in retrospect : 10 years of fiber arts
The Painted Bride
What to do this First Friday
The City Paper
By Holly Otterbein
Melissa Maddonni Haims has yarn-bombed her husband’s head. She’s yarn-bombed a child’s cast, the lauded Uffizi Gallery in Italy, and the historic Mount Pleasant mansion in Philadelphia. She even yarn-bombed a municipal employee’s bicycle as part of April Fools’ joke concocted by Mayor Michael Nutter.
Not all local officials have been thrilled with her grandmotherly graffiti, though. Once, while retouching one of her yarn-bombed works that was wrapped around a lamppost in LOVE Park, the police approached her. She was on an eight-foot ladder at the time, which she hastily leapt off of and threw in the back of her car. She then made a getaway.
“I took off,” she said. “The whole time I kept going, ‘I have a kid. I have a mortgage. I have a kid. I have a mortgage. I can’t go to jail.’”
Haims, 42, is showcasing 10 years’ worth of such yarns in the exhibit “in retrospect,” which features photographs of her most beloved yarn-bombings, a live yarn-bombing performance and, believe it or not, a number of works that are not yarn-bombing-related whatsoever.
In fact, those are among the most poignant pieces in the exhibit.
“They Are Dying All Around Me” is a quilt Haims made entirely of her grandparents-in-law’s address books. They had survived the Holocaust and then fled to America, where a friend told them, “everyone has telephones and will want to give you their phone number,” says Haims. It was true, apparently, because Haims' grandparents-in-law amassed 10 address books throughout their lives, which she stitched together, creating intimate and incredibly sobering art.
The title of the work, which is embroidered into the quilt, is based on a conversation between Haims and her husband’s grandfather before he died, one that will be familiar to anyone who has loved an elderly person.
“I asked him about his neighbors,” says Haims. “And he said, ‘They’re dying all around me.’”
The theme of loss haunts Haims’ retrospective. She created a soft sculpture in honor of her deceased mother, titled “Heaven,” which looks like knitted icicles dripping from the ceiling. It is at once imposing and comforting (just like all good mothers). “Offering,” meanwhile, is another soft sculpture that Haims constructed while grieving for her best friend who died in a car accident.