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CLINTON, NJ — Some of us experience awe at the sight of an agile ocelot, hanging in a tree; others may have the urge to shoot the animal for an over-the-mantel trophy. Australian-American artist Ruth Marshall feels compelled to knit these wild creatures. At the Hunterdon Art Museum, where her work is displayed in Knitting the Endangered, viewers may at first react in horror at seeing the pelt of a Chinese tiger pinned to the wall, until they discover that it’s been knit with the same fiber we’ve come to associate with comfort and warmth.
For 14 years, Marshall worked as an exhibition sculptor at the Bronx Zoo, where her office was next to the snow leopard enclosure. She was reminded daily of the threats the creature faced, and expressed her concern by knitting a life-size “skin.” At Pratt, where she received her BFA and MFA, Marshall returned to the medium she learned at her mother’s knee, innovating ways with the yarn’s texture, pattern, and form.
The “skins” are pinned to the wall or hung from a suspended bamboo frame. Little tags hang from each, explaining not only where the pelt was studied — Marshall visited zoos and natural history museums from Berlin to Melbourne — but where the animal was collected, much as a specimen might be identified for study.
A wall of ocelots — that small but ferocious feline — depicts the creature in a way that makes us want to nurture this animal, setting aside for a moment that its diet consists of snakes. (Marshall knits snakes in her spare time.) At one time hunted for the fur trade, the ocelot is native to the Southwestern US, Mexico, and Central and South America. Aside from the usual threats to its habitat, border fences obstruct ocelots’ ability to roam freely. Marshall hopes her knitted incarnations of endangered and extinct animals will remind viewers how to care for wildlife and habitats.
She spends months researching the animals, charting their pelts onto grids and transcribing them into designs. She knits these intricate patterns in the teeniest of tiny stitches (size one knitting needles). Even an all-black jaguar has subtle gradations in tone. Techniques such as intarsia and fair isle are used to create pattern. With their glass eyes, the animals encourage you to get close enough to examine whether or not they’re real.
Each is an homage to nature’s designs of spots and stripes. The way these creatures hang, the soft curves of the body, suggests power, beauty, and vulnerability.
After overcoming a burning desire to possess one, I realize that each is a memorial to the animal that lost its life. “What did we do to these animals?” asks Marshall, in catalogue of her work. “Each … has its own story to tell … before it vanishes, leaving only artifacts of existence.”
Knitting the Endangered continues at the Hunterdon Art Museum (7 Lower Center St, Clinton, New Jersey) through April 28.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…