The Teaching Museum of Art at Augustana College is about to give new meaning to the phrase “fall colors.” Starting in August of this year, the Rock Island liberal arts college and artist Carol Hummel began reaching out to Quad City citizens and community groups to help “yarn bomb” a tree along 7th Avenue. The result? New connections, unexpected friendships, and soon-to-be spectacular views on Augustana’s campus and beyond.
A yarn bomb is pretty much what it sounds like: an explosion of color made from yarn or cord that’s been crocheted, knitted, or stitched to objects in public spaces. It’s suspected that the first yarn bombs originated in the nineties and early aughts among knitters and crocheters in Texas, Oregon, and Ohio. Whether their fiber graffiti was more about reclaiming or personalizing sterile or “cold” public places, or simply about finding creative uses for leftover yarn, the movement has since spread worldwide, evolving from simple doorknob cozies to innovations on a much grander scale—in some cases, enormous “stitched stories” created to enliven whole communities.
The #YarnBombQC project is headed by artist Carol Hummel, one of the original Ohio bombers (if not the original). Since 2005, Carol has lead collaborative public art installations in Switzerland, Norway, India, Mexico, and in cities across the United States. Amidst being a mother, live-in grandmother of three, and the commissioned artist for a simultaneous project in Long Island, New York, Carol has been working with various Quad Cities groups on this colossal project.
Colossal is not an overstatement. College students, senior citizens, middle school students, and random community members have turned up in droves—most of whom had never crocheted a stitch in their lives—to help create small pieces along a color scheme designed to encompass Augustana’s school colors as well as thematic colors for the cities. In fact, so many people showed up to help along the way—at least a hundred more than expected—that Carol and her team have collected enough work to adorn not only the enormous Augustana tree (whose trunk is a whopping six feet in diameter), but also a number of trees bordering the Figge Museum and several more on campus. Come the final week of October, Carol, her daughter (Molly Sedensky), and another trusted assistant will stitch together and install the work over the course of eight exhausting—but exciting—days. “Fun fact,’’ Carol says, “we will use 32,400 feet of macrame cord to create the works of art.’’
Carol wants to assure fellow tree huggers: “People always ask if covering the tree in crochet will hurt the tree. The answer is no! We use large cord and install it rather loosely so that the tree’s growth is not inhibited, and insects can still creep beneath it.’’
Projects like Carol’s seem a necessary medicine during a time that has felt so culturally divisive. Her work “traverses the socially constructed constraints of difference by exploring the ties that bind human beings to each other through culture, kinship, history, social interaction, and friendship,’’ she writes in her statement. The project at Augustana has indeed drawn diverse sectors of a scattered community together in a positive, celebratory way to create a major art work “for the people, by the people.’’
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $15,000 grant to fund the project, a first for the university, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Claire Kovacs, director of Augustana’s Teaching Museum of Art. “We’re very excited to involve not only our campus community but the larger Quad Cities community in this fun project,” says Dr. Kovacs.
If you are up for a trip to the Quad Cities, there is still time to get involved in the excitement. Carol encourages anyone who wants to watch the installation between Oct. 20–28 to “come, hang out with us under the trees! … And bring milk and cookies!”
The unveiling reception for the Augustana tree(s!) will take place on Sunday, October 29, from 4–5 p.m., along 7th Avenue at 35th Street, and is open to the public. Don’t worry, if you can’t make it that day, the finished work at Augustana—and at the Figge—will remain on view for the entire academic year, or longer. This winter they’ll be the coziest trees around.