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The Philadelphia Museum of Art Gets Yarn Bombed! Q&A with Jessie Hemmons

May 29th, 2012

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened its Craft Spoken Here exhibit in early May, and it’s the first time the museum has hosted an exhibit focused on the art of “crafting”.  The exhibit features art pieces by 39 craft artists from 11 countries who work with a diverse selection of media such as ceramic, rubber, glass, wood, silk, natural fibers and more. What’s even more innovating is the museum’s idea to yarn bomb the facade of their Perelman building.

Elisabeth Agro, the curator of Craft Spoken Here, commissioned Jessie Hemmons, an artist known as the “Philadelphia Yarn Bomber” to yarn bomb the building’s facade.  Elisabeth felt that “yarn bombing the front entrance of the Perelman building would be a great extension of the exhibition” and that yarn bombing would truly enhance the craft experience of this exhibit.  Elisabeth shared that part of her decision to include yarn bombing was because – “it truly is an extension of my personality as a curator. I want to engage my audience, get them to be excited about the subject matter as I am.”  It’s hard not to get excited about what crafted goodness lies beyond the exhibit entrance yarn bombed in bright shades of Lion Brand’s Vanna’s Choice and Hometown USA yarns.

In celebration of this historic yarn bombing installation, I reached out to Jessie Hemmons to learn more about her passion for creating fiber street art, and why she specifically chose to work with Lion Brand yarns for this piece.

Lion Brand: Since you’re known as the “Philadelphia Yarn Bomber”, how long have you been yarn bombing in Philadelphia? What was your inspiration to becoming involved with this art form?

Jessie Hemmons: I’ve been yarn bombing since 2009.  I’ve always been a huge fan of street art, but because I didn’t paint or make stencils or wheatpaste, I figured that I would only be an admirer of street art, and never an actual artist.  I have always felt a strong connection with the unsolicited expressiveness associated with street art; that desire to share one’s inner workings in such a public way, without asking permission from anyone.  I started seeing yarn bombing in 2008 on the internet and thought that it was a perfect way for me to express myself publicly, but I worried about the resilience of the yarn, like whether it would withstand wind, rain, or snow.  This kept me from yarn bombing until I saw an entire published book full of yarn bombs, called Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti, by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain.  Once I realized that the knitting could withstand the elements enough to fill an entire book of projects, I immediately began crocheting a piece to “bomb” in my city, Philadelphia.  My first project was a 12 inch “cozy” that I sewed onto a bike rack, and from there I continued to create larger installations.

LB: How did you become the “yarn bomber” for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s ‘Craft Spoken Here’ exhibit?

JH: For Craft Spoken Here, I believe that Elisabeth Agro worked to formulate a relationship between makers of all kinds, by bringing together fine artists who utilize craft techniques, with makers and crafters who make functional objects for the love of it.   Being in the transitional phase from crafter to artist, I believe that using a yarn bombing installation was a beneficial way to foster the relationship between those that learned how to knit by their aunt or grandmother, with those that use highly skilled technique to create fine art.

LB: I heard that you specifically requested to work with Vanna’s Choice and Hometown USA, could you share why you chose those yarns?

JH: I became interested in using Vanna’s Choice because of the marvelous color palette.  For the ‘Craft Spoken Here’ installation, I was inspired by the colors of the Spring/Summer 2012 fashion collections (as I mentioned before, my affinity for garments never fades) and I felt that Vanna’s Choice was really in tune with the colors of today, which made it my number one choice to work with.  Hometown USA was selected as a preference for this installation because of the thickness of the yarn, as well as the colors.  This was a very large installation, and so I felt that Hometown USA would best meet my needs for hand crocheted squares on this scale (12’x2′).

LB: You had a relatively tight deadline to get these magnificent pieces done, how long did it take you? (to knit and crochet; and then to install)

JH: I had just shy of three weeks to complete the fabrication of all of the pieces of the installation.  Working on a knitting machine, I was able to complete the knitted swags and the cozies around the bottoms of the handrails.  During this time I was also able to hand crochet 24 1’x1′ granny squares, which using Hometown USA helped to conserve time tremendously.

LB: Would you like to mention any other upcoming installations of yours?

JH: At the moment I am working to create relationships with non profit organizations so that I can begin to create art projects with inner city youth, by working with them to learn how to knit and design projects to help enhance their environment.  Other than that, I believe I’ll be taking a little time to breathe and collect myself after such an honorable experience, but I’m sure my desire to color the streets will not lie dormant for long.

Make sure to check out the installation and the ‘Craft Spoken Here’ exhibit when you can!  Due to the nature of yarn bombing weathering, the installation will be up until early June (you may also call the Visitor Services number to the museum to ensure the installation will be up for your planned trip: (215) 763-8100).

(Image credits: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Facebook album “Yarn Bombs Away“)

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