It's The Bomb!

Art students add color to community college garden

Carol Simerly, 88, set up a birdhouse she constructed out of old afghans on a rain collection barrel.

Carol Simerly, 88, set up a birdhouse she constructed out of old afghans on a rain collection barrel. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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From thrift store bargain bins to art centerpieces, bushels of afghans got a colorful burst of new life Monday in Gila Community College’s garden.

Students in Elissa Hugens-Aleshire’s folk art class added a bit of whimsy and temporary color to the hibernating trees and rock streambeds by cloaking them in knitted garb.

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Colorful yarn filled Gila Community College’s demonstration garden Monday as folk art students “yarn bombed” trees, rocks and stream beds.

Practitioners of “grandma graffiti” or “yarn bombing,” the budding folk artists said they were happy to turn the Ed Lydic Demonstration Garden into a strange new art form.

“Someone put a lot of effort into making these,” said student Juliet Wing as she wound a mossy green and carroty orange afghan around a boulder that she had covered in a larger multicolored blanket. “Someone may walk by the garden and recognize that they made something similar years ago.”

The art students bought nearly all of the afghans from local thrift stores for only a few dollars. The afghan display will stay up only until Monday.

With plastic bins filled with their knitted medium, each student took a small section of the garden and went to work wrapping nearly everything in sight.

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Juliet Wing wrapped yarn around a branch.

Wing used the curves of the garden to guide where she laid down strips of zigzag-knitted shawls.

Nearby, student Marie Lyles wrapped loose yarn in hues of burgundy, orange and brown around low shrubs.

Lyles admitted she didn’t have a rhyme or reason for the yarn’s placement, but was finding new confidence in the chaos of the art form.

“I’m finally finding my niche in stitch,” she said, laughing.

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Folk art student Nancy Blue has made thousands of peace cranes, but on Monday, she hung her first one made of yarn.

Lyles said she has searched for years to find a medium that felt right. After trying pencils, paint and pottery, nothing stuck. Aleshire’s folk art class is the first time Lyles said she felt comfortable expressing herself.

“Art is an individual expression and appreciation,” she said. “I finally realized I don’t have to do anything just so.”

Lyles added she could never draw trees or rocks, so she is decorating them instead.

Carol Simerly, 88, decided to cover a rain collection barrel with several colorful afghans and top it with a knitted bird house. She used cardboard for the base of the birdhouse, toping it with a handmade clay bird.

“This has been a lot of fun,” she said.

Nancy Blue hung a maroon-knitted peace crane. For Blue, it is crane No. 2,347, but the first one made from yarn.

Since 2005, Blue has folded peace cranes and given them to everyone from hotel maids to close friends. The cranes, she hopes, spread a little goodwill.

That goodwill seemed to rub off on spectators, who at first just watched curiously.

Gary Bedsworth, who works with the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona that manages the garden, said he came out to make sure the plants were not damaged.

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Monday’s yarn bombing was the first time folk art teacher Elissa Hugens-Aleshire wrapped a tree in shawls.

After watching the students work a few minutes, Bedsworth turned from cautious observer to supporter. Bedsworth said it was obvious none of the plants were being injured.

“This is keeping with what we want to do with the garden, which is to add color,” he said.

Starting April 20, the High Country Xeriscape Council will begin adding new, more colorful xeric perennials to the garden.

Aleshire said she hoped the colorful bombing would unleash the creativity of her students.

Who knows where the yarn bombers will strike next.

Wouldn’t Town Hall look lovely in red, white and blue shawls?

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