In stitches:

She’s in­vented the word cro­chet­dermy, made a menagerie of life-like an­i­mals, and cre­ated a wool­based sculp­ture of Prince Harry

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

The cro­chet artist and her amaz­ing an­i­mals

Many peo­ple cro­chet teddy bears. Shauna Richard­son cro­cheted a life-size brown bear – and then, tigers, dogs, deer, don­keys, mon­keys,larger-thanlife-size li­ons – and Boris John­son as a go­rilla.

That first brown bear took her eight months and launched a new ca­reer. Ten years ago she came up with the term ‘cro­chet­dermy’ for what she did. “Re­ally it was for din­ner party pur­poses,” she said, “‘I cro­chet an­i­mals,’ is a bit of a con­ver­sa­tion killer.”

Shauna has been cro­chet­ing since child­hood, learn­ing from her grand­moth­ers who were both avid cro­cheters. “Typ­i­cally I would have gained just enough knowl­edge to en­able me to start freestylin­g and do­ing my own thing,” she said. “I joined a cro­chet club at ju­nior school, but as I’m not a big fan of rules I don’t know that my mem­ber­ship would have been overly long.”

As an art stu­dent she used cro­chet to turn her ideas into some­thing tan­gi­ble, but it was after her de­gree that she be­gan cro­chet­ing life-size and un­can­nily life-like an­i­mals. “Apart from the chal­lenge, it amused me to wit­ness peo­ple’s pre­con­ceived im­ages of cro­chet toys be­ing shat­tered when con­fronted by a life-size bear,” she said. On hol­i­day in a car­a­van at Burn­ham Mar­ket, she de­cided to en­ter the huge bear in the ‘one knit­ted, one cro­cheted’ class at the flower and pro­duce show. It won.

“It was a an in­ter­ven­tion I car­ried out purely to amuse my­self, but it back­fired a bit when I won Best in Cat­e­gory and went on to beat some rather fab­u­lous goose­ber­ries to win Best in Show,” said Shauna.

To­day her cro­chet­dermy is com­mis­sioned by or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als with price tags start­ing at £600 and the most pop­u­lar range sell­ing for £3-£4,000. A lion might take three months to make, but even smaller an­i­mals can be very labour-in­ten­sive with tiny paws to get per­fect.

A re­cent com­mis­sion was a cock­erel stand­ing on a cat stand­ing on a dog, stand­ing on a don­key. The three-me­tre tall piece, called The Bre­men Mu­si­cians after the Brothers Grimm fairy­tale, was bought by Ri­p­ley’s Be­lieve it or Not.

Boris John­son, re-imag­ined as a go­rilla, was an­other com­mis­sion, for an artists’ show within the Chelsea Flower Show. “I don’t know what Boris’s re­ac­tion to it was, but his then wife Ma­rina Wheeler seemed to think I had cap­tured a cer­tain some­thing of the man,” said Shauna. Eight years ago she cre­ated an un­of­fi­cial por­trait of Prince Harry, and turned him into a gin­ger ba­boon. “I don’t know if he has seen it, but I once gave his fa­ther a Cro­chet­dermy book fea­tur­ing the piece,” said Shauna. “I have hopes that it will one day make its way onto the Prince’s wall; it is the only way I will be parted from that piece.”

Some of her an­i­mals are even de­signed to re­place ac­tual taxi­dermy, with­out a once-liv­ing an­i­mal be­ing in­volved. In­stead, Shauna uses mo­hair wool. “Us­ing a sin­gle colour rough yarn

helps me to cre­ate some­thing un­canny and re­al­is­tic rather than some­thing re­sem­bling a toy,” she said. At first she stuffed the an­i­mals, but moved to light­weight rigid ma­te­rial such as poly­styrene for added re­al­ism. “Most re­cently I have been cre­at­ing pieces with no in­nards at all, these empty skins tend to bet­ter demon­strate the stand­alone sculp­tural qual­i­ties of the cro­chet,” she said.

Shauna has long been fas­ci­nated by the ques­tion of what art ac­tu­ally is. As a stu­dent, hear­ing that any­thing that had no prac­ti­cal use could be art she de­cided to turn her ex­tremely prac­ti­cal van into art – con­vinc­ing the univer­sity that it was a tem­po­rary art in­stal­la­tion (in­stalled each day on the car park where she would other­wise not have been al­lowed to park.)

Shauna and her artist hus­band Mark, and their Jack Rus­sell dog, The Bean, have just moved to Overstrand, near Cromer. “I was raised on long sum­mers in and around Bran­caster Staithe, my hus­band like­wise in Cromer,” said Shauna. “There is a real com­mu­nity spirit about Overstrand. The Bel­fry Cen­tre for Mu­sic and Arts is here; there is al­ways some­thing in­ter­est­ing and cre­ative go­ing on. We are both drawn to the sea and have lots of friends in the area; mov­ing to Nor­folk per­ma­nently seemed the only sen­si­ble thing to do.”

They usu­ally share their home with Shauna’s menagerie of cro­chete­d­ermy but right now all the an­i­mals are out on dis­play in ex­hi­bi­tions as far apart as Lon­don and New York.

How­ever, watch out for more woolly, life-size and as­ton­ish­ingly life-like an­i­mals tak­ing shape in Overstrand.

Ncro­chet­[email protected] shau­narichard­

‘Mov­ing to Nor­folk per­ma­nently seemed the only sen­si­ble thing to do’

The Bre­men Mu­si­cians by Shauna Richard­son

BOJO aka Boris John­son by Shauna Richard­son

ABOVE: Shauna cre­at­ing cro­chet­dermy Pic­ture: Nick Hand

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