Pull the Wool: Teton ArtLab artist Erin Curry on Rumpelstiltskin, carving and the art of spinning wheel

By on December 13, 2017


Wool hangs in various forms, as does a lariat, on the wall of multidisciplinary artist Erin Curry’s Teton ArtLab studio.

Erin Curry’s home in Gainesville, Florida, is full of wool.

“It’s gotten kind of intense,” she said. “It feels like I should be waiting for Rumpelstiltskin to arrive.”

Instead, Curry left most of the wool to wait, other than a few bags she brought to Jackson for her December residency at Teton ArtLab, and is taking the spinning on herself. But first she has to build the spinning wheel. To do that, she needs to first carve the tools to build the spinning wheel to spin the wool into the yarn she’ll eventually weave.

And that is just the start of what she envisions for an installation where when the wheel spins, it also pulls something, maybe a scroll or piece of silk, up a wall. Perhaps it will reference the geysers she saw in Yellowstone National Park for the first time in 2016 — an experience so profound it prompted her to apply for the ArtLab’s artist-in-residency program. Or maybe it will look totally different.

“I’m making the wheel right now and dreaming of what can happen next,” she said.

Curry will spend her December residency at the Teton ArtLab looking for inspiration different from what she finds in Florida. She’s already marveled at the line of skiers coming down Snow King. The landscape is flat and overgrown in Florida, she said. She’s not used to driving and seeing mountains , or witnessing the relationship between distance and scale.

“I think that interplay has been interesting and is ripe for potential work,” she said.

In addition to banking inspiration, she’ll also work on her wool project.

Curry started spinning wool a few years ago. She found it a metaphor for the stories she wanted to tell that are too complicated to articulate. There is a reason sayings like “spin a yarn” or “the thread of fate” exist when talking about storytelling, she said.

She put her wool work aside for several years while she attended graduate school, but this year, she felt stressed and wanted to work with something “cozy.”

She bought wool in the spring and started watching YouTube videos on how to craft hand tools to work with the wool and build her wheel. She loves combing a slow, old-art form with digital resources like YouTube.

“I like the quickness of the digital space and then the super slow craft that forces you into the moment,” she said. “I think that is important. I get overloaded with information. I get caught up in the news cycle. It gets overwhelming, so this is my stress reduction — make something super slow.”

The final project with the yarn will also likely incorporate commentary on the digital world. She sees the spinning wheel, which she plans to mechanize so it will also pull something, as representing scrolling online.

She likes when her work forces her to slow down but also makes the viewer think. One of her largest projects is “mobilis in mobile” which she created as her master’s thesis in Gainsville, Florida.It involved people actually entering through dark silk gauze. The vastness of outer space and the digital world inspired the project, she said.

Inside the curtained area were basins filled with water with a floating layer of oil across the top. Wooden rings in the basins held the oil like portholes. Inside the basins were collages and text. People could move the wooden rings, but if they moved too quickly, the oil seeped down, so people had to move slowly.

Curiosity is a common theme in Curry’s work, both in what inspires it and what she hopes it evokes in the viewer.

It’s not unusual for Curry to start an art project from an early point like crafting the tools she needs to create it. She once wanted to see firsthand where silk came from so she raised 200 silkworms she hatched from eggs and fed mulberry leaves. By the time they were four-week old caterpillars they were eating massive bushes every 24 hours. When someone came to the house they asked if she was frying bacon. It was the sound of the caterpillars feeding on the leaves.

She also credits her love of blending craftsmanship and art to her upbringing. She grew up outside a rural town in Florida. Her mother was a figure artist and her father a craftsman who built their home.

“I think what I enjoy about being an artist that I can push through whatever curiosity allows me,” she said. “I don’t know many other professions where I can decide on a whim to learn woodworking and then go do it. I like the diversity of learning and exploring and building things that come from separate components and don’t necessarily come together.” PJH


About Kelsey Dayton

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