When Animals, Toys and Magical Beings Come to Life Through Jo-Ellen Trilling’s Art

Written by Starr Ramos

Edited and packaged by Dynahlee S. Padilla

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:

Jo-Ellen Trilling’s work was showcased in Part 3 of  this exhibition. Through political activism via art, Trilling among other artists led way to the immense growth of the SUNY New Paltz Fine Arts program.

All images of Trilling’s artwork found on her personal website and Facebook.

Jo-Ellen Trilling’s art welcomes one into the world of fantasy and fairy tales. Trilling is a 71-year-old artist known for her anthropomorphic paintings and doll sculptures. She uses the charm and innocence of animals, toys and magical beings to show the darker aspects of the world. She began her career in the 1970s.  Since then, she has participated in several art galleries, worked on a book titled, “The Secret: A Treasure Hunt” and was featured in the film,“The Art of The Dollmaker.” Her most recent work was presented in “The Golden Age of New Paltz” exhibit from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17 at the Wired Gallery in High Falls, NY.

What inspired you to create doll sculptures?

Poverty. I was living in New York in a tiny room. I had a bunch of fabrics around and I thought it would be a good idea if I just maybe sewed something. I brought [a doll I sewed]  to a little store and they bought it right away. I thought, “Hmm, maybe I will try that again.” So I just started making dolls and selling them. That is how I made my living.

Most of your work contains animals, toys, and magical beings. Have you ever created or considered creating works that differ from these common themes?

I considered it, but I don’t think I do humans really well. I am really good at making anthropomorphic figures. It seems to come more naturally. I can draw from life, but it doesn’t thrill me as much as putting stuff together.

Out of all your artwork, do you have a favorite piece?

I actually do. I woke up one morning laughing because I must have been dreaming and I have this little scene in my head with the Wicked Witch of the West turning into Dorothy. It was a funny dream so I just made it into a sculpture and I really liked it.

What work do you most enjoy doing?

When you’re really involved on working on something, you kind of disappear and what you are working on takes over. So if I got totally involved when I was making a 3D figure, that was my favorite thing at the time. It is like a dog. “Oh, biscuits, oh, my favorite thing, oh, birds, oh, my favorite thing.” Well, when I am working on a painting and I have fallen into that place, that is my favorite thing. It’s really simple. Whatever it is that makes the day extraordinary to you in your life, is your ‘favorite’ thing.


What is your favorite fairy tale?

I grew up on fairy tales. It’s not that I have a favorite, but maybe something that has to do with something going on in the world right now that is reflected in the fairy tale that I remember. Your body is a vessel and all these things you see and hear all go in and get filtered out through whatever you’re trying to express through whatever art form you have. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have a favorite fairy tale, I just use them as a natural resource.

What does your artwork aim to say?

I think it is interesting to look at it. I don’t know what it says when I make it. I don’t know what people take away from it. I just do what comes out of me so if somebody likes it or if it affects them, then it is good. It’s all stories that are from inside me that are from life or from something I read or something I heard in the news. They all kind of just filter through and come out in a bizarre way.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

I think that there is always a fear that I feel personally. I always have this very deep ball of sadness inside me looking around the world the way it is instead of how it could be. I think there is always something a little bit frightening in everything [all the artwork] that I do. It looks sort of charming, but if you look at it closer, it is disturbing, and that is how I see the world.


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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.

Fern T. Apfel is a text-based illustrative artist who constructs collages using various mediums. An alumna of SUNY New Paltz, Apfel reflects on her growth, inspirations and favorite artists.

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.

Little Rebellion

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