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Q-C responds to 'yarn bomb' project in big way

  • 4 min to read

Way better than expected.

Invited to crochet colorful circles of yarn to be stitched onto a hickory tree at Augustana College, response from Quad-City residents was so overwhelming that project organizer Claire Kovacs bought more yarn, added more trees, including in Davenport, and hired more "bombers" to do the stitching.

The creative act of "yarn bombing" — covering an object such as a tree, parking meter, or even a mass transit bus with colorful yarn — came into the street art lexicon in 2004. Among the first practitioners was Ohio-based artist Carol Hummel who won a public art competition by covering the trunk of a tree outside of a city hall from the base to the highest branch in red, yellow, pink and blue knit.

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Artist Carol Hummel, left, and assistant Julie Loxterman "yarn bomb," or wrap a tree in fabric, at the Augustana College campus, Rock Island. Hummel created the patterns that were crocheted by volunteers. Other "yarn bombed" trees are at the plaza of the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, and Longfellow Liberal Arts Elementary School, Rock Island

Hummel's idea took hold and spread, and last year Augustana's Kovacs, director of the Augustana Teaching Museum of Art, proposed a project for the Quad-Cities.

She secured a grant to hire Hummel to figure out patterns, colors and yarn amounts for the Augustana tree and to travel to the Quad-Cities for the installation.

When the 41 kits that Kovacs and an assistant had prepared to distribute at the first of five workshops, or "crochet-ins," held during August, September and October, were immediately snapped up with requests for more, she realized the project could be bigger than she originally imagined.

"It warmed by heart," she said. "I was hoping we would have engagement, but I have been humbled by how many people from across the Quad-Cities wanted to help."

She secured more funding — about $5,000 in addition to the original matching grant of $15,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts — for more yarn (actually, a heavy-duty nylon cord) and for more installation help. In addition to artist Hummel and her daughter, a third assistant was hired, and their contract was extended.

Melissa Mohr, director of education for the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, where several of the crochet-ins were held, said that "from our perspective, the project has gone way above and beyond expectations at every step."

When employees set up for the first one, they thought they'd have maybe 30 or 40 people, but "there must have been a hundred," Mohr said. "It warms my heart to see the community respond in this way," she said. "To come together so quickly with such an immediate, high energy.

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Claire Kovacs, director of the Augustana Teaching Museum of Art, left, and her assistant, Chamanthi Weeratunga, have gathered yarn for a community "yarn bomb" project at Augustana College in Rock Island.

"It's hard keeping up with something this big, and they (Kovacs and her staff) have done it, and so gracefully," Mohr said. "She (Kovacs) is a powerhouse in our community."

Installation is under way

Installation began last week and by today, the vibrant, outlined-in-yellow circles had been stitched around a tree at Rock Island's Longfellow Liberal Arts Elementary School, around six trees at the Figge plaza, and around the first 12 or so feet of the 40-foot hickory tree at Augustana.

Installers will go as far up into the tree as they can.

The first trees required only ladders, but as work progressed on the taller Augustana tree, installers used a mechanical lift donated by Sun-Belt Rentals.

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Working from ladders are Carol Hummel, left, and Julie Loxterman, and working in the donated lift from Sunbelt Rentals are Molly Sedensky and Dave Apple. They are "yarn bombing" a hickory tree on the campus of Augustana College, as their part of a community art project.

As people walking along Rock Island's 7th Avenue on Friday paused to ask artist Hummel what she was doing, she obligingly stopped stitching and answered questions.

She explained how the competition she won in 2004 "went viral," with people "all over the world" asking her to do similar projects in their communities. "And why not?" she said. "The reason is community-building. That's where I get the most satisfaction. People meet new people, make new friends.

"It's art by the people, for the people," she said. "It's a symbol of unity and positivity, and it makes the world a little nicer place to be in."

Asked what she thinks about other artists copying her idea, Hummel said that "if it brings everybody together, it's a beautiful thing."

Community-building definitely was one of the goals Kovacs had in mind in proposing the project. In addition to creating something beautiful to brighten or personalize a drab space, she wanted to bring unrelated people together to work on a common goal.

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Molly Sedensky and Dave Apple wrap a tree in yarn at the Augustana College campus, Rock Island. Project installation has been going on since last week.

Volunteer crocheters

That is an aspect of the project that really appealed to the 15 or so students enrolled in the Davenport Community School District's Creative Arts Academy who crocheted circles, Heidi Hernandez, visual arts teacher for sixth, seventh and eighth graders, said. 

"They were pumped up about the idea of bringing unlikely people together," she said. And all students were impressed with the "master class" artist Carol Hummel presented to them. "She was so accommodating and inspiring," she said.

Joscelyn Welshons, a retired computer programmer from Walcott, was drawn to learn to crochet and make circles for the project because "it was a little bit out of my comfort zone," she said.

"I have a technical background, but I like things that involve art," she said. "I'm a firm believer in developing both sides of my brain."

Among those helping out at the workshops to teach people to crochet or just oversee the work was Rowen Schussheim-Anderson, chairman of the Augustana Art Department.

A fiber artist herself, she is thrilled with the attention the project brings to fiber arts. "That doesn't happen every day," she said. And, as a left-handed person, "I was very helpful for the lefties" who came to learn, she said with a laugh.

Most the crocheters who came to the workshops were women, but not exclusively, Kovacs said. And there was wide variety in age.

Support and money for the expanded project came from Kovacs' colleagues at Augustana, the college's partnership with Longfellow and the college's art department, humanities fund, and institute for leadership and service, as well as the Figge and the Creative Arts Academy, Kovacs said.

Connecting a community through art is something of a trend; the Figge hosted 30 community workshops from December 2016 through April, inviting people to craft a total of 1,260 cornstalks made of green plastic soda bottles that were part of an installation at the museum over the summer.

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