Sunday, March 11, 2012

Knit pelts

Photos by Maja Kihlstedt.

I have blogged about knitting on a couple of occasions in the past (Knitting with hair in June 2009 and She wants her sweaters back in January 2011), and several more "yarny" posts have been inspired by my friend Sue (Yarn-bombing in April 2011, Penguin fashion show in October 2011, and Yarn and you in December 2011), so when Sue forwarded another link with the message, "You must be so tired of knitting stories," I answered, "Not yet!" Behold the artistry of Ruth Marshall (4th image) in the form of stretched pelts of a clouded leopard (1st image), Amur leopard (2nd image), ocelot (photo here), jaguar and tiger (3rd image). Marshall is Australian by birth and did her undergraduate work at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. She moved to New York, where she received her MFA from Pratt Institute and now teaches at the School of Visual Arts. She is represented by Dam Stuhltrager Gallery, and her work has been exhibited at art museums, but is detailed enough to be shown at natural history museums. The pelts she knits are not only life-size, they each replicate in wool the coat of an individual animal (some technical details here). “I’ve always been a cat person,” says Marshall, whose prototype for her Big Cats series was her own housecat. She had a studio at the Bronx Zoo and offers a glimpse of the detailed art that followed: "After leaving the zoo, I got permission to go backstage at the American Museum of Natural History and work with the extraordinary pelt collection in the mammalogy department. It is such a historical institution. I got kind of awe-struck. It has revolutionized my work. For example, I just recently noticed how the direction of the hair on a tiger changes on the shoulders and travels down the forelegs. There are a lot of cowlicks and swirls there. In my next tiger, I will try to imitate that by changing the direction of my knitted stitches." The resulting installation of 14 skins evokes a black market trophy den, thereby referencing the illegal activities driving the extinction of these wild cats. She explains, "My art is related to and bound by a fascination with animals. In essence the work is a synthesis of concepts relating to wildlife conservation and visually interpreting natural animal forms. The twenty-first century is gripped by the predicament of habitat loss and species decline. There is an urgent desire in me to say new things about this disappearing world and to contribute to the efforts to help wild animals and wild places endure." On her website Paloma Textiles, Ruth Henriquez Lyon calls Marshall's work "a constructive answer to a destructive act."

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