I was beside myself with excitement about meeting Ruth Marshall. What would you say the chances were of me missing meeting her in New York last year by a day, only to have an opportunity to meet her at Montsalvat last week? Well that's exactly what happened. I spotted Ruth's knitted tiger pelt called 'Renee' on display at the Open Studio on the sixth floor at the Museum of Arts and Design and was really keen to meet her. I went back a second time in order to make contact, only to find that her residency had finished the day before. The upside was that I then met Marriane Van Ooij who made up for my disappointment. Last week I discovered that Ruth was in the middle of a residency at Montsalvat...oh bliss oh joy. So I hot footed it out to see her late last week.
It turns out that Ruth returns to Melbourne regularly, as her family lives here. She has lived in New York since 1994 after receiving a Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship to study overseas. She completed her Masters in sculpture in New York and thereafter secured a job as an exhibition sculptor at the Bronx Zoo, working at the Congo Gorilla enclosure, making artificial nature that would stand up to wear and tear by both animals and people.
So I was curious as to her move from sculpture to knitting. She credits her mother with teaching her to knit as a young girl. Her mother was very particular about tension and technique, so she was taught well. Apparently, several years ago on a visit back to her family in Melbourne, she rekindled an early interest in knitting. She began knitting multi coloured geometric patterned Estonian folk socks from patterns by Nancy Bush ( "Folk Knitting Estonia"). She made a project of knitting socks for her work colleagues back at the Bronx Zoo. That prompted her boss to challenge her to knit a replica of one of the plastic sculpted snakes in the Gorilla enclosure. She was in a perfect place to try her hand at other animals and eventually started on the zoo's big cats.The rest is history. Her pelts showcase the beauty of the animals while drawing attention to their struggle for survival. She is committed to elevating knitting from its status as a craft to the higher ground of a reputable artform. This is well within her grasp given that she will hold a solo exhibition of her pelts at the Museum of Art at the University of Maine in April 2012. During her three week residency at Montsalvat, Ruth's mission was to begin one of the pelts intended for this exhibition.
The pelt is knitted from a detailed graph of the design. All of the decisions for the finished piece are made during the graph making phase of the project. The green tape is moved when an inch of the knitted pattern is completed. Ruth prepared the graph before arriving at Montsalvat a couple of weeks ago, so that she was ready to 'hit the ground running' as soon as her residency began.
Ruth has made her temporary Montsalvat studio cosy by bringing textiles from home. This crocheted rug was one of her very early projects, completed when she was quite young.
She speaks glowingly of her experience at Montsalvat. She says, "The Montsalvat residency has been a great opportunity to work and see family." She spoke with such affection about the lovely old "unique place", enjoying working in what she calls "this beautiful environment" I pictured her sitting by the pool for many hours, basking in the sunshine and knitting to her heart's content. She says it's helped her to relax into the project and eliminated any of the tedium. She's been very aware of the enriching nature of the environment and the opportunities to be inspired by the other artists working there. She also says, "It's given my family the opportunity to see me in my work environment".
If not for a chance conversation with Montsalvat's CEO Robert Hauser a week ago, I may have missed meeting Ruth once again. Suffice to say, shortly after I met up with her at Montsalvat, I rushed home to find my own knitting needles and get started on the project I began with Leonie Ball from the WoolBaa some months ago. Let's face it, knitting is contagious.
Ruth Marshall's Tiger Pelt Project is sponsored in part by Lion Brand Yarn.
If you're interested in applying for a residency at Montsalvat, click on this link for an application form.
To see more of Ruth's work, go to her website.
Information about the MAD Open Studio Program can be found on their website.