Flora Rosefsky is not a traditional artist. Known for her work with mixed media, collage and Judaic art, Rosefsky spends much of her time creating art using scissors and glue sticks instead of paint brushes.
“My thing is working with scissors. There’s no drawing lines in pencil,” Rosefsky said during a visit to her Decatur studio. Inspired by Henri Matisse, she wields paper cutouts of ephemera such as photographs and letters to assemble singular pieces of art.
“It’s very immediate, it’s satisfying, and it’s very approachable, and not precious,” she said. “If you make a mistake, you get another piece of paper. You can edit things, and layer. You have to experiment.”
In recent years Rosefsky has been accepting commissions for portraits in this style from pet owners who want something tangible as a memento of a departed dog or cat.
“Quite a few commissions are about dogs who have died. One woman wrote a poem about her dog, so that became a part of the piece. They are very personal,” Rosefsky said. Another client presented Rosefsky with an ice cooler filled to the brim with pictures and items the dog had owned in its lifetime. “There’s usually a story: if they liked hiking or playing in water, or riding in cars, etc.”
She pointed out that familiarity with her style is important. “There’s an element of surprise. It’s not a realistic rendition, but my own interpretation, a sort of caricature.” Rosefsky warned that commissions are trickier than regular work. “You don’t know what the final work is going to look like. I want you to love that piece, but it may not turn out to be what you expected.”
The idea for pet portraits began some years ago when Rosefsky conducted a workshop for youngsters in Atlanta.
“There was a program called READing Paws to encourage children to read aloud,” she explained. “Teachers don’t always have time to sit and listen to each kid, so dogs are trained to sit in front of the kids and (listen). They have either a stuttering problem or an esteem problem where they’re afraid to make a mistake, but dogs don’t criticize them, so they become more fluent.”
The director of READing Paws, Melissa Saul, saw Rosefsky’s work and commissioned several portraits of dogs in the program, some of whom she owned.
“These paper cutout collages are absolutely magnificent in both appearance and texture,” Saul told the AJT. “Boone, a Newfoundland/Bernese Mountain Dog, now hangs prominently in my living room and it meant the world to me to be able to bring him home. The piece is just gorgeous and reminds me so much of my dog. He looks a little bit like my first therapy dog, Cassie, who was a Black Labrador Retriever/Chow mix. When I look at Boone, it brings back fond memories of my sweet Cassie and Gina (my therapy dog at that time) and of my time spent with Flora.”
Another early client was Jeff Alperin. “We commissioned Flora to make one of her special paper collages of our dog Fluffer. With little more than paper, scissors and glue, she perfectly captured Fluffer’s sassy spirit.” Shelley Alperin agreed. “I think Jeff captured my sentiments exactly. That piece of art is now a keepsake since she is no longer with us. I have also found Flora’s Judaic art to be particularly meaningful and unique.”
A pet Rosefsky particularly loved portraying was a Golden Retriever named Susan. Her owner, Sue Landa, ordered a portrait of Susan as a gift for her husband. Susan had been a service dog that Landa took to senior citizen centers to entertain the residents, catching balls, and just being friendly.
“In the photos Sue sent to me for references, you can see an actual smile on the dog’s face, which I think I was able to capture. Sue and her husband were more than happy with the result,” Rosefsky said.
Some of the proceeds from Rosefsky’s pet portrait commissions go to Animal Hope & Wellness, an organization championed by her 17-year-old granddaughter Iris Wickham. According to its website, the rescue group takes in animals that have been abused, neglected, left behind and simply forgotten. “Animals don’t have a voice,” Wickham said. “We have to be a voice for them.”