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Seftel exhibit goes international

Monday, February 3, 2003 — An exhibition Laura Seftel organized two years ago in Northampton is going international. Her Secret Club Project is a case of an idea so well received by viewers its creator cannot call it quits.

Seftel, a Northampton artist and art therapist, won a Northampton Arts Council grant in 2000 to exhibit works by women that explored pregnancy loss. That show, at the A.P.E. Gallery, included the oil painting by Robin Freedenfeld, “Maine Morning,” reproduced here. Freedenfeld had lost a child through miscarriage, just as some 900,000 women in the United States do every year, according to Seftel.

Since that initial show, Seftel has allied the Secret Club Project with the Fund for Women Artists in Northampton, launched a fundraising campaign and started a Web site.

It is now two and a half years since Seftel began using art to break a taboo about discussing pregnancy loss. “I think we really did tap into something,” she said from her home the other day. “We started getting submissions [of works of art] from all over the world. It took on a life of its own. I couldn’t drop it. I had to shepherd it along.”

Seftel is focusing now on readying a traveling exhibit and is available to narrate slide shows. She has already done so at the Baystate Medical Center and at the University of Massachusetts School of Nursing.

Since pieces in the 2000 show had to be returned to participating artists, Seftel is working with photographic copies of the original works, as well as with hundreds of new creations by a stable of artists that now numbers 30. The more portable traveling exhibit Seftel is assembling will head for health-care conferences, where it can help make practitioners more sensitive to the emotional consequences of miscarriage.

Meanwhile, the new Web site makes the project accessible to all within reach of a computer. The site includes a strong selection of images and accompanying artists’ statements, along with a history of Seftel’s project and links to resources.

“Now they can give the person the Web site and they can actually view the art and hear stories,” Seftel said. “It becomes a service in itself. That was a major accomplishment.” The site was created for free by Belinda Darcey, who runs Dolce Design in New York City and Northampton.

Seftel said she hopes the project’s affiliation with the nonprofit Fund for Women Artists will help it successfully apply for larger grants. She said she’s had a good response, meanwhile, to 200 targeted fundraising appeal letters.

Already, audiences have embraced the project’s work. “It’s such an unspeakable experience,” Seftel said of miscarriage. “Art gives a window into it that’s hard to get otherwise.” For more information, contact Seftel at 586-7710.

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