Glue Sticks and Growth: Artist and Alumna Fern T. Apfel Reflects on Inspiration and Taking One’s Time

Written by Joshua Goberdhan

Edited and packaged by Sarah Jurgielewicz

Students in Professor Lindsay Lennon’s Feature Writing class were assigned interviews with New Paltz artists who were featured in Wired Gallery’s “Golden Age of New Paltz” exhibition. Here’s what they found:

Artist and SUNY New Paltz alumna, Fern T. Apfel, discusses favorite artists, tools she prefers and what inspires her with student journalist, Joshua Goberdhan. Combining various mediums to create artwork, Apfel emphasizes gradual growth and honoring oneself as an artist. 

Fern T. Apfel specializes in text-based illustration. Does she create art for children’s storybooks or for newspapers? It actually doesn’t involve either. Throughout her work, Apfel cuts out sentences and words from old books, diaries, and letters. She then cleverly crafts them into poems and stories. Sometimes, she includes a painted illustration within the piece that pairs with her story. On her website, Apfel features her project,  “DEAR NOBODY”, where she replicates old stamps and handwritten words solely with paint. Apfel’s art is incredibly realistic and her style continuously takes on new forms.

Apfel earned her Bachelor of Science in art education from SUNY New Paltz and then continued her education at the Art Students League of New York. Apfel is a passionate artist with a dynamic personality and engaging to speak to. She is represented by the Concepto Gallery in Hudson, New York. Her work was featured in “The Golden Age of New Paltz”, an exhibit showcasing artwork from alumni and former professors of the school.

Do you remember the moment when you realized that you wanted to be an artist?

I don’t think there ever was a moment. It was just something I always just did when I had time as a child. Sometimes I just think you are that. It was always kind of a part of me.

Did you ever have a mentor or favorite artist?

At New Paltz, I studied with Manny Bromburg and he had a pretty big impact on me. So, along the way you pick up new artists. But, some you leave behind. Then you kind of look forward and pick up others. And that’s the thing. You see different things and different artists along the way. At the Art Students League, I was influenced by a teacher, Jeff Kinderson. I studied with a famous anatomy teacher, Robert Beverly Hale, and an American author, Joseph Hurst. So everyone kind of does their thing.

Your art style is so unique; it has so many dimensions and incredible detail. There’s one piece in particular called “Division” that really sticks out. What draws you to the material that you use for your art?

My art has gone through many, many different stages. I think that I’m just drawn to things that feel intimate. All that stuff in the piece “Division” is done by collaging. But now, instead of making a collage with text, I’m actually writing it with pen and acrylic paint. So it’s a very gradual process of movement—for me, anyway. It’s not that way for all artists, everyone’s a little different. But for me, one thing leads to another. It’s all really about what speaks to me.

“Division” by Fern T. Apfel. Collage, casein and acrylic on museum board 9″ x 10″

Is there a tool in your studio that is absolutely essential to your work?

Well, when I was doing all that collage work, a razor blade. I go through thousands of razor blades. So that I couldn’t do without that. Now, I use a lot of drafting tape, and this Japanese tape called washi tape that I just ordered. So those are really important to me now.

Is there a piece of work that you’re most proud of?

Well, you know, your heart is always the most in your newest work. So I just finished these two really large pieces. They’re quite large for me and my space. So, all together they’re 36 inches by 48 inches which is pretty big, but they’re two different panels. I feel really good about them. But other pieces, like “Division”—I really like that piece. There are others like it. But those simple breakthrough pieces like that, you have a special place in your heart for them, you know?  And sometimes you’ll have a special place for a piece that no one likes. You know, it’s of the time, or maybe there was something about it when you were working, or there was something going on, or maybe you were able to just capture what you wanted and it’s definitely happened. For every good piece I do, I do a lot of bad pieces.


Read about other #GoldenAge artists here:

Jack Murphy offers a snapshot of what it was like to be an artist in New Paltz during the “Golden Age,” and his inspiration behind curating the exhibition.

Jo-Ellen Trilling is an artist from the era of protest art in 1968 to 1971 who intertwines magical realism with art to reflect life within the political climate at the time.

Bruce Pileggi is an alumnus of SUNY New Paltz who delves into his past and explores themes that motivated him to pursue a career in art.

Jerry Vis is an architectural designer who, at 79 years old, still remains creatively curious when it comes to making art.

Ed Samuels began drawing early in his childhood after being influenced by his family of artists. He found his niche during the ‘60s and ‘70s after seeing the beauty in all environments, from New York City streets to Sante Fe’s cliffs and beaches.

Jon Ellis Stevens is an award-winning photographer and New Paltz alumnus. He discusses his desire to show that photography is more than capturing still images and how the radical times of the ‘60s inspires his artwork.

Sevan Melikyan is a native from Turkey who journeyed with the dream of becoming an artist to America, where he became enthralled with the rich artistic history of New Paltz.

Eileen Cowin is a multi-medium artist from New York who creates politically charged work inspired by the 1970s and today and connects them in abstract ways.

Shelley Davis is a woman of many art forms, including a style she created herself as a graduate student. Her groundbreaking “photo fusion” art has travelled the globe, featured in galleries across Europe and the United States.

Robert Crimi is an artist from the Bronx who is inspired by jazz music and creates colorful oil paintings with techniques his muralist uncle taught him.

Rosalie Rossi, an alumna of SUNY New Paltz, has taught art to students from preschool to the college level. She believes every student she teaches should do a self portrait.

Michael Velkovich, an alumnus of SUNY New Paltz, uses printmaking to express his artistic vision. He reflects on his journey as an artist, how he faced critics and how he has given back to the arts community.

Aletta Vett is a costume designer who defied rules and honed her craft at New Paltz. Her art designs prove just how creative and talented she has been over her decades-long career.

Win Bottum-Morgan took a drawing class hoping to learn the mechanics of art but was instead taught how to see the world in a different light. This perspective ignited his passion for painting. He continues to pursue art while practicing as a clinical psychologist in Corte Madera, California.

Larry Audette, not only an artist but a Jazz musician, talks about his memorable time at New Paltz with an array of artists who felt like family to him.

Rosalind “Roz” Zarr creates wearable art. Her jewelry is the only of its medium featured in the “Golden Age of New Paltz,” a testament of her prolific experience at the university in the late ’60s.



Joshua Goberdhan

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