Turning one community project into another, Omaha's Joslyn Art Museum is knitting the city together.
Using this summer's Yarn Bomb installation — a contemporary street art exhibit featuring knitted and crocheted squares — museum staffers are creating small blankets for the Siena Francis House.
The blankets weren't part of the original plan, said Maranda Allbritten, the Joslyn's youth and family programs coordinator. She originally was more concerned about getting enough squares from the public to create the artwork.
"Yarn bombing is a crocheting or knitting installation put in a public place, mimicking graffiti in a much softer and less invasive way," said Anne Burton, an art instructor at Omaha's Metropolitan Community College who helped with the Joslyn Yarn Bomb.
Allbritten said a yarn bomb of this size was the first of its kind in Omaha. The museum solicited knitted and crocheted yarn squares from across the world for the project. Then, for a week, indoor railings and tree trunks in the museum's sculpture garden were wrapped in the squares, made from variations of synthetic, acrylic and natural fibers ranging in hues of fluorescent yellow to more subtle tones.
"You have all ages and all types of people working together to bring creativity and life to spaces that are often unnoticed," Allbritten said.
Joslyn received more than 200 feet of yarn squares from California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Japan, Allbritten said. She was overwhelmed with the amount of community support, from 98-year-olds in retirement homes to 6-year-olds who worked with their parents.
"For three weeks, almost daily, the postal service brought me multiple gifts from complete strangers," she said. "Each little envelope or box was like a little treat of effort and story and oftentimes people would include a picture or a written note."
The Joslyn reached out to social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook to create a buzz about their installation.
"It was such a reminder of the power of community and had people not participated, it would have been a huge advertised failure," Allbritten said. "It was a really powerful visual to have in your face every morning."
But they ran into a slight problem when it came time to dismantle the art.
"Now what?" thought Allbritten.
Because of the photos and notes that accompanied many of the pieces, she knew the Yarn Bomb was about more than just yarn squares. She didn't want to just stick it in storage or, worse, destroy it.
"It was a community project from the start," Allbritten said. "People participated in the project for all sorts of reasons. Some of it was for fun and for others it was much more of a therapeutic process."
After talking with the museum team, she decided to create blankets to help those at the homeless shelter. That respects the art, she said.
Rebecka Schafer of Lincoln, a craft blogger, said she was curious about the fate of the 11 yarn squares she mailed to the Joslyn. The squares combined her work with that of friends and family — including her husband's 88-year-old grandmother, who made four squares.
While Schafer said it was fun to make the pieces and then visit the installation to find them, she's even more excited the art is returning to the community.
"I think it's great that they're being made into something that somebody can use. They'll be really special," said Schafer, who works in the accounting department at Bryan LGH Medical Center.
During the last month, Allbritten and Nancy Round, the Joslyn's director of education, and her daughter, Jane Round, organized the yarn squares by color and then began sewing.
Allbritten said it was fun to see her living room floor go from a "big pool of color" to a total of 15 to 20 small blankets.
"It's just this little nugget that turned into this awesome experience," said Amy Rummel, the Joslyn's director of marketing. "We're really excited to see this installation piece to turn in to such a great gift to people in the community."
Mike Saklar, executive director of the Siena Francis House, said Joslyn representatives already have dropped off some of the blankets at the shelter, where they were distributed to women and children.
"I thought the whole concept of what (the Joslyn) did was unique and pretty special," Saklar said. "I can speak on behalf of our guests here that these gifts aren't just artsy, they're very practical as well."
And as the weather turns colder, Saklar said, every blanket helps.
"I think giving them to the Siena Francis House, in some way, reflects the spirit in which all of these pieces were made," Allbritten said.