Nov. 20, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN Correspondent
Anonymous knitters, working late at night, have wrapped dozens of poles in Ojai with brightly-colored yarn in the past few weeks, as well as cloaking local landmarks — including the metal horse in Rotary Park at the edge of town, the condor at the museum and the statue of the boy reading at the library — in impromptu woolen outfits.
The guerilla knitters do not want to be identified, but businesswoman Mary Kennedy — a supporter, although not a member of the group — agreed to speak for them. She said she helps by purchasing old afghans at thrift shops, and giving them to the knitters for their “pole bombs.” She said that in Berkeley in recent years the town has come to accept the woolen installations as a form of public art. She thinks it could happen in Ojai.
“There was a yarn bomb outside of Bart’s Books, and one day I went by and it was kind of sagging on the pole, so I began to straighten it, and as I was doing this a couple of ladies pulled up in a car and they were just giddy with excitement to see it,” she said. “I was just so jazzed by their happiness that it made my day,” she said.
The phenomenon began in 2005 in Houston with a boutique owner named Magda Sayeg, who knitted a cozy for the door handle to her shop. Passers-by liked it so much she knitted a leg warmer for a stop sign down the street. Since then she has gone on to “tag” dozens of stop signs and lamp poles, and was joined by a group of fellow “grandma graffiti” artists.
At the Ben Franklin arts and craft shop, Ojai resident Lee Anderson said he had seen a number of the “yarn bombs.”
“I personally think it’s really awesome,” he said. “I don’t know much about it, but I’ve heard that there are these anonymous groups around town that are doing it.”
He added that the creations don’t last long. A big display at Ojai Avenue and Bryant Street was cut down the morning after it appeared one night, about two weeks ago.
Annie Luftenberg, who manages the Ben Franklin, said that she had seen several “yarn bombs,” but didn’t know who was responsible.
“They don’t want you to know who it is,” she said. “I guess they think they might get in trouble for it.”
But it doesn’t seem as if the city or local police are too worried about it. “If it’s not hurting anybody, we’ll leave it,” said Public Works director Greg Grant. “Our policy is, if it’s not affecting people’s safety, not offending anybody, it’s OK … People look at a stop sign and they’re used to seeing it in a specific shape. So if it (the knitting) changes the sign shape, it could be unsafe, and we’d take it down.”
Ojai chief of police, Capt Dave Kenney, agreed. “From what I can tell, it’s a form of artistic expression that the public seems to enjoy, and as long as the knitting doesn’t compromise public safety, such as covering a stop sign, which I haven’t seen, I’m not overly concerned. I don’t view this as vandalism, but more akin to littering, as long as no damage is done and public safety is not threatened.”
The guerilla knitting phenomenon has spread around the world. In Los Angeles, artist Arzu Kozar has used the yarn installations as a way to reach out to young artists in her neighborhood, including a “hugging tree,” in which a tree and two branches have been knit to resemble a person in a sweater extending its arms for an embrace.
“I noticed this thing called yarn graffiti and was attracted to how it mixed knitting with street art,” she said. “At the time a middle-aged woman wearing reading glasses and clogs doing street art was seen as something amusing to my much more youthful and masculine street artists.”
Danski Blue, who owns a clothing shop in downtown Ojai, likes the creativity of the guerilla knitters, but not the description “yarn bombers.”
“I don’t like it that a military name was put on this kind of colorful expression,” she said. “A ‘yarn bomb’ just feels like a very aggressive, invasive male word for that kind of creativity.”
In Ojai, Kennedy said that the “guerilla grannies” have been seen working on their creations by the police, but not only have not been stopped, but have attracted potential support from the city.
“The group was approached by a member of the arts commission who wanted to get a grant for them to do a public piece,” she said. “But they didn’t want to. They would rather do it in the stealth of night.”
A leading member of one of the guerilla knitters group, who did not want to be identified, said that three separate groups of knitters are responsible, but don’t know each other well.
“That’s kind of the fun part, the anonymity,” she said. “It’s not that organized. We all have our own ideas. It was my idea to put a yarn bomb on the pole outside the voting booth at Chaparral for voting day. It was red white and blue, with all these criss-crossing flags. I think it made quite a statement. It’s still there, although the flags are gone.”
Several weeks ago, her group hit several landmarks around town, including artist Ted Gall’s iron horse in Rotary Park, which was given leg warmers, and the statue in Cluff Park. Early the next morning, the knitter was with a friend and saw a CalTrans truck stop at the site. She was afraid he had come to take the knitting down, but instead he took a camera out of his truck and took a picture of the “yarn bomb.”
When she asked him about it, he said he was taking the picture for his daughter, who had heard about the trend and liked it. “Some towns have drive-by shootings,” he told her. “In Ojai, we have drive-by knittings.”
Nov. 20, 2012