can join. We don’t judge anyone’s work.
What would you say to another woman artist about joining WCA/NH?
If you are interested in making art you can join us. I think that sets us apart from many organizations and it’s what first attracted me to the organization. So If you’ve made it to the end of this article, and you’re not a member yet, consider joining us! Or attend one of our meetings or check out one of our exhibits.
If you want to see more of Donna’s work you can check out her website: www.donnacat.com, or her FaceBook fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/DonnaCatanzaroArtist/ or Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/donnacatanzaroartist . If you are interested in purchasing work as prints, cards, t-shirts or just about any object that can be printed on, check out her redbubble printing-on-demand page: https://www.redbubble.com/people/donnacat.
Debra Claffey is a Lifetime Member of WCA, and a former President of WCA/NH. She currently contributes by maintaining the WCA/NH website. You can see her work at debraclaffey.com