Artist Suzanne Tidwell laughs with delight as she examines a recent “gift” of a poem attached to her , an ode of praise to how happy the colorful fiber art piece makes the writer feel.
“I’ve taken a lot of risks this year and I’m so out of my comfort zone. What excites me more than anything is the positive feedback," she said.
Tidwell says that her enormous and whimsical fiber creations made from colorful knitted yarn have been described as “Dr. Seuss meets Christo.” And although more Sammamish residents she says have seemed to have warmed up to her tree socks, she admits her work is not without controversy. And fiber arts and handwork in general she says, is still often seen as lacking its own merit as an art form apart from its functionality.
“I was told about my work that it was lovely but I would be serving the world better by making baby blankets," she said. "I served my time making functional work. No one would say to an artist who was a painter that her time would be much better spent painting houses."
Tidwell marks her premier at last fall’s Sammamish Art Fair as a turning point in her career.
“It was my first opportunity to put my art out there. I felt so welcome and so encouraged. I met Carol Ross there, one of the founders of the Sammamish Arts Fair, who connected me to artEAST and has become the voice of encouraging art in Sammamish."
Since staging a “yarn bombing” of last fall, she has moved on to more ambitious and larger scale installations including a recent “yarn bombing” of Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park. In June, Tidwell created an art installation called Tree Sweaters for the Seattle Park’s and Recreation Department’s ArtSparks program and wrapped the usually dark and drab Occidental Park’s 42 trees and numerous light posts in bright neon colors of yarn. The installation will remain up all summer.
This weekend Tidwell invites the guests of the to be part of the process of creating her massive fiber art and metal installation called “Experience Web: An Open Book”, which explores the concept of connections.
“Everyone who shows up at the fair takes a different path,” she said.
Part of the installation consists of eight giant metal book like panels which people will wind yarn between making unique designs to “tell their own stories,” says Tidwell.
Tidwell describes the process for festival guests.
"Each participant approaching the web will be given a small ball of yarn, to wind as they wish within the frames assisted by artsfair volunteers and my elves, the summer interns helping me pull this entire project together: Christine Rohaly, Amy Kesl, Matt Johnson, and my daughter Maddy Tidwell. They can spend as much time as their interest allows. We will have tapestry needles and crochet hooks available for those who can create whatever their capabilities and heart's desire with yarn."
As part of the installation Tidwell and her crew of “artist elves” have created what she describes as a “Hansel and Gretel path” of yarn bombed metal poles wrapped with Tidwell's giant knitted creations, leading festival guests along a pedestrian path from the Bellevue Transit Center all the way down to the front of at , where the metal books and yarn to work with will await them.
Tidwell’s career has been less of a straight line and more of a winding path that allowed her to combine her work as an artist with parenting her and her husband’s now teenage son and daughter as a stay at home mom. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a BA in Art in 1993 and completed a Certificate of Fiber Arts from the UW in June of 2010. Along the way she shared her love of art through her work as an art teacher at for four years, in private sewing lessons and summer camps and in work for museums and festivals. She has also sold her work on Etsy for the past two years.
Meredith Langridge Anderson is the Producer of the BAM artsfair. She says that while the interactive piece of Tidwell’s installation in front of Macy’s will come down after this weekend, the rest of the artwork will be on display from Bellevue Way to 108th street through Sept. 23 highlighting the pedestrian corridor and area businesses. She is thrilled that the installation drew the combined sponsorship of Kemper Development, City of Bellevue Arts Program, 4 Culture, Bellevue Downtown Association and the Westin. Langridge Anderson predicts, “people are going to be attracted by the work’s colors and how odd it is and asking questions including “why are there sleeves on those lamp posts?”" Tidwell’s work reflects the values of the 65 year old nationally celebrated festival, says Langridge Anderson, of celebrating “local artists making hand crafted work." Langridge Anderson marvels at Tidwell’s energy.
“She is very brave. It is an intense amount of work for her to both mount the installation and be one of the artists selected by our jury process to sell at the fair," Langridge Anderson said.
Langridge Anderson says Tidwell’s work also is a wonderful way for parents to introduce kids this weekend to art.
“Most things in museums you can’t touch. Kids can touch this work, made out of a familiar, comforting material. It takes all the intimidation out of art,” Langridge Anderson said.
Kids can continue to experience art in many ways after enjoying Tidwell’s installation by heading over to the kidsfair in the Bellevue Arts Museum just across the street, where families can also visit the current exhibits during the weekend for free.
Tidwell praises her own family, who have been patient this summer with all the time and energy her emerging career is requiring. She jokes she has been “acquiring all the orange yarn on the Eastside” and feels at times like she is drowning in yarn.
She confesses they are also all excited about her taking a break soon, as is she.
“I do want to sit down and take stock. Sometimes you lose focus and I need to recharge and consider as an emerging artist where I want to go with this next," she said.
But Tidwell won’t be resting for long as she is working with the City of Sammamish to install the next set of tree socks in late August and is excited to see them go up.