CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

A Story about Potential

As I walk in nature, time transforms into a cyclical pattern.  There are no deadlines or 8-hour days, time just cycles.  The waves of the ocean, the breeze of the ever-changing air, the birds flying about, everything is cycling.  In and out of seasons, in and out of days, every minute new flowers bloom, and old flowers return to the Earth.

Springtime.  I love this time of year.  Life buds out to greet the new, after a long cold winter.  I grew up in Wisconsin, where seasons were a bit more dramatic than they are here in Northern California.  However, after spending seven years down in San Diego, I was delighted to see the pussy willows blooming my first spring, up here in Humboldt County.  This thrilling discovery brought me back to my childhood, back to my roots.  My art progressed.  I graduated from Humboldt State University in 2010 with a major in Studio Arts. My focus was primarily sculpture and metalsmithing / jewelry.

Cycling in and out, nature is fascinating.  I started a sculpture over four years ago; at that point I did not realize I would still be working on it today, nor did I realize the intense connection it had to my childhood.  Created from sterling silver, wool and willow, this sculpture embodies the essence of potential, hence its title.

Potential, this sculpture is a work in progress. It has grown thus far through several different techniques and just a handful of natural materials.  The silver willow stem emerges from the redwood base, pushing up toward the sky. Supported by the silver leafy peduncles, needle felted wool pussy willow catkins bud out into the fresh air…

 Potential Redwood base: 5 1/4" x 5 3/4" x 2 1/2" Sterling Silver stem: 5 3/4" Wool Willow

Redwood base: 5 1/4″ x 5 3/4″ x 2 1/2″
Sterling Silver stem: 5 3/4″
Wool  Willow

Typically in nature this is where the visual simulation would end.  However, with an expanded view of the potential of resources utilized it would be unfair to end the story here. In the creation of this sculpture I was very interested in, and adamant about, using all-natural locally sourced materials.  This sculpture is primarily fabricated out of wool, and as it increases in size,  willow is incorporated as the armature (the structural support).

I was born and raised on a small organic farm in Wisconsin. I was home schooled through eighth grade and our TV was only for the handful of movies we would watch throughout the year.  My dad had about thirty breeding ewes and my mom, whilst I was quite young, made and sold willow baskets.  Creation was our outlet, whether it was something small inside the house or something big outside.  My folks taught us a love for the land.

Wool and willow are two very fascinating and dynamic materials.  Wool offers the unique capability of felting when the scales of the fiber interlock creating a mass of wool fibers.  With this great quality, as long as I am attaching wool to wool, I have no need for any type of binding material.  And willow – what a dynamic species – natural aspirin, root accelerator, basketry, pod armature and the list goes on,  and it is EVERYWHERE!!!  Ditches, train tracks, the Arcata Marsh, your back yard and mine.

The story continues… Supported by the lower leafy peduncle, the wool pussy willow catkin buds. From the tip of the bud emerges a wool cord several inches long, going to a larger wool pussy willow catkin. As this catkin is not supported by a peduncle, and is independent in form, I refer to this form as a pod. This pod and the following ones take on a shape very similar to that of a butternut squash.  The first pod is 1 ½ inches long, with a larger wool cord connecting it to the next larger pod, so on and so forth.  The first wool cord consisting of 4 strands of yarn. As the pods increase in size so does the technique and materials.

The first handful of pods are solid needle-felted wool. I constructed these by creating two wool balls, one slightly larger than the other, then attaching them together.  The largest solid wool ball is just under basketball size.  I stumbled upon a problem, though – wool and weight.  I was needing and getting too much of both.  That is when I knew I had to devise a plan for an armature.  Willow was the answer. With a willow framework, raw wool was wrapped around it and through it, then needle-felted.  The finished pods have about 2 inches of needle-felted wool covering the armature.

Rainbow sewing felted knit sheets over willow armature. 

Rainbow sewing felted knit sheets over willow armature.

