Frankel Finds Creative Strength Through Art

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Dorothy Frankel at her studio in Noyac.
Dorothy Frankel at her studio in Noyac.

By Michelle Trauring

Winter is not an easy time of year for artist Dorothy Frankel.

For almost five months, she finds herself on the opposite side of the country in a right-wing, borderline homophobic California suburb—3,000 miles away from her home and studio in Noyac, her friends, and her inspiration.

She plays caregiver to her 91-year-old mother, and while that has its rewards, it often leaves her drained and in a creative rut.

“I think I’ve been very prolific. I have a lot of work I’ve created. But sometimes it’s like, ‘Why are you still creating? You have so much here,’” Ms. Frankel mused during a recent telephone interview from the West Coast. “But I think if you’re someone who creates and your sense of well being is in creating, you have to create. You have your own voice, just for yourself, and you’re expressing yourself.

“You need that. I need that.”

There once was a time she never knew she did—from her childhood in northern New Jersey up until her days working as a health and fitness professional in Manhattan. It was only when she moved to the East End did she find herself, and her affinity for using her hands.

It all started with rebuilding her back deck.

“I got to take a woodworking class when I was little, though. Girls were not allowed in,” she said. “Somehow, they did let me take it for a couple of weeks and then they said, ‘Forget about it, girls are really not in this class.’ It took from whatever age that was—8 or 9—until my 30s to do it again.”

She could chisel the wood, saw and adhere it. She constructed abstract pieces and built furniture, even a rowboat. But it was the moment she first touched clay that sculpture truly opened up to her.

Feeling it between her fingers was freeing, she recalled. Opening the kiln to see her newest piece was a natural high, she said. And best of all, the medium was tactile. Her hands could do all the work.

“They directed me,” she said. “When I had an accident with my thumb a few years back, sculpting became just unbearable. I was just lost. I was lost because I felt all my energy in my ability to have that experience. It was like, physically, everything came from my hands.

“I had to change my life accordingly,” she continued. “I started making these books that have my photographs with words. I’ve already done one called ‘Calling Me’ on that idea, because life was so bleak at that time. Now, it’s a different time, of coming back up again. Going through these experiences, you change. What was important is not important. And, for me, it’s trying to figure out what matters now.”

The artist will think on it during her time left in California, where she’s busy putting together a new photography book and, eventually, painting. Her most ambitious long-term goal is securing public spaces where her sculptures can live as monuments, free to interact with passersby, but her current sights are simply set on returning to the East End come April, and getting back to taking walks through the woods, writing in her journal, working in her studio and engaging with the people and nature around her.

“I think it’s all about connection. The theme of my work is always about connecting to yourself, your true self, your quiet. It’s about positive images and feeling good and communication,” she said. “I think art brings people back to what’s in their heart. I think it brings you back into yourself. Into what grounds you. It’s when you’re going so fast and in these directions and you become so bigoted and hateful toward everyone, I think art is something that can settle someone down again. That’s the hope of it, isn’t it really?

“You heard a good conversation, or you heard a poet, or you heard something in theater that resonated, or you saw a painting that just gave you chills and it was magical to you,” she continued. “Or you stood by a sculpture that had a meaning, that before you walked up to it, you were feeling really hard and tough. And then you saw it and it touched your soft side. And, then, you sort of awakened again.”

For more information about artist Dorothy Frankel, visit dorothyfrankel.com.

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