After an all-too-brief career that centered on painting murals, photography, and uplifting everyone she met both in Fort Worth and her adopted home of Chicago, Sierra DuFault is now remembered through the friendships she made and the artwork she left behind. Earlier this summer and at the age of 37, DuFault died from complications related to diabetes.
DuFault’s mother, Jo Dufo, is currently in Chicago, where she is making final preparations for Celebration of Life, an upcoming tribute to DuFault that will include an exhibition of her art, a potluck dinner, and the opportunity to share memories about the beloved artist.
“She has inspired so many people,” Dufo said.
During DuFault’s final days, her family made a post on social media that requested privacy while they stayed beside DuFault in a Chicago hospital, but they welcomed video and audio messages or letters.
“Hundreds came in,” Dufo recalled. “I put my phone on her pillow and played them all day long.”
DuFault’s passing was felt just as strongly in Fort Worth as it was in Chicago. DuFault moved to Fort Worth while in high school. Throughout her late teens and early 20s, the young artist honed her painterly craft by helping her mother create expansive murals and participating in art shows. It was a chance meeting with a representative from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that sent her to study art and film in the Windy City. During her 10 years in Chicago, DuFault made a living painting, acting, performing, designing posters, and working at coffee shops.
“It was a beautiful place for her to be for 10 years,” Dufo recalled. “It was so incredible to see how many lives she had touched.”
Dufo has similarly touched many lives in Fort Worth, both as a mentor and as the longtime art teacher at Metro Opportunity High School, a Fort Worth alternative school for at-risk youth. Recently, the school district began downsizing the transformative art class she taught for more than a decade (“Healing Art,” June 26). At the time, the district was planning to replace Dufo’s class with online lessons. In the weeks following the June article, dozens of supporters of the art program spoke out against the cuts at school board meetings. Dufo said the high school currently has one period of art lessons provided by a visiting teacher. She worries that the brief visit cannot serve the needs of the teenagers.
Dufo now splits her time between Chicago and Fort Worth. Her original plan was to permanently move to be with DuFault to see her through what everyone hoped would be a gradual recovery. DuFault’s passing was as unexpected as it was tragic, but it has given Dufo a new project to throw herself into. Through art shows and custom art books, Dufo plans to reignite an awareness of her daughter’s many talents in Fort Worth.
Next month, as part of the Near Southside’s outdoor art/music festival Arts Goggle, DuFault’s works will be on display at Stir Crazy. It will be the first of many events that will feature DuFault’s photographs, paintings, posters, and films, Dufo said. A new art book based on DuFault’s paintings and drawings has sold out. Dufo is selling the 20-page books through her Instagram page (@jodufostudio). Funds raised through the sale of the books are being used to purchase new art books or to fund upcoming shows that feature DuFault’s works, Dufo said.
In a 2018 interview for a Chicago publication, DuFault was asked what gives her life meaning.
“Art,” she said. “I really enjoy taking what’s in my brain and releasing it. I don’t want to keep it in there too long, and it feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do in this life, so I like doing it, and I was very lucky at the beginning of my life. My mom said there [are] no mistakes in art. I don’t think a lot of people hear that, so I don’t mind messing up because it just becomes something else. And it’s so much fun to figure it out, you know?”
Dufo said her daughter’s passing has been a reminder to everyone who knew her that a well-lived life involves giving, collaborating, and creating beauty. The upcoming Celebration of Life will focus on DuFault’s generosity as much as her artistic legacy.
“I never knew Frida Kahlo,” Dufo said, “but her art and life have inspired me as it has many women. I feel that way about Sierra. A lot of people may not know her yet. The amount of work that she left us with — her legacy of film, photography, art, and writing — is amazing.”