Crochet artist spins amazing yarns

By Randi Bjornstad

Crochet Artist

This is not your grandmother’s crochet.

One of the most surprising exhibits of the season at the UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is Jo Hamilton’s half of a new show called “Contemporary Oregon Visions: Jo Hamilton and Irene Hardwicke Olivieri.”

Not to minimize Olivieri’s considerable talents in the slightest; her intricate and deep paintings of the natural world and its creatures, many of which incorporate voluminous amounts of text so tiny that it can’t be read unless seen so close as to nearly draw the viewer into the frame. Olivieri will be coming to the museum a second time in May to lead a gallery tour and talk about her exhibited work and her just-published book, “Closer to Wildness.”

Right now, though, the focus will be on Hamilton’s amazing ability to take a crochet hook to yarn and turn it into portraits that look like the people and places they represent. Among her works are a wonderful self-portrait, portraits of exotic women — some recently exhibited at Paris’ Printemps — and a huge, fanciful rendition of Portland.

The “portrait” of Portland alone took three years to complete. It has a brown, wavy stripe dividing the scene that represents Burnside Street, which really does divide the city’s address system, north from south.

The work features a quadrant with old Victorian houses and one with construction cranes and modern buildings. A river appears to run through it.

And remember, this is not photography or painting. This is crochet.

One set of portraits commemorates the people the artist worked with at LePigeon, a restaurant on East Burnside Street in Portland. Another set of portraits she created from photographs collected by Multnomah County law enforcement.

“These are so interesting for the intensity of their expressions,” said June Black, who co-curated the show with Jessi DiTillio.

“I think these pieces humanize people who are often devaluated in our culture,” DiTillio said.

The end wall of the exhibit hall is occupied by a gigantic, reclining male nude.

“Apparently, she thought that if she could do a huge nude in crochet, she could do anything,” Black said. “That would prove to her that she could accomplish anything with this medium.

“And I think she definitely has.”

A video plays on the wall of the exhibit, in which Hamilton, who grew up in Scotland but moved to Portland in 1996, talks about learning to crochet from her grandmother, whom she calls Gran.

Hamilton started by practicing traditional “granny squares,” similar to the ones that make up thousands of afghans lying over the backs of couches throughout this country, if not the world.

“She was a painter first,” Black said, “but because she could crochet she decided to see what more she might be able to do with that, more like painting. And with that, she found herself and her medium.

“It was so familiar, she just experimented with it, and it’s absolutely amazing what she is able to do.”

Hamilton spent years still working at the restaurant while she created her crocheted pieces, Black said.

“For several years she had to do it on the side, but now she’s represented by the Laura Russo Gallery,” Black said. “I’m so happy for her.

“She’s able to do her art full time, and she’s not working in food service any more.”

Source: Register Guard

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