The largest pod thus far needed even more support!  This is where the knitting came into play. I just knew I could not knit panels and panels in all white, so I decided for any and all COLORS.  I have spent many hours knitting panels of wool, which I then wet-felt to create a sturdier surface to needle-felt into.  My end product, of about 6 balls of yarn, is a wet-felted knit panel about 2 feet by 4 feet.  A labor of love, I have enjoyed myself nonetheless, playing with colors, ideas, feelings and experiencing cycles.  One of my favorite aspects of the knitted, colorful panels covering the armature, is knowing how bright and beautiful it is, then covering it up with raw, natural wool.  It is like an agate, the beauty inside cannot always be seen by looking at the outer appearance.

Largest Pod 39" long, It offers a view of the willow armature, colorful felted knit and needle felted raw wool.

Largest Pod 39″ long. It offers a view of the willow armature, colorful felted knit and needle felted raw wool.

This proud pod is a whopping 39 inches long, folks!  The wool cord attaching the largest pod to the others contains over 400 strands of wool yarn – and no, I did not spin the yarn.  I’ve got to have some boundaries. The cord, however, was a doozer!  Between my husband, myself, the drill with paint mixer bit and our yard fence, we got the job done, barely.  The torque created by so many strands of yarn at the tightness we needed almost took us off our feet!

Not only is the process itself  time consuming, I typically use raw materials.   This means that I spend lots of time washing manure-ladened wool, then processing it, and lastly needle-felting.  This past February I planted my very own willows!  I was fortunate to get some shoots of willow from the back yard of a local basket weaver who passed prior to my arrival in Humboldt.  I have a total of six willows, and I have to be patient as the willow grows in its own sweet time.  My need for long good willow shoots, or whips, is extensive, as I have big dreams.

Truth be told, alone I could not have created this.  As with almost all things in life, creation happens through group effort.  So a HUGE Thank You!  To the many, friends, family and community members that have extended energy and love in helping bring Potential this far.

Rainbow with the Willows. Yes they all have names!  Italian Red Willow & Golden Willow

Rainbow with the Willows. Yes they all have names! 
Italian Red Willow & Golden Willow

Potential was recently featured at Natural Fiber Fair 2014 in Arcata, California. This installation offered the viewer an experience with the sculpture Potential, as well as a limited viewing of several knit panels, which will be structural support for the next larger pod. Currently on display at NorthCoast Knittery, in Eureka, California, I was honored to be involved in their grand reopening, during Arts Alive on October 4th.  The installation can be seen on their website at

Potential as displayed at the Natural Fiber Fair in Arcata

Installation at Natural Fiber Fair 2014, Arcata, CA.  Pods ranging in size-1.5 inches long to 39″ long. Extended it is over 30′ long

Another very important factor in this sculpture is that these materials are all biodegradable! This sculpture will not be around forever.  It, too, must return to Mother Earth.  To have an opportunity to visually show an expression of expanded potential of our natural surroundings is truly and honor and a joy.

A very fun spin-off project emerged as I was thinking about the sustainability of this sculpture.  I started to ask myself how close to home can I resource my materials?  Well folks, I found that I could get closer to home than I could have ever anticipated.  Three years ago, I started dread-locking my hair.  Knowing I did not have the patience to spin it, I chose dreadlocks so that as it grows, it will become long strands of matted fiber, very similar to felted wool.  A fun and unbeknownst time-consuming 10+ year project.  I have become the sheep!

This sculpture continues to grow as I work different ways to ensure a respect and honor of our natural surroundings.  I am a process artist. I am a dreamer.  I am here to help our Mother Earth.  I am here to love our Mother Earth and, maybe, I could push it as far as saying I am an Eco-sculptor, to the best of my ability and knowledge.
So precious and small you can hold it in your hand. So large and expansive you can walk inside. We are all connected, we are all love, we are all so much potential!

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