Art by the Square

Thursday, July 18, 2013
Gallina's crocheted flowers on bamboo skewers will be displayed in crocheted flower pots at the exhibit in Bentonville.

On May 17, hundreds of people came to Eureka Springs for the White Street Art Walk. They toured home studios and saw paintings, pottery and sculpture, but the most surprising art was not hanging on the walls. It was on people. Wearing one-piece union suits and overalls of brightly colored granny squares, the people were sitting on chairs slip-covered in granny squares, surrounded by crocheted tables, lamps with crocheted lampshades, crocheted pictures and pom-pom curtains.

The effect: like someone had turned the kitsch knob to stun.

"I didn't expect the response," said Gina Gallina, who created the clothing and decor.

Gallina has hooked herself a niche in the kitsch arts, defined as nostalgia-infused art that is so over the top, it's cool. Her work is now being showcased by photographer Jeremy Mason McGraw, who has created "Yarnography," an exhibit that opens at the Press Room in Bentonville in August. But it's is already creating a buzz.

Megan Gage, in bee suit, has her nails painted yellow by Caroline Eggert for the photo shoot. In addition to doing the models' hair and make-up, Eggert portrayed the rockabilly housewife.

"We're really excited about the reaction we're getting from Bentonville," McGraw said. "The owner is a big crochet fan."

The exhibit, at the Press Room on the town square, consists of images that McGraw created by photographing crochet-clad models against backdrops of crocheted scenery. Models wearing their outfits will circulate at the artists' reception on the evening of August 6, and people are invited to wear crochet costume.

"Jeremy is taking off with it," Gallina said of her colorful art form.

Gallina, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, learned to crochet from her grandmother, Nana, who made bibs for special-needs children. Gallina helped make bibs and also turned her hand to baby hats. She moved to Eureka Springs in 1994, then to Texas, where the hobby re-emerged during an internet service blackout that lasted two weeks.

Gina Gallina crochets a hooded, rainbow-striped body suit for Mark Wetzel to wear for the Yarnography photo shoot at Jeremy Mason McGraw's Spring Street studio.

"I freaked out," Gallina said. "I thought, 'What am I going to do?"

She started crocheting, making hats and fingerless gloves, which sold like crazy, and continued to crochet while traveling for work. Gallina was the road manager for her husband, musician Wayne Hancock, touring with his show 250 days a year for six years. As they drove to bookings, Gallina kept crocheting. Moving back to Eureka Springs in 2011, Gallina continued to crochet gloves and other wearables.

"There's something in the air here that makes you want to do things," she said.

Her hobby veered off into art when she had an impulse to crochet a picture. The result was a still-life of bacon and eggs on a blue plate on a red-checked tablecloth, as viewed from above. From there, she crocheted a deer head and was off and running. Posting pictures of her creations and selling them to friends on facebook fueled her creative impulse, she said. When this year's Art Walk came along, a friend offered Gallina part of her studio space to exhibit her yarn universe.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Gallina said. "I just used everything I had."

A facebook friend, Mark Wetzel, asked if she would crochet him a granny-square union suit for the Art Walk. If she did, she asked, would he model it? Musician Blaine Thibodeaux also agreed to wear an overall made of granny squares. Gallina crocheted herself a black-and-yellow striped overall the night before the event. The next evening, McGraw took a photograph of Thibodeaux standing on a crochet-covered stool playing the fiddle, with Gallina in the bee suit sitting on Mark's knee. Gallina also yarn-bombed trees, a lamp post and street sign on White Street before the Art Walk. The street sign is now growing little vines.

"When you think of crocheting, you think of your grandmother making an afghan," McGraw said. "When it's used for graffiti, it creates a dichotomy. It has lot of energy."

For the new exhibit, McGraw wrote up a concept script outlining the scenes. Megan Gage, in the bee suit and wire wings, flies through crocheted flowers. Caroline Eggert, as the rockabilly housewife, takes a crocheted cake out of the oven in crocheted kitchen. Wetzel poses in a rainbow-striped suit against a wall of rainbow-colored granny squares. Smarty Jones, a hip-hop artist, is set in an urban crochet scene, while artist Zeek Taylor is a farmer in granny-square overalls growing crochet corn. Yarnography depicts a colorful new world to inhabit, McGraw said, while offering a subtle commentary on the drab realities facing the current generation.

"The idea is that there is this group of people who are solving the world's problems -- in crochet," he said.

For Gallina, crocheting is both therapy and obsession: she spends all her free time crocheting, and sometimes spends the grocery money on yarn. Going to work three days a week at Chelsea's is a relief, she said. A musician, Gallina books the bands at Chelsea's, and used to play in the Camptown Ladies, voted the best band in Eureka Springs in 2000. But she hasn't picked up her banjo or guitar since she started creating in yarn. Working with a crochet hook lends itself to creativity because unlike knitting needles, you can go in any direction at any point, even in circles.

"For me, it's like a paint brush," she said. "I don't ever use a pattern. It's either add a loop or lose a loop."

For the Bentonville exhibit, Gallina has recruited people to make granny squares, including Joyce Eggert, sister of Chelsea owner Vicki Brown. Vicki Hardcastle is crocheting squares and also creating a crochet shotgun for a hunting scene. Wetzel, along with being Gallina's muse, made a huge donation of yarn.

"Now people can come over to the house and help out," Gallina said.

Gallina plans to keep on hooking -- "Everything I see I want to crochet," and would like to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for making the world's largest pom-pom. She's also toying with the idea of using crochet for stop-action animation, visualizing an ocean wave rising and crashing, crocheted fish swimming through the water. In the past, she's taught free-form crochet -- check her "Gina Crochet A Gallina," facebook page for information about future classes or call 830-220-1210. A Gallina crocheted chair, table and lamp are for sale at Gryphons Roost, a gallery and day Spa on Spring Street next to the Palace Hotel.

"Yarnography" opens on Tuesday, Aug. 6, with an artists' reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Press Room, 121 W. Central Ave., on the square in downtown Bentonville. Crochet costumes encouraged. Limited-edition prints of the 3 by 3-foot images and smaller prints will be for sale. The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Norberta Philbrook Gallery.

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