Sondra Dorn is fortunate enough to have known that she is an artist from her childhood days. “My aunt, Ellen Levitt, was the primary person who inspired me to be an artist,” she says. “She was an artist and I loved being around her. She was always making things, drawing and sketching. She always had art supplies wherever she was and she shared these with me.”
Her aunt was also the one to introduce her to the natural world, which inspires so much of her work. “She lived in a cabin in Vermont,” Dorn says, “and had gardens. We walked in the woods where we loved noticing things, and we would talk about the different colors and shapes of everything around us.” Still today, she says, she loses herself in the imagining, collecting and observing.
“I have always been a ‘collector’ of natural objects: shells, rocks, leaves, as well as degraded industrial bits of things like rusted, bent-up bolts.” She likes “looking at them and arranging them in different situations and patterns,” she says. In her younger years, she kept them in boxes to take with her whenever her family moved again. “We moved a lot so I grew up in several places: New Jersey, central and south Florida, Vermont.”
Her parents were also supportive of her artistic talent and encouraged her. “I was lucky, and grateful, that they let me take my own path.”
After high school her education took her all over the country, including classes and time spent in the Core Fellowship program in 1992–93 at Penland School of Crafts. That was when she fell in love with Asheville, though she left the area to spend time in Tennessee, Vermont and Seattle. “I missed WNC every day I was gone,” she says. She finally moved to Asheville, to stay this time, and met her partner, Jonathan Tetzlaff, a risk management and business continuity consultant for corporations and schools. “We are a great match,” she says. “He is not in the arts at all. Our opposite natures fit very well.”
There are many steps and layers to her pieces. She uses technology—camera, scanner, copy machine and microscope—in her creations, spending a lot of time digitally manipulating her images in the computer. Her process often involves magnifying objects and images hundreds of times. “The closer I get and the more it is enlarged, the more it looks like an image that could be a landscape taken from a great distance.”
Lately, she says, she has been combining scans of details of drawings. “Once I’ve settled on an image, I have it printed on fabric, wood or paper. If on fabric, I usually work back into it with stitching. The printed work is then applied to a rigid surface with acrylic adhesives. Depending on the piece, she then begins a layering process using drawing and painting materials, collage, paper, fabric and acrylic mediums.
Ideas often come to her as a reaction to or a continuation of the last process or idea that she had. “I work on many pieces at a time. There is not really a starting point exactly. And knowing when to stop remains a challenge. I love that my creative roots are in textiles and the crafts because I love the actual process of creating.” Her materials and how they behave in the process is something she finds compelling. “And I love the way digital tools can ‘see’ an image, how I can break things down and abstract them, yet retain the core of the original object or picture, how I find closer and closer details.”
Dorn’s work may be found at many local galleries including Mica in Bakersville, the Penland Gallery at Penland School of Crafts in Penland and Miya Gallery in Weaverville. Asheville locations include Van Dyke Gallery and Eco-Depot Marketplace. During the Toe River Arts Council’s Holiday Studio Stroll December 1–3 in Yancey and Mitchell counties, she will join other artists to display her work at Terry Gess Pottery at 770 Wing Road in Bakersville.
Her immediate plans include a move to Weaverville and, eventually opening a “by appointment” studio at her home. She will continue her busy schedule of creating her art and participating in local art tours and events.
Like many successful artists, Dorn says she “can’t not do it” when it comes to her art. “Whenever possible, I arrange my days and my life around the studio. Even if I am not actively working on something, I am still thinking about things through the lens of making.”
To learn more, visit sondradorn.com or call her at 828.467.1176. Upcoming shows include Greenhill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro (December 3– January 13), Blue Spiral 1 (January 4–February 23) and Panoramic Gallery at William King Museum in Abingdon, VA (February 1–April 2).