The week before election day I was asked by a local herbalist friend if I would be interested in donating one of my poetry collections to be auctioned off at a Standing With Standing Rock fundraiser, to be held this Saturday, in support of the Standing Rock Reservation and the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. My small town just waged, and won, a battle of our own against Kinder Morgan and a proposed gas pipeline which would have torn through the working farmland, protected forests and waterways of western Massachusetts. One of our town selectman was arrested at an anti-pipeline protest in DC. A local timber framer constructed a Thoreau-like cabin on a friend’s property, which was in the proposed pipeline’s path, as a form of non-violent protest. It seemed everyone did something in protest or in support of protesters. Now, the rural communities that would have been violated as a result of a pipeline in my neck of the woods are throwing support behind protesters in North Dakota: sending food and warm clothing, bringing supplies and raising money. So, when I was asked to donate a book I wholeheartedly said ‘yes’ and then ‘I can make and donate a doll too’. Me and my big ideas! That’s how I found myself focused on wool and needles in the days leading up to the election.
I have been making needle felted dolls for about 8 years. The process of needle felting is fairly simple, needles with barbs on the end are poked repeatedly into loose wool resulting in a tangling and interlocking of the wool fibers, otherwise known as felt. Many people are familiar with ‘wet felting’ where the wool is felted in a process involving hot water, soap and agitation. That’s a quicker process, but can’t be applied to the making of a doll. This is the first time I took photos throughout the process. I began with a few bags of wool in different colors and about 12 (non consecutive) hours later had a little lady. On Tuesday night when I was feeling stunned and sick, along with half of the American population, I felt really grateful that I had spent the the previous days focused on art-making, creating a symbol of serenity, kindness and nurture. I made this doll and had her out the door on deadline, so didn’t get to spend much time with her, or name her, which I sometimes do. I’ll say a few more things about the process: I always use Merino wool for the head/face of the doll. Only Merino results in a smooth, refined look. This time I tea-dyed the Merino. Her hair is mohair from an Angora goat named Nora I owned years ago. Her face is tinted with pastel chalks, applied with a small paintbrush. She is 100% wool. She’s holding a nest containing one white egg, also wool. The body is only felted enough to hold together, but her face is heavily-felted to hold her features and feels hard like a small ball. The making of the face is the most time-consuming and stressful part of the process. As you can see in the photos, even when she begins to look like a person, her features transform again and again until she reaches her final form. I’m pleased to share these photos of the process with you. The differences between the photos near the end of the process are pretty subtle. If you look closely you’ll see the point at which I shaded around her eyes and how that adds dimension and completes the look. Love and peace to all.