BY HAND

Knitting as fine art on display at University of Maine Museum of Art

Posted May 07, 2012, at 11:53 a.m.
Knitted big cat pelts such as this one, the work of artist Ruth Marshall, are on display through June 9 at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.
Photo courtesy of UMMA
Knitted big cat pelts such as this one, the work of artist Ruth Marshall, are on display through June 9 at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.

Knitters and those who love the fibers arts have the rare opportunity to see knitting as contemporary fine art in artist Ruth Marshall’s “Vanished into Stitches” exhibit on display through Saturday, June 9, at the University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St. in Bangor.

Marshall, who was raised in Australia and now lives and works in New York City, creates life-size pelts of ocelots, tigers, leopards and other big cats, most of them rare or endangered, using size 2 or 6 circular knitting needles. Some have crocheted ears. Each piece is tied to a frame Marshall makes by hand of willow or bamboo lashed together with cord.

“I use Lion Brand Alpine 100 percent wool yarn made in Turkey,” Marshall said. She also uses Lion Brand 100 percent cotton yarn to accurately replicate the striping or spotting patterns of the big cats. Her first step, she said, is to draw the pelt and its markings. Then she makes a life-size knitting chart, each square representing a color which will guide the color changes as she knits. It takes three to four months to knit an individual piece, regardless of size. She uses colors — black, white, cream, orange and rusty brown — the yarn company regularly stocks. She tried working with a professional dyer who lives in Seattle, but that proved unsatisfactory.

“The markings of each pelt are accurate,” Marshall said, “though the precise color may not be.”

The initial effect is that of an animal that has just been killed for its pelt, skinned and stretched on the frame to dry. These animals are still the quarry of poachers in many parts of the world. Replicating the pelts allows Marshall to draw attention to the beauty of the pelts which, in part, is why human beings covet them and want to slay the animals, and to draw attention to the effort that is being made to keep the felines from extinction. She hopes, she said, that viewers will come away from the exhibit so angry that they will make an effort to learn more about how to protect the big cats and make a donation to further the work. Only 3,200 tigers, she said, exist in the wild.

Marshall said her mother and her aunt taught her to knit when she was 4 or 5 years old and she recalled knitting a cardigan sweater for her teddy bear. “I also did a brain operation on him to help him come alive,” she said.

She worked for many years at the Bronx Zoo where she observed the big cats, and it was at this period in her life that she began to think about creating the animal pelts in knitting.

“I thought it was crazy and I waited for the idea to die,” she said. But as an artist, she knew she couldn’t just have an idea without following through and figuring out how to get the result she envisioned in her mind. That was where her tabby cat Rocky proved invaluable. She measured Rocky, charted his markings and knit his pelt as way to test her idea.

Marshall’s work is based on research she did at the American Museum of Natural History where she had special access to the mammal collection, but some of her work also is based on observation of live Indo-Chinese tigers.

“No one sees these pelts in museums or institutions,” she said. “They have no scientific value. But we have an aesthetic connection with them because they are beautiful. Through my work I’m bringing them out of the museum and telling people about them.”

Also on display at UMMA is “Moments Abstracted,” the photographs of John Goodman, and “Slab Waltz,” the sculpture of ceramic artist Jemma Gascoine who lives in Blanchard.

Snippets

The Women’s Fellowship of the East Orrington Congregational Church will hold a Quilt Show 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the church. The show will feature Quilts of Valor made by a group of women in the church. Handmade quilted items also will be available for purchase. Vendors, including The Cotton Cupboard from Bangor, Pins and Needles from Farmington, Stitches from Newport and Maine by Mainers from Down East Maine will offer goods and information in Carlson Hall, downstairs at the church. Admission is $3. For information, call the church from 8 a.m.-noon at 825-3404 or Carol Small at 409-1585.

Interweave has released a new eBook for artists and crafters, “Know Your Rights: Copyright 101,” to raise awareness about the issues surrounding copyright and the problems with copyright infringement that impact our industry.

The 10-page book is available for free download for knitters at knittingdaily.com, for crocheters at crochetme.com, for those who sew at sewdaily.com, for quilters at quiltingdaily.com, for beaders at beadingdaily.com, for spinners at spinningdaily.com and for weavers at weavingtoday.com.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153 or email ahamlin@bangordailynews.com.

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