Art is in the Cards for Sophie Hofstetter

Studio art major Sophie Hofstetter was in her junior year when she found herself “in a rut,” she says. “I was stuck and I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to do this. I don’t think I can do this.’ I was on the verge of completely dropping my major and having to scramble to do something.”

Senior art major Sophie Hofstetter stands beside her work in “Woven Women: 2019 Studio Art Thesis Exhibition,” on display through May 3 in the Hand Art Center for Senior Exhibition 2.

Hofstetter decided to do a reading with a tarot card deck that she had bought recently from a bookstore in Cassadaga. Tarot decks, whose tradition goes back centuries, have long been used for divination, while some modern adherents say the symbol-rich archetypal and mythological imagery on such cards as the Fool, the Empress, the Magician and others are a way to tap into one’s subconscious and intuition.

“I did a three-card reading with my Ostara Tarot deck – a past-present-future reading,” Hofstetter says. “The present card was the Seven of Coins. One of the phrases used to describe it was ‘No sudden change.’ I was like ‘Oooookay.’ Turning that card over gave me the motivation to stick with it.”

“Tempest in the Skies” by Jocie Pelfresne is featured in “Woven Women: 2019 Studio Art Thesis Exhibition” at the Hand Art Center.

Not only did Hofstetter stick with art – she also decided to make tarot cards the basis of her works featured in “Woven Women: 2019 Studio Art Thesis Exhibition.” The show, which features the creations of eight senior studio art majors – all females — runs April 13 through May 3 at the Hand Art Center on the Stetson campus. The opening reception will be 6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 18.

Hofstetter begins her artistic process by writing short character sketches and storylines using sci-fi, fantasy, post-apocalyptic or other imaginative scenarios. She then searches the 78 cards of her tarot deck to find three cards that she feels relate to the “defining moments” in the lives of her characters – one card each for the past, present and future. Hofstetter then creates her own tarot card imagery for her characters.

That fateful tarot card reading didn’t mark the first time Hofstetter faced a crossroads on her artistic journey.

Growing up in West Palm Beach, Hofstetter would “get in trouble in elementary and middle school for doodling and creating these characters all the time,” she says. “Teachers would say, ‘She’s doodling – she’s not paying attention.’ But I was — it was just my way of processing things.”

Hofsetter enrolled in the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, a public high school in West Palm Beach, but she didn’t study art there. Instead, she played tuba.

She enrolled at Stetson as a psychology major, then switched to the Discovery Program to explore other possible majors. She played tuba in the Stetson University Symphonic Band and considered majoring in music.

As a sophomore, Hofstetter took a Drawing I class from Grace Ramsey, Visiting Assistant Professor of Studio Art.

“Our first assignment was to do a pencil sketch of a historical painting,” Hofstetter says. “I did ‘Lady with an Ermine’ (by Leonardi da Vinci). Grace was just absolutely floored. She was like, ‘Oh my God!’ Her reaction prompted me to go and switch my major. Then the next class period she had geared up to talk me into doing an art major and I was like, ‘I already switched.’ And she’s like, ‘Yes!’ It was such a wonderful moment.”

After her switch to art, another crossroads came with Hofstetter’s discovery of tarot cards and their cousins known as oracle decks – which likewise are cards with symbol-rich images, and are used for divination and self-exploration and introspection.

“I was kind of stuck,” Hofstetter says. “I had all these ideas but I couldn’t actually translate them to the canvas because I was working in oil paintings. Everybody around me was doing oil painting so I thought that was the expected course I should be taking.”

She was walking in downtown DeLand and came across Mama Gaia’s Metaphysical and New Age Shop. She ventured inside and saw an oracle deck called Oracle of Mystical Moments.

A dress featured in “(A)ligned,” a clothing/textile installation by Sandra Stephanon, is on display in “Woven Women: 2019 Studio Art Thesis Exhibition.”

“I had never heard of an oracle deck before, although I’d heard of tarot in passing,” Hofstetter says. “I saw this oracle deck and it was so striking. This woman had this flower coming out of her head and she looked just amazing. I didn’t have the money for it so I left, and then something in me was just like, ‘You need to go back and get that deck.’ Shortly after that I got my first tarot deck (the Ostara Tarot) because of the art. I looked at the imagery and I was so captivated by it.”

On the technical side, a key moment came when Hofstetter decided to downplay her dogged pursuit of oil painting and switch to a process that incorporated her first love — drawing.

“I learned how to take my drawing background and apply it to my work,” she says. She begins a piece with hand-drawn pencil sketching, then uses colored pencils.

But, she says, “I can’t stand the roughness of colored pencils, so I go over it with acrylic paint and then I re-line it with India inks. So, it’s painting.”

Her works in the “Woven Women” exhibition include three sets of three paintings, with each set based on a character she created. Her character Zaenali is a blue-skinned, humanoid vigilante known as Dogface, who has revolted against her society’s military overlords. Zaenali’s story is illustrated through Hofstetter’s paintings of the tarot cards Judgement, the Two of Swords and the Eight of Swords.

Hofstetter, who also is “starting to dabble in digital art,” has no immediate plans following graduation this spring, but her career goal is “to be a character designer for video games and comics — mostly videogames because I’m kind of a videogame nerd,” she says. “I’ve always had these characters in my head. I want to be able to give them out to the world and have people love them.”

“The Show Must Go On” by Sarah Hargest is featured in “Woven Women: 2019 Studio Art Thesis Exhibition” at the Hand Art Center.

“Woven Women” also includes works by Geraldine Diaz, Ysabel Flores, Sarah Hargest, Jocie Pelfresne, Hali Pollard, Sandra Stephan and Olivia Valiante.

“Students are tasked a year in advance to start thinking of what they want to say as the final culmination of their work,” says Tonya Curran, director of the Hand Art Center. “There’s a process by which they have to present their ideas to the faculty early on. Of course, the faculty give feedback, but the students bring their own voices.

“We have a good number of painters in this exhibition, but we also have installation art, fiber art and clay art. It’s really a representation of who they are and what they want to say about themselves through their work.”

Rick de Yampert

If You Go:

“Woven Women: 2019 Studio Art Thesis Exhibition” runs April 13-May 3 at the Hand Art Center on Stetson’s Palm Court/Quad, 139 E. Michigan Ave., DeLand. Opening reception is 6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 18.  Admission is free and open to the public. Designated parking is available in the lots at East Arizona Avenue.

Center hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday. Closed on national holidays and holiday weekends. Information: 386-822-7270.