Visual Art Review: Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation’s “The Still Life”: This charming exhibit rehabilitates neglected stuffies, then puts them to work creating art – Arts

courtesy of Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation

First, you’ve got to know that there’s a Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation in Austin. A rescue shelter, but for stuffies – for soft, humanly fabricated creatures of all kinds – that have been neglected, dismissed, forgotten, discarded, and need a home.

Lin’s artwork, titled Flow (photo by Wayne Alan Brenner)

Located in a funky little strip mall in the Hancock neighborhood west of Burnet Road, the SARF is owned and run by artist, web designer, and general polymath Wendy Mitchell, who also stages a Stuffed Animal Petting Zoo on 37th Street’s legendary DIY trail of lights during the Christmas season. (Last year’s iteration was styled as the Big Stuffed Animal Pharmaceutical Expo; Mitchell’s inaugural stuffie petting zoo at that location, back in 2009, garnered so much attention and brought her so many stuffies that it led her to create the SARF.)

The Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation is where Mitchell accepts and houses donated stuffed animals, where she cleans them up, wields her prodigious sewing skills to repair them, and gives each squishy creature a lovingly crafted backstory, readying them for adoption at the petting zoos. These days, most of the SARF’s donating and adopting process is handled by appointments scheduled far in advance online – there are, it turns out, so many stuffies needing both temporary and forever homes! – but the headquarters at 2825 Hancock is open to the public on Saturdays, noon-4pm, steady as the needle in a top-of-the-line sewing machine.

And that’s where you can see the current exhibition, “The Still Life,” of artworks by the resident stuffies. Yes, the stuffies themselves are the artists in this show, which has been on display since last year’s Austin Studio Tour, and they’re posed by the works they’ve created with paint and fabric and photography and more, the works appropriately “inspired by their own journeys of rehabilitation and redemption.”

Current exhibition “The Still Life” features artwork by the resident stuffies. Yes, the stuffies themselves are the artists in this show.

The artist Lin, for instance, is a chonky chartreuse dinosaur of a stuffie who sits proudly next to her work called Flow: a rectilinear vertical of folded cerulean fabric, like a cubist waterfall captured in cloth. Says Lin’s artist statement, “I received my MFA in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2010. Since then, I have been working with folded and pleated fabric to create dynamic pieces that convey movement, balance, and flow.” Flow’s blue tint perfectly complements the green hues of the artist’s own soft pelt, seeming to soften the sculpture’s edges through a sort of chromatic wizardry.

Stuffed animal artists Annie (the snow leopard) and Lin (the dinosaur) (photo by Wayne Alan Brenner)

Annie, an adorable snow leopard, has addressed both the human/stuffie dichotomy of physiology and the big upcoming astronomical event in Austin with her Eclipse composition of stuffed animal eyes and enamel on board, letting us know, “I use common stuffed animal parts to create my art. This piece is a representation of an eclipse. Ironically, stuffies can look directly at an eclipse, whereas humans cannot. This piece serves as a dual-illustration of a stuffie’s experience of the cosmological event.”

The gorilla known as Kaz (who often collaborates with elephant Denise) raised many an eyebrow (and provoked whispers of visual plagiarism) with his fabric-based Off-White, a piece that, at the very least, is an homage to human artist Kazimir Malevich’s 1918 work White on White. “Yes, of course my allusions to Malevich are quite evident,” stated Kaz in an interview on the SARF website. “I’m obviously not hiding that fact! But those who call it derivative are simply missing [the point] entirely.”

These stuffie artists and their several associates, these works and others, are arranged in the venue’s main gallery, punctuating an intimate, welcoming space that’s lined floor to ceiling with stuffies and stuffed animal paraphernalia, with a repair clinic in the back and a niche off to one side that displays a (giggle-inducing and endearing) corporate cube farm tableau. This place, Wendy Mitchell’s Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation, is an ever-shifting work of art and heart that makes the liminal space between childhood fantasies and grownup responsibilities warmly accessible.

“The Still Life”

Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation

Open Saturdays, noon to 4pm

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