The white Palace

Wild Fibers - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Les­lie Petro­vski

In 2009 felt artist Jan­ice Arnold sus­pended a mon­u­men­tal yurt in the con­ser­va­tory of the Smith­so­nian Cooper-He­witt, Na­tional De­sign Mu­seum as part of the in­sti­tu­tion’s Fash­ion­ing Felt ex­hi­bi­tion. Di­aphanous and richly em­bel­lished and stand­ing at twenty four feet, “Palace Yurt” was a soar­ing homage to the fab­ric it­self as well as a trib­ute to the an­cient Mon­go­lian cel­e­bra­tory spa­ces. En­am­ored with the mag­i­cal alchemy that oc­curs when wool, wa­ter and fric­tion come to­gether, the Cen­tralia, Wash­ing­ton-based Arnold has made both an in­tel­lec­tual and artis­tic study of the fab­ric, the his­tory of which goes back 8,000 to 10,000 years. For her, this proto fab­ric links past and pre­sent, con­nect­ing her and the peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence her work to a more nat­u­ral, pri­mal state.

An artist ex­plores the ori­gins and pos­si­bil­i­ties

of hu­man­ity’s first fab­ric.

Arnold has stud­ied felt­mak­ing with Mon­go­lian no­mads and has cre­ated pieces for or­ga­ni­za­tions as di­verse as Cirque du Soleil/Celebrity Cruises, the Gates Foun­da­tion, the Wolf­gang Puck restau­rant Cut, the Key Arena Seat­tle Cen­ter, the Grand Rapids Art Mu­seum and the Los An­ge­les and New York City Op­eras.

To­day, in ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing “a river of wool” for the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Ecol­ogy, she is work­ing to fin­ish both a cat­a­log and doc­u­men­tary about the Palace Yurt project, which she hopes some­day to dis­play in Mon­go­lia.

“One of my dreams is to take it to Mon­go­lia and show it in a mu­seum there. That part is the miss­ing link for me,” she says. “I want to give back to the coun­try where I’ve learned so much.”

In your artist state­ment you write that wool felt con­nects us with our nat­u­ral his­tory in a way no other fab­ric can? How so?

Felt is be­lieved to be the old­est tex­tile tra­di­tion known to hu­mans. It makes sense to me that we have a ge­netic mem­ory for it. It’s the only ex­pla­na­tion I have for why peo­ple are so drawn to the ma­te­rial and in­stinc­tively want to touch it.

Now that we are in this era of out-of­con­trol tech­nol­ogy and en­vi­ron­ments that are so clean lined—the op­po­site es­thetic of or­ganic—peo­ple are more and more drawn to this world that speaks to a part of them­selves that is miss­ing. It [felt] calls in us some­thing that is very wild and very pri­mal that we don’t re­ally have an in­tel­lec­tual mem­ory for, our con­nec­tion is ear­lier than that.

Why were you drawn to felt?

I have al­ways loved wool, and I had known about hand­made felt, but I hadn’t ac­tu­ally made it un­til 1999 when I had an op­por­tu­nity to work with Nord­strom on a vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing sculp­ture project. I con­tacted a friend who makes hand­made felt and asked her to con­sult with me in the very early stages of that project. In then end, that led me to mak­ing over 1,500 square yards of hand­made felt.

When I couldn’t find any­one who knew how to make large felted sheets, I thought, OK, go back to the his­tory—go back to the roots of this ma­te­rial and I started re­search­ing.

I found a phe­nom­e­nal ar­ti­cle on wool in a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic magazine from May 1988. I saw im­ages of no­mads mak­ing felt on the tun­dra, pulling their wool be­hind a horse and I thought, “I don’t have a camel or a horse, but I have a car!” So I em­barked on

this jour­ney to make felt in the way that it had been made for thou­sands of years.

When I went to Kyr­gyzs­tan a year later, I saw these tra­di­tional cul­tures mak­ing felt in the way I had been guided through in the magazine pic­tures. I felt this im­me­di­ate bond. This recog­ni­tion that we hold a knowl­edge of this ma­te­rial in our cel­lu­lar struc­ture. From that mo­ment I was de­ter­mined to not only honor the an­i­mal, but honor this an­cient tra­di­tion.

