Just in time for sweaterweather, some of the Wichita State University campus sculptures suddenly got bundled up this week. A knitting group—and some other knitters who joined on for the project—had decided that what the campus needed was a yarn bomb, and Friday was the final day for the project.
Marilyn Hansen was at WSU with her daughter, Janelle Chapman of Chandler, AZ, putting finishing touches on the new sectioned sweater for Tom Otterness’s Millipede sculpture. She said that there have been other yarn bombs, and she’d read about them in Time magazine. But to her knowledge, she said, this one was a first for Wichita. Well, except for a birdhouse she yarn-bombed once.
First, the obvious but unnecessary question: Why knit clothes for sculptures?
“It’s fun,” Marilyn said. (And really, why else would you?)
She was interrupted while answering questions by the sight of a campus traffic cop in his little mini-truck slowing at the curb across the street. She walked towards him. They were not in hearing range, but it was easy to imagine that she was explaining to him a car parked in an unconventional space, or possibly, he just wanted to know why they were dressing the millipede. Whatever was said, it was all okay. Before driving away, he called out to them, “Looks great! Love it!”
After a few minutes, Jane McHugh and a friend joined us at the sculpture. Jane said that she was on the board of the Ulrich Art Museum, and when she proposed the idea to them, they approved, and “as they do,” ran with it.
“Does Tom Otterness know about this?” I asked.
She looked positively gleeful. “He was here last week,” she said, and said museum staff told him it was going to happen. “He was really excited about it. He wants pictures.” She pointed out that having wild knit sweaters covering sculptures was right in line with Otterness’s typically playful work.
But the knitters didn’t limit their bombing to Millie. Marilyn said that there were 18 sculptures around campus getting the fall knitting treatment. She said they’d divided up the campus artwork, and assigned certain knitters to each group. They had until 6 PM Friday evening to finish stitching their work around the campus.
And how long will it be here?
“At least through the week. We’d like it to be all winter,” Marilyn said.
I had to see the others. So—after walking around the nearly endless construction, which felt like repeatedly clicking on a website with the under construction message, I found various statues adorned with knitted garments, specially designed for the art works. Surprisingly, the first one I’d imagined in knit –Francisco Zuniga’s Three Women Walking—didn’t have anything yet. Perhaps they would get haute couture dresses just before the cocktail hour?
Sheryl VanDoren was putting the finishing touches on a blue knit dress for the girl of William Zorach’s Kneeling Figure. VanDoren was fretting a little about the collar, and explained, as if any listener would know, about yarn that couldn’t be measured and the difficulty of trying even a little ironing on synthetic yarn. It looked wonderful, though.
The knitting works are even livelier with the strings of lamps in the trees that are part of the Tony Feher’s outdoor works of “Extraordinary Ordinary.”
It all comes just in time for the Ulrich’s big re-opening at the Ulrich on Saturday, now that renovations are complete, as well as the openings of “Ronald Christ: Poetic Fictions” (a retrospective of WSU art professor Christ’s work) and “The Hard Kind of Courage: Gordon Parks and the Photographers of the Civil Rights Era.”
Don’t let people try to convince you that ivy crushing old stone buildings makes a campus. At least not until you’ve seen the art works providing a holiday mood now.
In fact, the whole WSU campus, with the strings of small lamps through trees and the mud paths and the colorful knitting, kind of has an improvisational, upbeat look—like WuShock is trying to throw a spring break for himself in the middle of September.