Philly invites yarn-bomber to outfit city property

Philadelphia is in the middle of a monthlong art festival celebrating textile and fabric art — Fiber Philadelphia 2012.

City Hall is getting into the act by allowing itself to be yarn-bombed. The gallery inside the ground-floor Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy features furniture covered with knitted, brightly colored yarn.

It’s not just City Hall. The Philadelphia Water Department has also commissioned graffiti yarn artists Jessie Hemmons and Christina LeFevre to yarn-bomb trees in Kensington and South Philly. Yarn-bombing is the act of fitting public objects — such as bike racks, signposts, and tree trunks — with knitted sleeves and cozies.

“It changes the definition of my work,” said Hemmons. “It’s not graffiti at that point. It’s commissioned artwork. It has a different feel to it.”

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Hemmons and LeFevre wrapped the trunks of trees at East Montgomery Avenue and Blair Street with blue and green sleeves pointing to an underground trench, unseen beneath the sidewalk pavement, that keeps about 7,000 gallons of untreated water from spilling into the river.

“Since most people can connect with art moreso than green stormwater technology, we thought it would be a good way to make that connection,” said Tiffany Ledesma Groll, a consultant with the Philadelphia Water Department.

Hemmons once sewed knitted covers over the plastic seats on the SEPTA Market-Frankford line, and tailored a sweater for the Rocky statue outside the Art Museum with the message, “Go See The Art.” That kind of rogue, political street art is absent from her city commissions.

“I miss it every day, actually,” said Hemmons. “It’s definitely a factor in why I was doing public work on my own. There is a rush and excitement of shocking people, is a large part of why I do it. I miss it, and I look forward to doing some more work in the street.”

The city’s Anti-Graffiti Network does not consider yarn-bombing a form of vandalism.

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