Two Virginia Artists Crowd-Sourced Local Makers to Create a Life-Sized Handmade Mythological Ecosystem

By Editorial Team on August 11, 2016

The Torpedo Factory Art Center will house a colony of handmade fabled creatures in the New Project Studio for the month of August. Led by Virginia artists Stacy Cantrell and Erika Cleveland, more than 130 local volunteers spent nearly a year crocheting, felting, and knitting all of the flora and fauna featured in Materialized Magic: Mythical Creatures in a Yarn Artistry Habitat.

The immersive installation features a woodland and desert diorama constructed almost entirely from yarn and felt. Baba Yaga, a cyclops named “Baby Clyde”, and other mythological characters inhabit the space.

Materialized Magic celebrates the mythical and magical, bringing enchantment into daily life,” said Cleveland, who is also an associate artist at the Torpedo Factory. “The work weaves individual, artistic, and communal visions.”

“It is also a collaborative process, involving the community,” said Cantrell. “Our project taught crochet, knitting, and needle felting to anyone who wanted to participate.”

For nearly a year, Cantrell and Cleveland held more than 20 public meet-ups at six locations Arlington and Alexandria, including at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory. Along with experienced craftspeople, about 50 novices participated and learned new skills. Throughout the course of the exhibition at the Torpedo Factory, visitors will be able to continue creating new figures to be used in this ever-evolving work.

The full installation, which was recently on view at the Arlington Arts Center in July 2016, also features a waterfall habitat. Due to space constraints, it will not be on view at the Torpedo Factory. It was donated to The Jefferson Retirement Community in Arlington, which was one of the six meet-up locations.

By the Numbers:

  • 130 volunteers, ages 3 – 94.
  • Approximately 60 pounds of yarn and five pounds of wool in total.
  • The tree alone took 250 hours to create and uses approximately seven pounds of brown yarns.
  • There are 50 crocheted rocks in the installation.
  • Clyde the baby cyclops is based on some of Cantrell’s body measurements.
  • 80% of the supplies were donated from individuals, fiber guilds, and local businesses.
  • Materialized Magic meet-ups took place at the Arlington Arts Center, Convergence, Jefferson Retirement Community, Knitting Artists of Northern Virginia, the Torpedo Factory, and Upcycle Center for Creative Reuse.

Cantrell and Cleveland received $1,581 after presenting Materialized Magic during a CRAVE (Creating Resources for Artistic Vision and Engagement) micro-granting dinner in March 2015. Attendees at CRAVE events hear four presentations, then vote on who receives an on-the-spot grant. The sum is dependent upon the funds collected through ticket sales. CRAVE is co-produced by the Torpedo Factory Art Center and Convergence Arts Initiative.

About the Artists
Erika Cleveland is a healing-doll artist. She shows her work at the Torpedo Factory, where she is an associate artist, and creates them at the Jackson Art Center in Washington. Dolls are humble, simple and yet powerful, personal and yet universal. Through folk-tales, religious and spiritual symbols, and personal interpretations, her work explores the layers that separate people from the world, as well as moments of transformation and change. In her dolls, she represents protective layers as skin, shells, cloaks, or armor that are shed. A graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Cleveland discovered sculptural needle felting two years ago. A former art therapist, Cleveland teaches doll making and runs workshops at a variety of venues, including the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, and the annual Expressive Therapies conference in New York City.

Stacy Cantrell is a free-form sculptural crochet artist. She likes to create works pertaining to mythology, history and nature. Cantrell has extensive experience working on community fiber and yarn-bombing projects, which include teaching crochet, organizing work sessions, working with large and small groups and giving presentations. Her giant crocheted fruit periodically decorates the landscape in Rosslyn. She worked on the Smithsonian Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef and Artisphere’s Yarn-Bomb, and has also created work for the Smith Center Healing Arts Gallery and Pleasant Plains Workshop in Washington. Cantrell recently graduated with a master’s in history of decorative arts at George Mason University in partnership with the Smithsonian Associates. She currently resides in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and son, who both crochet and participate in community fiber projects.

(via Torpedo Factory. Photo courtesy of Torpedo Factory)