|Carded wool, left; and wool after water felting, right.|
Display at "Made by Hand," The Works, Newark, Ohio, May 2012
Felt's the material that artist Joseph Beuys told such a compelling story about. Maybe he was and maybe he was not rescued by Tartars after an airplane disaster left him near death during World War II. His saviors salved his body with fat and rolled him in warm, breathing felt to heal. Beuys used felt as medium and as symbol in his work.
|Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit, 1970.|
Felt, sewn, stamped.
National Museum of Scotland, GMA 4552.
A current show at the Ohio Center for Industry, Art, and Technology (The Works) in Newark, "Made by Hand," features felt as a material for expression. Co-curated by Chris Lang and Lyn Logan-Grimes, the selected artists include Lang, Renee Harris, Sharron Parker, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart, Yiling Tien, and Megan Henderson.
In the curatorial statement, Lang explains, "wool fibers react to hot water, soap, rubbing and pressure, causing the scales on the fibers to open and mat together allowing it to be molded like a piece of clay. More control over the fibers can be achieved with the use of a felting needle to mat dry wool fibers together, allowing felt artists to paint and sculpt." So despite its roots in the farm necessities and its hand manufacture, felt is described to have the function of other materials that are used to make decorative or non-functional items. And, indeed, in The Works' show, most of what is displayed sits along this spectrum of non-utilitarian craft to fine art.
|Chris Lang, Rows and Rows.|
Note that even from a distance, the textures of the various regions
are discernable and distinctive.
Chris Lang's work in two dimensions is pictures of variegated rural scenery. Working from a natural colored felt canvas (underlayer), she dry-felts her own hand-spun yarns with the barbed felting needle. For the skies, she mixes shades of blue wool together with long strands of white to create the effect of a fine afternoon's high sky with cirrus clouds. Each of the rows of crops has a unique look because she has selected either single-colored yarn or a mixture of loose wools to represent it, thus creating nuance and variety of color and texture. Lang understands and uses the properties of her material—she does not attempt to "paint the picture" but makes the picture that she can make from wool. I appreciate an artist's thorough knowledge and well integrated use of specific materials.
|Chris Lang, Rows and Rows. Detail.|
|Chris Lang, Mother Nature's Footstool|
|Bird's nest detail|
|Chris Lang, detail from Mother Nature's Footstool|
|Yuling Tien, Sarah the Cat|
|Yiling Tien, Four Spheres|
Tien's work made me realize that I saw nothing she made that could not have been made of clay or even glass. This reminds me how important the touch, weight, malleability, and texture of a material are; the ease with which it is colored or modified; its durability and portability. In her statement, Tien mentions that she had almost given up on felting when all she knew was the rigorous water method, which would require much heavy work with hand forming objects. Once she understood dry, needle felting with its additive process, she fell back in love with it.
|Sharron Parker, Capturing the Light|
|Sharron Parker, Capturing the Light II|
|Parker, Capturing the Light II, detail.|
|Parker, Capturing the Light, detail.|
|Floating cloud of dyed, carded wool welcomes guests|
to "Made by Hand" at The Works.