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Woman at Work: Sculptor Zoe Dufour

Tell us about your work.

I am a representational sculptor, specializing in figurative sculpture. I have lived, worked, and studied in NYC for the last ten years. I recently relocated to Northern California.

Zoe Dufour Dovetail Workwear woman at work working on Bluebirds

What was your training path?

I’ve always loved working with my hands, as well as drawing and painting. When I graduated high school I decided to forgo college and pursue art by attending an atelier. Most of the universities I looked into emphasize the conceptual part of art making, with much less attention put into technical skill. While there's nothing wrong with that—for myself, I felt that to try to make compelling and deliberately communicative work without acquiring a “tool belt” set of skills would be akin to trying to write a book without first understanding the alphabet.

Young Zoe Dufour molds a dinosaur Dovetail Workwear woman at work sculptor
A young Zoe at work on a clay dinosaur. “Even then, I would only wear overalls.”

There are a few academic art schools (ateliers) in the US that focus on technical skill development in fine art. A large part of this movement involves studying from life, or nature, and learning how to train your hand and eye to be more accurate. The school I landed on was Grand Central Atelier in New York City. My sculpture teacher was Jiwoong Cheh, a prodigiously talented sculptor who mentored me through the academic program and into my professional career. I feel incredibly lucky to have crossed paths with him at such a pivotal time in my life. 

Tell us a bit about your career.

When I started working, I did commercial sculpture work as part of a team. I got to work on amazing projects for many museums, including the Smithsonian African American History Museum. Eventually I began to get independent clients and commissions through word of mouth, and to teach. It's been simultaneously really rewarding, and scary to make a career out of sculpting. There are days when I can’t believe how lucky I am, and other days when I am in an existential crisis over my job! Having enough work is always on my mind as a freelancer, but it’s an especially pointed worry now with the pandemic. 

sculptor Zoe Dufour working in her studio in Dovetail Workwear Freshley overalls

Fill in the blanks...

Social distancing feels like… re-learning how to connect with people. 

My survival tip… potato chips

My biggest fear... is for people I care about. And the people those people care about, and so on…

I’m grateful for… spring blooms, family and friends, my dog, Nori.

I can’t wait to get back to…  rock climbing.

I’m surprised by…  how strange life is, in perpetuity. 

Bad puns… crack me up.

I’m listening to…  The Clovers and Childish Gambino

Virtual drink of choice …  my friend’s homemade limoncello, on ice

Museums are doing inventive virtual tours to help us through quarantine. Be our tour guide for a moment. Take us out of our homes and to a work of art you love.

I’ve been lucky to have access to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the last ten years. My favorite time to go is Friday or Saturday night, the days the Met stays open later. I like to arrive an hour or two before closing. As you swim against the crowd walking through the double doors, you get the sense of the museum becoming progressively emptier. The quiet hush of the halls makes the art that much more special... 

Let’s go back to the fall of 2012 and to two terracotta pieces by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. These are preparatory sketches done for the Piazza Navona—the figures that represent the Nile and the Rio de la Plata. I wasn’t sculpting at the time. I was two years into my painting and drawing education at Grand Central Atelier. While I understood from a conceptual standpoint that there was enormous value in the masters’ works, I hadn’t been exposed to almost any classical art growing up and for whatever reason, didn’t have a palette to truly appreciate them. These small clay pieces by Bernini, though, moved me.

They are both figures of seated men, one with drapery covering his face (the Nile) that he is pulling away with one arm; the other (Rio de la Plata) is stretching his left arm upward, fingers spreading to the sky. The arm holding the drapery on the Nile and the twist of the torso on the Rio de la Plata are extraordinary: the structure of the arm is incredible, like the distilled essence of an arm. And you can feel how the skin across the stomach is pulled tight by the turn of the body and folded into itself.

Bernini Terracotta Nile Four Rivers Sculpture
Bernini's Nile Terracotta rendering
Bernini Terracotta River Del Plata Four Fountains
Rio de la Plata rendering

Each figure is so masterfully rendered. So human. The clay is made into weighted flesh. They are not overly detailed, but are so powerful and elegant because they are nature understood and simplified with virtuosity. They are somehow both wild and civilized. 

For more of Zoe’s work, click here. Zoe's pronouns are she + her. 

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