Photograph by Alejandro A. Alvarez

Photograph by Alejandro A. Alvarez

Granny vandalism : Morris Arboretum gets yarn bombed in new exhibit
The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Sienna Vance
Published 03/25/2016

Melissa Maddonni Haims says her personal life has little color. Her rainbow, yarnbombed structures say otherwise.

Haims is a fiber artist who lives in Chestnut Hill with her husband and teenage daughter. Her work involves wrapping lamp posts in LOVE Park or groves of cherry trees on Kelly Drive in colorful, knitted, blanketlike covers in what's known in street art parlance as yarnbombing.

"Some people look at me like I'm crazy," Haims says. "Others come up to me and tell me what I'm doing looks cool."

Morris Arboretum will host an exhibit of what Haims jokingly calls "granny vandalism." In "Wrapped Up," starting Saturday, Haims wraps the arboretum's trees and its structures _ like the Love Temple, the Seven Arches, and the Pump House roof _ in crocheted or knitted blankets. The greenery of the arboretum will be transformed with hot pink and yellow stripes, turquoise zig zags, and quirky quilted shapes.

Haims sews the blankets together at each end to create jacketlike casings for each object. In keeping with many of Morris' ephemeral artworks, Haims' work will be left on the trees and structures until the yarn disintegrates.

Haims began by surveying Morris and starting the project in October. She stitched everywhere: in coffee shops, meetings, even while she was taking walks.

Though "Wrapped Up" is filled with color, Haims did not initially stitch such vibrant pieces. Most of her earlier work, she says, explored loss and death. Though not a regular knitter, she began what she calls "cathartic knitting" while her mother was dying. Haims spent the last 21/2 weeks of her mother's life at her bedside, finishing old projects that her mother never completed. She continued to stitch her way through grief after her mother's death, and again when her best friend died.

Haims says she is somewhat obsessed with the concept of loss, but enjoys stitching "happier" pieces because people "get such a kick out of them." She prefers using bright colors in these works, which is apparent at her space at Herman Street Studios in Germantown. Here, chairs are yarnbombed with fluffy lavenders, swirly greens, and woolly deep blues.

Haim's project at Morris is much bigger than just a few yarn-bombed pieces of furniture. It features thousands of yards of yarn and is so huge that she commissioned machine knitter, Andrew Dahlgren, to help.

"I really enjoyed working with Melissa," Dahlgren says, "because her work embraces color in different ways that I usually don't."

Dahlgren isn't Haims only aid. Earlier in the month, she hosted "Yarn Along" at Morris, where she and 68 stitchers gathered to create multicolored squares to yarnbomb the bridge over the East Brook, which will be on display as part of "Wrapped Up." Stitchers created fun pieces, some with adorable knitted owls, radiant crocheted peacocks, and fuzzy mosslike yarn patches woven into each of their squares.

"If you go golfing, you're going to see other golfers. When you crochet, it's kind of a singular thing that you do at home," says Ginny McLauchlan, a crocheter who attended the "Yarn Along." "I think that it's great to have this visual of other people who do this for a purpose."

Amy Ryan Faga, another "Yarn Along" participant, cannot wait to see the yarnbombed bridge in the exhibit. "I really love the textures and the fact that there will be one small piece there that I made makes it even more interesting."

Haims says fiber artists can learn a lot from each other when they come together.

"Hearing stories about how people began knitting, how they began to crochet when they were children, and learning about all the different knitting groups is kind of fascinating," Haims says. "I just love being active in this community."