Featured Artist: Joan Veneziano-D’Avanzo

November 25, 2011  

StubbyDog chats with the creator of Joan’s Designer Mutts, an artist using her talents to support shelter dogs and promote spay-neuter

Q. Can you tell StubbyDog readers about your journey to becoming an artist?

A. When I was in high school I was painfully shy, and instead of paying attention in class, I started to doodle! I created a psychologically safe space for myself through these simple drawings. When I graduated high school, I decided to take my doodling to a higher level, and I earned an AA, BA and MFA in the arts. After receiving my BA, I started teaching high school art in Long Island, N.Y., and I continued to do so for 22 years. I loved having the opportunity to inspire creativity within a safe classroom environment.

In 1980 I exhibited my first one-woman textile show at Adelphi University in New York. Through the years I have exhibited in numerous states, in both one woman and group shows. I currently have works on display in New Jersey at the Gallery 50 in Bridgeton, The Gail Pierson Gallery and the Mad Batter, with both of the last two located in Cape May.

Q: Please tell the StubbyDog community about your unique work.

A. A number of my family members, including my mother, were seamstresses. I grew up surrounded with an abundance of colorful fabrics that held a strong appeal to me. I decided that I would use fabric, not only to sew garments, but to create imaginative two-dimensional designs.

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?

A. In the past, I have found my inspiration in dance and nature. My muses now are shelter dogs, most often pit bulls that I have had the opportunity to meet in person or view on Petfinder.com. These wonderful animals have been oppressed, abandoned and physically mistreated.

Many of them will spend years behind bars in a shelter before they are adopted. A large portion will be euthanized due to breed discrimination or lack of space. As an artist, it is my hope to draw public attention to them through my work.

Q: Your Animal Compassion Quilt serves to draw attention to the plight of homeless animals. Can you please share the inspiration and idea behind this breathtaking piece?

A. One year I took one of my annual trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As I browsed the museum, I noticed a colorful quilt that was adorned with numerous signatures. The artist’s biography stated that in 1856, Adeline Harris Sears had created the quilt using the signatures of artists, writers, humanitarians and other notable people of her time. I immediately knew that I wanted to create a similar textile work. This time, over 140 years later, I would ask the noteworthy people to sign the quilt to show their support for the plight of homeless animals.

That day the seed was planted for the birth of the Animal Compassion Quilt.

Once home, I created a letter explaining the plight of many homeless animals in shelters. I asked for the support of people, not through a monetary donation but rather through the power of the pen. Attached to the letter was a 4-by-4-inch piece of muslin that I hoped would be returned with a signature. I sent the letters to actors, humanitarians, Nobel Prize winners, comedians, musicians, politicians, animal advocates, and many others who have had a positive impact on our society. I asked them to please let their signature be a part of an awareness campaign for the animals. One by one, the signed muslin squares started pouring back in the mail. They included former Presidents Clinton, Ford and Bush, Jane Goodall, Bob Barker, Bill Gates, Barbra Streisand, Edward Albee, Gloria Steinem and Betty White, just to name a few. I started to select the color fabrics that I thought would best reflect the personality of each person who signed and went to work.

Twelve years and over 150 signatures later, this living quilt now measures 16 by 3.5 feet long, and it is growing every day. It has evolved into an awareness quilt, not only for dogs and cats, but for all sentient beings.

Like the animals it represents, the Animal Compassion Quilt, signed by the famed for the millions of un-named, is looking for a permanent, loving home. It would do best in a high-traffic public space so that it can be viewed by a large number of people. Accompanying the quilt is information about spay and neuter, animals as healers, humane treatment of animals, Petfinder.com and various other educational materials.

Q: You are donating a piece named “Joshua” to the StubbyDog art auction. Can you share with us the story behind this particular piece?

A. After I retired from teaching I began volunteering at a local animal shelter where I had adopted my first dog, Nino. There seemed to be an endless number of dogs and cats come into this high-kill shelter, and it was emotionally difficult to work there. One day a sweet, black pit bull mix was brought in by animal control. He had such a gentle spirit that he was permitted to hang out with some of the free-roaming cats. Standard procedure at the shelter was to have the dogs tested for heartworm. Unfortunately this black beauty’s test came back positive. The shelter was already overflowing with dogs, and there was no funding for heartworm treatment, so this sweet guy was scheduled to be euthanized. My husband, Bob, and I discussed the situation and decided to pay for this dog’s heartworm treatments and to foster him during his recovery. After having him in our home for several weeks, we decided to adopt him! Since we knew that he had been abused, survived heartworms and escaped a death sentence, we decided to go the biblical route and name him Joshua. He soon found comfort and security in our home and a very funny, mischievous personality surfaced. Joshua was a bit mouthy, so whenever friends were visiting, Josh loved to playfully nip at their behinds!

Q. I read on your website that you are an advocate for spay and neuter programs. Can you talk about some of your volunteer experience?

A. I began volunteering for the Animal Alliance of Cape May County in 2005, and shortly after that I joined the board of directors. A county shelter had been built the year before, but that was overflowing with animals. There was dire need for a spay and neuter clinic to help prevent overpopulation. A small group of Animal Alliance volunteers decided to combine energies and open a low-cost clinic. We started by asking a local trailer park to donate one of their vacant trailers. With the help of our county sheriff and a local AAA man, we transported the trailer to our county shelter. We then called on the skills of various tradesmen, including carpenters, plumbers, etc., who dedicated their time and talents for the cause. We held fundraising events, which enabled us to purchase the necessary surgical equipment. Then we located a veterinarian who was skilled in high volume and pediatric surgical altering. With the help of our community, we transformed a vacant trailer into a full functioning spay and neuter clinic! In December 2005, we had our first clinic with over 60 dogs and cats. To date, the clinic has altered over 11,000 animals, and our county shelter now falls within the guidelines of no kill.

Q. What message do you hope people take away from your work?

A. I hope that my current textile “doodles” will help promote adoptions through some of the millions of shelter and rescue animals in the United States. With open hearts and minds, the public has the power to provide a safe place in their homes for these wonderful creatures.

For more information, visit Joan’s Designer Mutts.

« « Why Are You Thankful for Your Pit Bull? | Celebrities and Pit Bulls » »

Comments are closed.