In Cen­tral Asia, peo­ple are born in felt. They live in felt. They die in felt. And they are buried in felt. I’m of the be­lief that it’s what al­lowed us as hu­man be­ings to leave the caves and take off the an­i­mal skins and start mov­ing and mi­grat­ing and, of course, con­quer­ing other lands be­cause we had this porta­bil­ity that prior to that dis­cov­ery we didn’t have.

This is very sa­cred ma­te­rial and a mir­a­cle fiber, re­ally.

What was the im­pe­tus be­hind the Palace Yurt in­stal­la­tion at the Smith­so­nian Cooper-He­witt Mu­seum?

I first had contact with the cu­ra­tors at the Smith­so­nian Cooper-He­witt dur­ing a show of ex­treme tex­tiles. I was very in­spired by the show and wrote Matilda McQuaid, who heads up the mu­seum’s tex­tile col­lec­tion. I ex­pressed my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the mu­seum and the ex­treme tex­tile show, and told her I was a felt­maker. She in­vited me to come and show them my fab­ric.

It was 2006 and I had quite a few felt projects un­der my belt at that point. I was do­ing a com­mis­sion for the Los An­ge­les Opera, mak­ing felt for Gren­del (di­rected by Julie Tay­mor), and that was go­ing to be shown in New York as well. There was this great co­in­ci­dence where I was in New York for the opera and two peo­ple from the mu­seum’s tex­tile depart­ment were go­ing to see it as well. I spent the af­ter­noon show­ing them my fab­ric when they said, “If we ever have a felt show, we want you to be a part of it.”

The fol­low­ing year they con­tacted me and asked if I wanted to be part of their felt ex­hi­bi­tion and I said, “Ab­so­lutely!”

I went to New York to see the ex­hi­bi­tion space, be­cause I wanted to de­sign some­thing for this com­mis­sion that was site spe­cific, and I re­ally wanted to un­der­stand more about what the phi­los­o­phy of the show was go­ing to be. In go­ing into the mu­seum, I walked into the con­ser­va­tory and was struck by how beau­ti­ful it was to have a glass house, es­pe­cially one in the mid­dle of a city sur­rounded by this spec­tac­u­lar man­sion.

The space felt very much like a palace yurt, which I

had read about in Felt Art of the Mon­gols, one of my felt­ing bi­bles. It was writ­ten by a felt scholar in Ulan Ba­tor, Mon­go­lia, and he talked about palace yurts be­ing this grand cel­e­bra­tory space: an en­vi­ron­ment for artis­tic ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the era when there were yurt vil­lages and mil­i­tary cam­paigns. The roy­alty would have their very fancy royal yurts, but then the palace yurt was more a place where ev­ery­one came to­gether to sing, dance, write po­etry and tell sto­ries. I turned to the cu­ra­tor Su­san Brown and said, “This could be a yurt, this could be a palace yurt.”

I’ve al­ways had a phi­los­o­phy of, it’s not can I do it, but how can I do it? I looked upon this as an op­por­tu­nity to not only el­e­vate felt­mak­ing to a new level, but to re­ally cre­ate a sen­sory in­ter­ac­tion where peo­ple could have a unique ex­pe­ri­ence walk­ing into a space sur­rounded en­tirely by hand­made ma­te­rial — much like it was thou­sands of years ago.

How did you re­search this project?

The stars were cer­tainly aligned for me to do it prop­erly. A very good friend of mine, Chris­tine Martin, was a Ful­bright scholar in Cen­tral Asia that year study­ing women and tex­tiles. She had been asked by the Smith­so­nian to do a video about tra­di­tional felt­mak­ing and emailed me to say she had lined up a meet­ing with Dr. Batchu­luun, au­thor of my felt­ing bi­ble.

‘Would you join me in Ulan Ba­tor and help me film for the Fash­ion­ing Felt ex­hi­bi­tion?’

How can you say no? She had just lined up a meet­ing with this man who I held in high es­teem. I had just two weeks to pre­pare be­fore leav­ing on the trip.

