Exhibit raises money for Humane Society, awareness of abuse

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rochelle Steffen has dedicated most of her life to the rescue and care of animals.

"I have always rescued anything that would let me," Steffen said. "I've had iguanas, lizards, snakes, gerbils, hamsters, hedgehogs, dogs, cats, pretty much everything."

So it should come as no surprise that the 34-year-old Cape Girardeau resident has been a volunteer at the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri for eight years.

"I pretty much couldn't imagine doing anything else with my time," she said.

Steffen said pets provide unconditional love, and she returns that love as a shelter volunteer and artist. Most recently, Steffen organized an exhibition of some of her artwork that speaks out against animal abuse and showcases pets who have been adopted through the Humane Society.

"Furry Friends" will be on display today at the Humane Society in Cape Girardeau. There will be a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m., featuring wine, hors d'oeuvres, a raffle to win four separate half-hour sessions from Body Treats Therapeutic Massage, live music by Lindsay Bowerman and Steffen's thought-provoking artwork.

Steffen's pieces available for purchase include prints of shelter pets, dog dolls and more than 140 charms.

The prints are 10 inches by 10 inches, done as pop art. Steffen said she and fellow Humane Society volunteer Requi Salter took the photos for the shelter's website and Petfinder, an online search database for dogs. Steffen said she reworked the photos in Photoshop to make them more vivid and colorful. A large selection of prints will be for sale, some framed, and 75 percent of the sales will go directly to the Humane Society. What prints do not sell will stay at the Humane Society.

Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from the dog dolls, which Steffen said are "Barbie-sized and all original," will also go to the shelter.

"There is a superhero dog, roller derby girl dog, girl with poodle skirt, rescue dog -- nine different ones right now. I hope to make a Cardinal-themed one by Friday," she said.

Additionally, Steffen will have at least eight fiber pieces on display that are not available for purchase, but meant to send a powerful message.

"They deal with dog abuse, dog neglect and the need for adoption," she said.

She uses a pet abuse website to gather photos and stories, prints them, then layers and pieces them on destructed fabrics.

"Prep work for the fabric itself can take months, because I've got it nailed outside or buried in my backyard," Rochelle said. "Mother Nature takes her sweet time sometimes."

Steffen said the fibers are graphic and powerful, but the depictions of animal cruelty are meant to raise awareness.

"This isn't about exploiting these cases, but to get the story out and encourage others to get involved," she said. "Hopefully this series of art will prompt people to save dogs, and not turn their head the other way. Animals have feelings too, and some [people] are oblivious to that."

Her artwork serves as a protest against animal abuse and encourages potential pet owners to adopt those animals most in need.

"It might prompt some dialogue, or prompt someone to donate, volunteer and just get involved," Steffen said. "Adoption is the key. You don't really need to go buy a dog when you can go to the shelter and find 40 different types of dogs."

Through the local art community and its First Friday events, Steffen said, sheltered animals might find a good home.

"It can keep building," she said. "If people keep caring about art, that's a niche the Humane Society can use to draw people out to the shelter. Ultimately, an animal might get adopted out there. It's all about visibility."

Pertinent address: 2536 Boutin Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

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