MCL 'Yarn-Bombed'

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MANCHESTER — A colorful conflagration of yarn has covered the Manchester Community Library, in a public art project that has left even the library's trees wrapped in "sweaters" and adorned with tassels.

According to local artist Trish Weill, who spearheaded the "yarn bombing" alongside Youth Services Librarian Janet Kleinberg, the project brought community members together to reclaim an art form often denigrated as graffiti.

"Here, what I love is that I can promote [yarn-bombing] in a way that's helping to enhance our community, instead of having this connotation of graffiti," she said. "For me, it's more about sharing that kind of art."

Providing a space for community creativity has been a longstanding tenet of the MCL's mission, and as the facility approached completion three years ago Executive Director Betsy Bleakie designated a public art project as an early goal.

Still, as construction wrapped up, pursuing a large-scale art installation was not a high priority in light of other projects necessary to open the library to the public.

"We had this big square space out front, and it was on our list to have something up there," Bleakie said. "At the end of the construction project we really had to start making some tough decisions. Often, it came down to `necessary' versus `nice.'"

Though the concept remained on the back burner, Bleakie revisited the idea as the MCL's three year anniversary loomed large. Working in conjunction with Kleinberg and Weill, a regular patron of the library alongside her daughter Sofia, the group decided that a "yarn-bombing" project would be an ideal way to involve the community.

The first step: asking for donations of yarn.

"We sent out the call for yarn and we were inundated," Bleakie said. "It was a great repurposing, it was like recycling this yarn.""We teased people by saying we were doing a `super secret art project,' but we didn't tell them what," Weill said. "We started this in June, and by August we laid out the timeline for the project."

The goal was Nov. 15, the official anniversary of the MCL. In the months prior, the library encourage patrons to utilize the donated supplies to craft their own knitted or crocheted contributions.

In conjunction with Weill, the MCL even offered a number of classes for community members — including a loom-knitting tutorial for children, inspired and co-led by Weill's six-year-old daughter.

"Part of what was so great about this was, we had people in the community who don't walk through these doors very often but really got into knitting or crocheting," Kleinberg said. "It brought in a very diverse population of all ages and all skill levels."

"We had very experienced people alongside beginners," Bleakie added. "Everybody could feel like they were contributing."

Though the trio aimed for 80 knitted squares from community members, they received close to 200 handcrafted donations. Utilizing plastic chicken fencing to reinforce the piece, Weill began the arduous process of piecing together the 9 ft by 9 ft tapestry, which would eventually hang above the entrance of the library.

"We used over a thousand zip ties to actually secure the piece together," Weill said. "That took us basically a month to assemble."

By Nov. 12, the piece was finally ready to be installed. Bleakie rented a lift, and MCL Board Member Dave Quesnel agreed to operate it. When the day came, however, Quesnel ended up playing a much larger role.

"He wound up not only staying there all day, but staying 26 feet up in the air to help Trish install the piece," Kleinberg said.

"He is just such an amazing guy, it was really awesome," Weill said. "He learned how to do it with me, and the whole time we were just talking about how amazing this project was, and how committed all of these people were. It was so heartening."

Besides Quesnel, approximately 10 volunteers assisted in yarn-bombing the library — some unexpectedly.

"We actually had one high school boy who was riding his bike by, and he stayed for a while sewing pieces together to put onto the trees," Kleinberg said. "We had little kids putting pom-poms on the trees and wrapping them with yarn. It was truly a community effort."

"The community really embraced this," Bleakie added.

According to Weill, the installation will stay up "until nature takes it down." In the meantime, the MCL has found a use for the excess yarn leftover from the project.

For a one dollar donation, community members can continue the effort to "yarn bomb" their local library.

"They can take a tassel and tie it to a tree, to make a wish about the community or the library," Bleakie said. "We will then turn that donation over to another wonderful effort in the community."

All donations will support The Stratton Foundation's "Blessings in a Backpack" initiative, which provides weekend nutrition for students in need.

As long as yarn graces the Manchester Community Library, Weill hopes that community members feel compelled to continue contributing.

"That's the thing about this particular form of art -- you can learn something. You can always do something, it doesn't matter what your skill set is," she said. "I think that's pretty inspiring for almost everyone."

Reach Cherise Madigan at cmadigan@manchesterjournal.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.

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