God I hate that term, but I suppose it sums…
I was chatting to a friend Suzie Johansson a couple of months ago about an idea I had floating around and how much I always need a tight deadline to get anything done. So she gave me one – “I’m setting up my studio as part of Artwave in August, how about you take part?” Artwave Festival is a Lewes District celebration of visual arts, with 130 venues taking part this year. I was initially a little dubious about placing handknits in an arts category, but the arts vs crafts topic is a whole other discussion I’ll put out there some other time (folk art anyone?).
In my previous post ‘Introducing Trixie von Purl’ I talked about how much I’ve enjoyed working with knitted characters, and how I’ve come to see them as my way of illustrating a story, so in this project I’ve taken it one step further. I’ve taken a well-loved story (Briar Rose) and framed it within the story of the authors which I find fascinating in itself, and so the Brothers Grimm Story Cabinet was born.
When I go into a project I can’t just do the simple version, I always need to get under the bonnet and (over) analyse it, so the idea of creating knitted fairytales tied into my old literature degree and my fascination with Angela Carter and Bruno Bettelheim. Why do these fairytales mean so much to people? What were their sources? Why have they been so open to interpretation and analysis over the centuries? This Story Cabinet is an attempt to connect an audience to the Grimms’ storytelling process (in this example to engage them in the tale of Briar Rose), including the story’s source, the editing process, the tale itself and subsequent interpretations, via the visual means I know best: knitting!
In a beautiful piece of serendipitous discovery, I found out that the Grimms dear sister Charlotte (Lotte) was a knitter – not only that, I found an image of her knitting! You can see that framed image hanging over the smaller cabinet. I then went off into a flight of fantasy: what about if she’d knitted them their own story cabinet to bring the tales to life? Their brother Ludwig also illustrated their stories, so in my fantasy he joined in the family effort and painted the backdrops.
So much for the concept, what about the execution? The idea of a Story Cabinet came about initially as a purely practical exercise: how was I going to display these figures in a neat way? Box frames were the initial idea, but very expensive at the size I was thinking of, and too clean and clinical. Next thought was old drawers, but they’re surprisingly hard to come by and often too shallow to work with, so I started collecting old wall cabinets – a much more aesthetically pleasing and economical option. I stripped out any shelves and, for the Brothers Grimm cabinet, I created a backdrop of panelling using basewood and balsa. I had a (worryingly) lot of fun on doll’s house websites looking for the right lighting. I lucked out with the smaller cabinet for Briar Rose – perfect size and wood finish, it looks just like a piece of furniture the Grimms might have had in their own house. I painted a backdrop of castle flagstones and thick green vines onto basewood and attached it to the inner walls. The figures I usually knit are about 12″ tall (about 1:6 ratio), so I had to scale the figures down for the fairytale versions (to about 1:12).
I’ve included the Grimms’ direct sources for the tale in the exhibit: family sisters Amalie and Jeanette Hassenpflug related the original tale of Briar Rose to the brothers (Lotte went on to marry the Hassenpflug’s brother, keeping it in the family). They were of French Huguenot ancestry and so there are strong links to the version told by Charles Perrault a century earlier.
I’ve set up a website which accompanies the exhibit (www.knittedgrimmtales.com). I’ve kept it simple in bitesize chunks for exhibition viewers, but inevitably I’ve created a more in depth version which I’ll put up once the exhibition is over.
So it started out as a dare … 3 months later here’s the result!