I took my sketches with me and showed them to Dr. Batchu­luun; he planned to spend three hours with us and ended up spend­ing three days. He didn’t speak English, but he was so ap­pre­cia­tive and very emo­tional when he saw what I was do­ing. He un­der­stood that I would be hon­or­ing the tra­di­tion and build­ing some­thing in a con­tem­po­rary way that ref­er­enced the his­tor­i­cal palace yurt that was in­spired by his book.

Thanks to meet­ing with the Asian Cul­tural Coun­cil and the things Chris­tine Martin had lined up for us to do, plus film­ing felt­mak­ing us­ing tra­di­tional tech­niques and vis­it­ing ev­ery place we could that re­lated to his­toric felt; I in­creased the in­spi­ra­tion and creative foun­da­tion I needed to give this in­stal­la­tion what it clearly de­served.

Did you have an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence how no­mads live?

As a trav­eler from the other side of the globe, you

never re­ally get the sense that peo­ple are ex­actly the same as when you’re not there. Dur­ing my trip to the first In­ter­na­tional Felt Sym­po­sium (in 2001), we did go out to a no­madic yurt vil­lage and spent three days with the peo­ple. We got to know their kids and I taught them some songs and games. Their run­ning wa­ter was a river. They had only their horses and lived very sim­ply as no­mads. Un­for­tu­nately, that lifestyle is be­com­ing rare be­cause it’s not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able. It’s be­cause of the draw of West­ern cul­ture and the draw to move to cities to get work is why the lifestyle is be­com­ing more scarce.

In speak­ing with Dr. Batchu­luun, he said ‘My dream is to have a felt mu­seum here so I can reed­u­cate peo­ple who haven’t grown up with felt as their tra­di­tion be­cause this is our his­tory.

It needs to be doc­u­mented.’

Where did the wool come from to cre­ate the Palace Yurt?

I used a lot of sources, pri­mar­ily I used U.S. wool. My goal is to do ev­ery­thing I can to sup­port lo­cal in­dus­try in the United States. I did buy some wool from an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Peace Fleece and I pur­chased Nor­we­gian wool for the bench cov­ers, but pri­mar­ily the wool was from East Coast/Mid­west sources.

In later projects, I’ve been work­ing more with lo­cal farms.

Was there a type of sheep wool that you were par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in us­ing for this in­stal­la­tion?

Yes, be­cause 75 per­cent of the felt that I made for the Palace Yurt was dec­o­ra­tive, I pri­mar­ily used merino wool be­cause it re­ally quickly felts. It’s great, too, if you want to put in non-felt­ing fibers, which I did quite a bit. I in­fused the felt with metal, raw silk, ly­ocell and rayon silk vel­vet. I needed a fine wool that would eas­ily grab those dif­fer­ent fibers.

I also wanted a tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s hard to com­pletely ap­pre­ci­ate a ma­te­rial un­less you can touch it and in a mu­seum en­vi­ron­ment you typ­i­cally can’t touch any­thing.

In the con­ser­va­tory there was a wrap-around bench and in or­der to al­low peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence it in a per­sonal way, I made bench cov­ers. I used Nor­we­gian wool along with merino. I think I used some churro wool; there’s a lo­cal farm in the North­west that raises her­itage breeds. I also used lo­cal mo­hair as well.

The bench had more of the re­ally wild, harder felt­ing ma­te­rial that al­lowed peo­ple to sit on it and feel it. I put a lot of tex­ture on the edge of the win­dow, so

The White Palace. Im­age cour­tesy of the New York Times, photo by Fred Con­rad 2009

Felt­maker Jan­ice Arnold in­side her palace. Photo by Shauna Bit­tle, The Ev­er­green State Col­lege.

Jan­ice Arnold and Anand Mali­akal fulling a sec­tion of the mas­sive felt yurt amidst a snow shower. Photo by Stan Klyne

Left: Jan­ice Arnold work­ing on the Palace Yurt. Right: Jan­ice Arnold col­lect­ing Ice­landic fleece from Bone Dry Ridge, Rochester WA.

Chroma Pas­sage. Photo by Jan­ice Arnold.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.