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The $10 girl: Ronda Jeffer makes affordable art for the masses.

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Takin’ it to the Street

‘I’m the 10 dollar girl,” says Ronda Jeffer. The Albany artist, who usually works in small format and always underprices her work, is kidding, but just barely.

Before she became one of the most collected artists in the area, Jeffer was known for her painted cards—pop-sociological compositions underscored with satirical captions that cost little more than a greeting card. A few years ago, 700 of her witty miniatures were shown at the Albany Institute of History & Art. She sold $5,000 worth—at $10 apiece, hence her self-applied nickname. Though the apparent spontaneity of her compositional style is part of the appeal, her 3-inch miniatures can take as long as four or five hours to produce. “I sell ridiculously cheap,” she admits cheerfully.

There’s a reason for her cheer: At gallery openings, it’s not uncommon for anything of hers on the walls to be snatched up before the Brie reaches room temperature. A run of 150 playfully embellished religious cards sold out. One example: A traditionally effeminate Jesus re-titled as Gender Bender. “People thought they were sacrilegious, but they weren’t,” she says of the series. “My art is about reverence.”

A College of Saint Rose graduate with an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Jeffer notes that price isn’t the only reason she sells everything she makes. “It’s got content,” she says definitively. “My work is about women’s worlds and women’s lives.” Her influences range from Frida Kahlo to Francesco Clemente, and from Running with Wolves to musical- sisters duo CocoRosie. A list of the artists who collect her work reads like a Who’s Who of regional luminaries.

As of recently, Jeffer is working larger. One new picture, of a coyly androgynous guru titled Serenity, is a substantial 8 by 10 inches. And he can be yours for a trifling $80, even though the pen-and-inked and painted and cutout collage is made from imported Chinese and Indian papers. “I’m a proletarian artist,” Jeffer explains. “I want my work to be in people’s homes. My friends can’t afford thousand-dollar artworks, so I make art that’s inexpensive and available. I want people to have it.” Interested buyers and viewers can peruse Jeffer’s drawings, cards, and decoupage glass plates at her booth at Troy’s River Street Festival this Saturday.

Jeffer frequently collaborates with the festival’s organizer, artist and jewelry-maker Dana Rudolph. Two years ago, they created Razzle-Dazzle, a mosaic life-size moose, for the Bennington Moose Festival (it won first place). This year, they partnered on Giddy-Up, a mosaic horse for Horses Saratoga Style 2007. “It’s a huge stretch,” Jeffer says of the four-legged, glass-encrusted sculptures. “My work has always been figurative, not three-dimensional. And I went from one-and-a-half inches to seven feet. Dana is always dragging me into this stuff,” she adds with a laugh.

Jeffer has displayed at Troy’s River Street Festival since its first year, in 2004. One of the things she especially enjoys about it is the reaction of kids to her art. “They ooh and aah over my drawings, and will want to buy something,” she reports. “I love that about street festivals,” she continues. “You get to meet so many different people, people who wouldn’t go to a gallery to look at art, but they will go to a festival and be amazed at what’s there.”

—Ann Morrow

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