Yarn bombing the prairie
Stretching from its roof to the sidewalk, a knitted mural covers 108 Contemporary's façade.
Karl Siewert; Romy Owens, artist and project leader; Krystle Brewer, interim executive director for 108 Contemporary; Ellen McGivern, gallery coordinator; and Isabelle Phillips seam together submissions for the knitted mural that covers 108 Contemporary’s façade.
Installing and preserving an outdoor art exhibit in the unpredictable climate of an Oklahoma winter can be tricky, but 108 Contemporary art gallery was up for the challenge. Stretching from its roof to the sidewalk, a knitted mural covers the building’s façade in the Brady Arts District.
“We were told this was too ambitious, but we’re doing the impossible,” says Krystle Brewer, interim executive director.
More than 4,000 individually knitted squares in bold hues and calming grays depict a simple scene of blue sky and green grass, representing how urban sprawl has slowly consumed the Oklahoma prairie.
“More than 100 years ago, this area of Tulsa would have been a flat landscape, and we’re returning it to what it once was,” Brewer says. “We’ve made the gallery a continuation of existing landscape.”
Unlike the random yarn bombs that pop up overnight at unsuspecting locations, “The Unbearable Absence of Landscapes” is conceptual.
One of the largest and only statewide knitting projects known in the United States, the exhibit is a strategic art project that required nearly a year of careful planning and community engagement.
Oklahoma City artist Romy Owens led the project, traveling thousands of miles around the state to recruit knitters.
“There were times when the work was very raw and emotionally overwhelming,” she says. “We asked artists to make something one knit at a time entirely by hand, and that’s amazing.”
At least 300 Oklahomans from Stillwater, Norman, Tulsa, Edmond and many smaller towns gave their time and talent to the masterpiece. Knitting circle members, groups from Family & Children’s Services’ Women in Recovery program and school children all participated in the project.
Those who didn’t know how to knit were given the opportunity to learn with free needles and yarn. The statewide knitting project aligns with 108 Contemporary’s community outreach mission to support the art media of Oklahoma and beyond. Brewer says the project has uncovered an extended, sacred family of artisans who connect through the knitting craft.
“There have been so many personal stories to come out of this project and help people through grief,” she says. “When your hands are busy, your mouth is more able to freely speak. People find a sense of community and healing.”
Once the squares were collected this summer, they were seamed together for installation in November. Two local engineers from Wallace Engineering and Manhattan Construction Group donated time and supplies to suspend the finished product with aircraft cable. The mural’s synthetic yarn is made from an acrylic and polyester blend to absorb less water and withstand the outdoor elements.
Owens says a fiber art piece of this magnitude is rare and would have taken her years to complete, but Oklahoma’s helping hands were a refreshing reminder of her state’s generous spirit.
“This was an amazing grassroots effort,” she says. “What I loved about this project was the community aspect — meeting people, hearing their stories and learning how knitting is more than a hobby. It’s a cherished social activity where the conversations often are therapeutic.”
A fun and modern twist on classic blankets and potholders, 108 Contemporary’s yarn bomb project invites Oklahoma and the entire country to view knitting in a new light.
Through January 2016 — “The Unbearable Absence of Landscapes”
Noon-5 p.m., Wednesday-Thursday; noon-7 p.m., Friday-Sunday. 108 Contemporary, 108 E. M.B. Brady St. Free. Call 918-895-6302, or visit www.108contemporary.org.
Through Jan. 17 “In Living Color” Famous works by pop artist and printmaker Andy Warhol brighten Philbrook’s galleries and compel visitors to explore the purpose of color and repeated imagery. Contemporary art from Richard Diebenkorn, Chuck Close, Edward Ruscha and Keith Haring complement Warhol’s work.
10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Thursday. Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 S. Rockford Road. Warhol exhibition tickets are $6 in addition to regular museum admission: $9, adults; $7, seniors 62 and older. Admission to the museum and Warhol exhibit is free for Philbrook members and youth 17 and under. Visit www.philbrook.org.
Dec. 4-Jan. 24 “Impressions: Prints by Jon Goebel” Visit the Henry Zarrow Center for Art and Education to see works designed by printmaker Jon Goebel. An assistant professor of art and master printer for the University of Hawaii Hilo, Goebel has shown in more than 100 group exhibits across the United States and internationally.
Noon-6 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m., Sunday. 124 E. M.B. Brady St. Free admission. Call 918-631-4400, or visit www.gilcrease.utulsa.edu/explore/zarrow.