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Guest Blogger: Bonnie Meltzer, Crochet Artist

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I've been a fan of Bonnie Meltzer's mixed media art that features crochet for years; and I chose her work, "Global Warming" for the cover of my new book, The Fine Art of Crochet. Its strength and vibrancy foretells what the viewer will see inside.  I so admire Bonnie's talent, and I can count on her whenever I need support or feedback on articles I am writing about artists. I am very delighted to have her as my guest blogger today! Read her interesting analysis of BIG crochet!

by Bonnie Meltzer

Crocheting is seductive. One easily falls under its spell.  Once into the rhythm it is easy to go on and on, and hard to stop.  So it is no wonder that some crocheted works are big, big, big!

But crocheting big is anything but mindless.  The increased scale adds issues and problems that have to be solved.

•         What changes in your process or thinking when you change scale? 
•         How do you achieve all the work in making big pieces? 
•         What accommodations do you have to make in your studio so you can do big work?
•         What do you take into account when hanging big pieces?
•         Safety concerns?

Big work knocks my socks of!. But big isn't enough. In this age of yarn bombing with mismatched patterns and random colored, bad quality yarn it is exciting to see big but more purposeful and powerful expressions using crochet.  Even more exciting is that the work is just called art.  Crochet is used just like the word "paint" or "encaustic" would be. Writers (and the public) marvel that these wonders were crocheted; it is not a medium of derision anymore.  Hallelujah!  

ErnestoNeto crochets gigantic lacy environments (yet very sturdy) that often take up a whole venue. They are more like architecture than sculpture.  You become part of it -- Look through -- look out of or be in it.  Even at a museum, touching and interaction are encouraged.  Previously attached to walls and ceilings free standing structures were used for the first time, 2012, at the Nasher Sculpture Museum in Dallas. Crocheted e ropes were attached to aluminum supports to make a walk-through vaulted arch 66 feet long. He couldn't do it all himself; he doesn't. Assistants help crochet and install.  In the time-lapse video linked  you can see how many it takes to set-up.  But he does crochet. Pricilla Frank in the Huffington Post quoted Neto, "I am making a crochet now while I am doing this interview, it keeps spinning around. I think if people stop and make a crochet for half an hour a day you would have a better day." 

Even more gigantic -- 1.4 million feet of rope - the total length equating to nearly 20 times the length of Manhattan; covered in over 3,500 gallons of paint; and weighing over an astounding 100,000 pounds -- is the work of Orly Genger who finger crochets fishing rope into long panels and lays them down layer upon layer like New England un-mortared stone walls. "Red, Yellow and Blue" had one configuration at Madison SQ Park in New York and will have another, even bigger footprint,  when it moves to the De Cordova Sculpture Park near Boston beginning November 1, 2013. At each space the specific landscape influences the layout of the undulating walls.

Orly Genger: "Red, Yellow, Blue"project in  Madison Square Park, New York
Besides working a lot she has a team of assistants to help her clean debris out of the rope she gets from The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation. She also gets help with crocheting the strips and painting them. She certainly couldn't do it alone.

Orly Genger: Photos and video courtesy Larissa Goldston Gallery, New York

CarolHummel relishes community involvement. In her latest project made at a month long residency at the University of West Virginia, students and community members crocheted gizillions of roundels made with supplied yarn in a limited color palette that covered a tree with stunning results.

Carol Hummel: Covered Tree. Photo courtesy Daniela Londono
As in Genger's work, modules become building blocks for a final big project to be put together on site. Hummel transforms the flat crochet into sculpture by covering an object, in this case a tree, which in turn is transformed by the crochet. The thinking needed to run a commercial construction company (before becoming a full-time artist) and getting an intricate community crochet project match. Her crew of crocheters work from ladders, lifts and tree limbs.  They hold tight, are careful and crochet up-in-the-air.

Carol Hummel at work. Photo courtesy Daniela Londono.

Are you tired yet?  Lets get down to the merely large, still dramatic but doable by just one extraordinary human.  

You don't have to attach all those modules together to get a big sculpture. You can hang them separately. In some of Tracy Krumm's work she hangs each crocheted wire and metal component on the wall; the aggregate makes it large and spectacular.

Tracy Krum: "Table Husks"
Krumm does all the crocheting herself so she needs strategies to get the work done. Working in modules helps her manage time. "I can always squeeze in making a smaller component every day."  Changing the scale of materials, bigger needles, bigger stitches -- things to help speed along the labor intensive process -- is often the only way an artwork will get done in a timely manner.

Tracy Krumm at work in her studio
Modules are identical or similar pieces. Bigness comes from non-identical components in Nathan Vincent's whole locker room (12' x 19') in crocheted yarn over foam. Because of the nature of his subject matter -- big crocheted versions of real objects -- he has to consider how a piece will support itself; no easy feat. Will gravity or hanging damage the work? Armatures and underlying structure are crucial to the sculptures durability, strength, and impact.

Nathan Vincent: "Locker Room"
Flat work like his giant doily, "Be Good for Goodness Sake," needs structure to hang properly, too. The complete artwork, a room-sized installation made in collaboration with Alex Emmart, can be seen in December at the Muriel Guepin Gallery in NYC. Collaboration is another good way to accomplish big art.

Nathan Vincent and his work: "Be Good for Goodness Sake"
On the other hand, Jo Hamilton lets her work grow.  She isn't sure when she starts just how big it is going to get. It grows out from the most important feature of a portrait or city-scape. " Her latest is ten feet high.

Jo Hamilton: "Hawthorne Bridge Rising"
"I normally work on a futon to keep the work clean, but if it gets larger than about five feet in scale I have to move it to a blanket on the floor so I can see the scale and check the proportions." She mounts work on lightweight mesh to make it hang properly but she adds hinges on the frame to make it more transportable. She admits to very long, long days.

Jo Hamilton in her studio
There are so many more dimensions to each of the artists' artwork besides bigness.  Go to their websites and certainly see the chapters on Hamilton, Hummel, Krumm, Vincent, and Meltzer in The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler. 

We all owe a debt to Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) whose crocheted wire sculptures made in the 1950s while caring for her children showed us that we could crochet with anything and to make it any size we wanted.


Bonnie Meltzer said…
It was so much fun to do the research for this article. Of course, I had Gwen's marvelous book. The hard part was deciding on which artists to write about. I could have written about any of them. I was helped by her excellent text and big pix and the artists were so generous in answering my specific questions. Carol Hummel rushed to answer them before departing for India the next day. Nathan Vincent helped me meet my deadline by answering while on a train. The internet was widely helpful. I hadn't known Genger's work. I found quite a few more crochet artists I could have written about. Thank you all, especially Gwen, for writing the book in so thoughtful way.
Anonymous said…
norma minkowitz
Susan C Hammond said…
As someone who crochets and worked for a fine craft museum I applaud this post. It is wonderful to see where crochet can go and inspires me to try for bigger!

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