Appreciation of Art: Felted Sculpture and Fantasy at the Hastings-Cone Gallery


I have just discovered a royal family of magnificent creatures, visiting Vashon from a distant enchanted realm. They are only there for a short time, so I hope you get a chance to see them too.

They’re currently hanging out – mingling with me and other islanders, if you will – at Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe, inside the section of the cafe referred to as the Hastings-Cone Gallery.

This gallery, however, is not a dark tomb for art. Rather, the aromas and bustle of coffee pour into it – there are tables and chairs, and the chatter and clicking of hungry customers fill the room.

But the new creatures visiting the gallery aren’t loud at all. They are a completely silent presence, standing and seated on pedestals lining the white fabric-draped walls of the room. Yet they seem to be watching closely all the action that swirls around them.

There is a wolf named Bea, a tiger named Faye, a donkey named Francis, a warthog named Winnie, and a bear named Bodi. I thought Wendell was a jackal until I realized she was a hyena. Lucianna is definitely an alpaca. There are dozens more of the same kind, and they are all dressed to perfection, dressed in long dresses or small suits, covered with tunics, aprons or other layers of adornments made from scraps of satin, of brocade, lace and velvet. Several sports hats and caps. One of them wears a crown.

And if you approach them and look at them closely, something will happen: they will look you straight in the eye. They will make contact and you will feel a connection, a little tug, or maybe an even more vivid memory of a day far away, a long, long time ago in your life.

These creatures, with their own unique hairstyles, costumes and personalities, are of course works of art. They are, to be precise, felted sculptures, but inanimate objects all the same. So why do they seem so alive? Why do they remind me – why I hope they remind you too – what it was like to be a child, holding and talking softly to a darling doll or teddy bear?

Meet someone else now: Monica Gripman, the remarkably inspired local artist who created the sculptures under the banner of her company, Fable Collections.

Working with materials such as alpaca, sheep wool, dog and cat fur, llama wool and horse hair, Gripman has spent the past three years creating the sculptures that adorn the gallery.

She has lived in Vashon for 11 years, making many different types of art including paintings, pen drawings, photographs and more. This is Fable’s second collection of felted sculptures. And two years ago, Gripman and Fable Collections even dove into the performing arts, on stage at the Vashon Center for the Arts, presenting a memorable puppet show called “Darkness Illuminated.”

To create its current show, Gripman worked with collaborators including milliner Laura Clampitt, seamstress Sandra Cooper, and wood and metal workers John Burke and Allan Stover. Nearly a dozen other friends and collaborators are recognized and thanked for their contribution to the exhibition in a panel above the gallery door.

But where did this work really start? Ask Gripman, and she’ll remember her own childhood, in the 1970s, growing up in Virginia.

“I had a strong connection to nature and animals,” she said, recalling how much she loved to create special sanctuaries for wild animals, sprinkling them with berries and other tasty treats. “I would fantasize about animal friends.”

Now, she said, her favorite part of exhibiting these sculptures is observing how they transport viewers through time and space.

“I love to see adults interact with them and remember themselves as children,” she said.

It’s a remarkable gift that Gripman has created this holiday season – felted sculptures that can evoke, for viewers, a ghostly glimpse of Christmas past.

A place of their own

Recently, Monica Gripman launched a crowdfunding campaign to help her achieve her dream of establishing a place for herself and her people to create more work.

She is currently doing all her art in cramped spaces, including her own 750 square foot home, which she shares with her two daughters and a 16-month-old grandchild.

But several years ago, she bought an unusual 10-acre property on Vashon, the former site of a satellite communications station operated by Alascom, a subsidiary of AT&T, and used by the company in the 1980s. Two huge disused satellite dishes still sit eerily on the property, which also houses bunker-like buildings containing 3,200 square feet of space that Gripman wants to turn into artist studios.

She ultimately hopes to raise enough money to turn the property into a multidisciplinary, non-profit artist retreat with living / working space for local and visiting artists.

“We want to channel the things made here into Open Space for Arts & Community and Vashon Center for the Arts,” she said, noting the scarcity of studio space not only for herself but also for many. other artists on Vashon.

Its current fundraising campaign, with a goal of $ 36,000, is a start to making that dream come true with the renovation of part of a building on the property into a studio and storage space.

“I can totally see it,” she said as she stood on the property on a recent rainy day. “I want this to happen.”

Learn more about Gripman’s fundraising campaign and donate at His exhibition continues at the Hastings-Cone Gallery until January. All works in the exhibition are for sale – a price list can be found at the cafe counter.

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