Every body has a story

Spin the yarn: I’ve always loved that idiom for “tell the tale.” One of thereasons it comes down to us is because yarn used to be spun on spinning wheels, often by groups of women who would tell stories to pass the hours. Eventually spinning the yarn became synonymous with creating and telling stories.

Of course, the origin of the phrase can be traced back even further. In Greek mythology, Clotho, one of the Fates, spins and weaves the thread of human destiny. In this sense, it’s the story of our lives, our very bodies, being created by her spinning. And it’s easy to see how the words “cloth” and “clothes” are named after this goddess.

As it happens, both activities implied by spinning the yarn were vital to human evolution and development; clothing protected us from the elements, and telling and listening to stories not only provided structure and meaning to experience but also helped to form social bonds and shape personal identity.

And this is still true today. Even if clothing may now be mostly fashion, we still require protection from the elements; and if our familiar stories are most often Hollywood movies, connection and community are still essential. In fact, in our fast-paced, plugged-in world, they may matter even more. Consider the fact that Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and The Social Network is currently nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Some of the most exciting and vibrant contemporary art manages to bridge the past with the present. No one knows that better than local fiber artist Victoria Marshall Clegg, who has been working with felt since 2002. Clegg says she loves the artistic expression and freedom of a medium that is so organic.

“To do what I love requires wool, water, soap and my imagination. I can throw in silk and other items for a thrill.” Her enthusiasm is contagious when she says, “I was immediately enchanted by the magic and power of felting and remain as passionate today as I was at the beginning.”

A self-taught artist, Clegg says that she began her journey trying to learn everything she could about wool and all the different ways to be creative with it.

“It is fair to say that I’m obsessed with wool,” Clegg says. “I have become mesmerized by the fact that felt was the first textile created by man. We could talk for days just about the history of felt.”

Indeed, it came as a surprise to learn that felt predates weaving or knitting; in Siberia, archaeologists discovered fragments of felt that date back to the Bronze Age.

So how do you take one of the oldest techniques known to man and make it new? Via the internet, of course. Clegg recently collaborated with five other feltmakers from around the world, and most of them have never even met in person. The artists are: Althea Bilodeau (North Chittenden, Vt.); Ginny French (Fairfield, Ill.); Lisa Kaftori (Israel); Dawn Edwards (Plainwell, Mich.); and Joni Cornell (Melbourne, Australia).

Clegg says, “Never underestimate the connection that the world wide web affords us!” The idea for the coat derived from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves: “A scapecoat is a coat that details in painting, writing and with all manner of things pinned, stitched to it all the name calling a woman has endured in her life, all the insults, all the slurs, all the traumas, all the wounds, all the scars.”

After developing the idea for a scapecoat, Estes initially thought she would burn it to release the wounds it represented, but kept it instead and found that she drew strength from seeing it; she also found that other women who created their own coats felt similarly. So she also named it a “battlecoat” because it bears the scars. Clegg said that she and other members of the group preferred the latter term, “as it makes one seem less like a victim.”

Victoria Clegg and Joni Cornell set about selecting artists they had met online and found a natural connection in that they all had their own unique story to tell. Each artist created a “scar” or “scars” to be felted into the coat. Then all the scars were sent to Australia, along with each artist’s story, where Cornell labored to assemble “The Battlecoat.” Of the experience, she has written that she was mindful of wanting to make a beautiful coat, but more importantly believes that “our scars can be worn, with pride, as beautiful adornments. They are after all our rites of passage through life.”

“The Battlecoat” was first submitted to Felt United 2010, an international virtual exhibit among feltmakers around the world. Clegg says, “‘The Battlecoat’ has now taken on a life of its own, traveling this year back to each artist so that they may write about how this project has affected them as artists, as women and now as sisters of the ‘Scar Clan.’” Pictures can’t do the coat justice, because while the whole is certainly greater than its parts, the parts are so integral and compelling in their own right. Plus, it’s tactile and fairly radiates with the work and love of the hands that have already graced it. You can check out “The Battlecoat” and meet local artist Victoria Clegg, at Gate City Yarns this Friday as part of First Friday in downtown Greensboro.

wanna go?

First Friday Art Hops happen the first Friday of each month in Greensboro along Elm Street and in Winston-Salem emanating from the corner of 6 th and Trade streets.