(Materialized) Magic Moments

Materialized Magic installation (detail). photo by Dawn Whitmore

Materialized Magic installation at AAC (detail). photo by Dawn Whitmore

This is the last week to see Materialized Magic: Mythical Creatures in a Yarn Artistry Habitat, a community fiber arts exhibition, on our Lower Level in the Jenkins Community Gallery, so we thought it was past time to share some of the magic moments that brought this exhibition to life.

Artists and co-curators Stacy Cantrell and Erika Cleveland collaborated on the idea, construction, and installation of Materialized Magic, but not without the help of at least 50 community members from in and around Arlington. Conducting regular meetups before the opening and during the installation, Stacy and Erika brought an entire community into their fiber art world.

Erika and Stacy sent us some of the highlights of the creation and installation of Materialized Magic, “a gallery-transforming project with a habitat of woodland, water and desert elements, all constructed out of fiber” so keep reading to find out what it’s all about.

Margaret created a sort of portrait for her daughter. Like Amy, the needle felted mermaid sports colorful hair and requires the use of a wheelchair because it is difficult for her to navigate on land. This mermaid is now part of the exhibit, along with the family of gnomes, mushrooms and crocheted puffy clouds that Amy created.

Margaret created a sort of portrait for her daughter. This mermaid is now part of the exhibit, along with the family of gnomes, mushrooms and crocheted puffy clouds that Amy created.

Amy, a regular participant in Materialized Magic became wheelchair bound around 5 years ago due to a debilitating nerve injury. Nonetheless she participated actively in making the latest iteration of this exhibition a success.

“These fiber art events are important to me because it got me involved in a positive and creative community and has encouraged me to get back into art,” she explains.

Like Amy, the needle felted mermaid sports colorful hair and requires the use of a wheelchair because it is difficult for her to navigate on land.

Amy, already an accomplished crocheter, became more involved in needle felting during this project. Along with knitting and crochet used in typical yarn-bombs, one of the differences of the Materialized Magic project is that it includes sculptural needle felting.

Amy learned it, then taught her mom Margaret and assisted Erika in teaching others to needle felt during the multiple meetups required to produce all of the pieces for the show.

Open to the community, one of the missions of the Materialized Magic project has been to teach crochet, knitting, and needle felting to as many people as possible for free. For the duration of this project, more than 20 meetups in six different locations were held. Through these events, more than 50 people learned how to needle felt, knit, or crochet.

Materialized Magic is funded by a CRAVE grant sponsored by the Torpedo Factory and Convergence. This grant has allowed us to provide free materials for participants to take home and continue to make pieces for the project.

Participants of all ages, some, as young as 3 and up to 94 years, have helped make magic with us! At The Jefferson Retirement Community located in Arlington, participants crocheted and knitted squares of green, brown and beige, which became the moss and grass, tree bark, and sand for the different habitats in the environment

The Jeffersons resident knitters group helped create the swathes of grass, moss, sand, and tree bark that structure the Materialized Magic landscape

The Jefferson’s resident knitters group helped create the swathes of grass, moss, sand, and tree bark that structure the Materialized Magic landscape.

Stacy taught some of the Jefferson residents to crochet, while others were already active crocheters and knitters.

This group that often knits and crochets for charity, making baby blankets, hats, lap throws and many other items for donation was excited to participate in such an unusual project. We were honored that they welcomed us and gave us their time to contribute to our project.

Ruth, a retired anthropologist, needle felted a woodland gnome. Erika taught Ruth how to felt and in turn, was treated to wonderful life stories from the unofficial “mayor” of her residential community.

Ruth told stories of her adventures as an anthropologist and more recently, of her initiatives within the Jefferson community, such as creating a theatrical production involving 75 residents in singing and dancing a story based on their lives. As she spoke, other residents came to watch or join in the story telling.

The Jefferson’s activity director, Anne Jacobs made it possible for us to bring Materialized Magic to the Jefferson knitting group.

Materialized Magic installation (detail). photo by Dawn Whitmore

Materialized Magic installation at AAC showing the ground covering and tree bark created by the Jefferson residents. photo by Dawn Whitmore

On the other end of spectrum, younger participants learned to felt, crochet and knit at the Upcycle Center for Creative Reuse in Alexandria. (Children also attended meetups with their parents at the Torpedo Factory and Arlington Arts Center.)

A mother and her two children participate in needle felting at one of the Torpedo Factory meetups.

A mother and her two children participate in needle felting at one of the Torpedo Factory meetups.

Exuberant and open to new ventures, children at UpCycle learned quickly to needle felt. Needing only instructions, children went on to create felted mushrooms, rocks, fairy creatures and animals, using their abundant creativity. Some also learned to crochet and knit.

Working from guided illustrations and with adults, children were able to quickly pick up the technique and create exciting elements for the installation.

Working from guided illustrations and with adults, children were able to quickly pick up the technique and create exciting elements for the installation.

UpCycle, with its own series of workshops for children and their parents, has a mission to encourage recycling and the use of recycled materials. Upcycle provided their space free to Materialized Magic and was a source for some of the materials used in the project, such as foam pads used in needle felting.

AAC was also a hotspot where children assisted with the preparations and habitat construction. During this phase, final preparations were underway and elements of the habitats filled the workshop tables.

Imagination abounded with the creation of pigs with wings, more woodland fairy creatures and colorful mosses were added to already felted or crocheted rocks.

Materialized Magic started in March of 2015, when we first received the grant that made this project possible. After meeting at In the Flesh 5 at the Torpedo Factory’s Target Gallery, we realized we shared a passion in creating large-scale fiber figures with a mythical, magical theme and decided to collaborate.

All images courtesy of Erika Cleveland and Stacy Cantrell, unless otherwise noted. 


Stop by this week to see this mythical, magical landscape at Arlington Arts Center before it disappears! This show closes 5 pm Sunday, July 31.

If that’s not reason enough, you also need to get over here to see Austin Shull’s Reconciliation on the Upper Level, closing Sunday as well. Then make your way through Strange Landscapes, on view until Oct 2.

Our galleries are conveniently located across the street from the Virginia Square Metro at 3550 Wilson Blvd. We also have (a tiny) parking lot, and admission is always free!


Here’s what’s coming up later this summer:

One comment on “(Materialized) Magic Moments

  1. Pingback: Reflecting On 2016: AAC’s Year-in-Review | Arlington Arts Center Blog

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