Gittan Klemetsrud is no stranger to art exhibitions: she has held several of them around Vancouver Island in the past few years. People coming to see her latest, though—it opened this week at Art Matters Artists’ Collective, Harbour Quay—shouldn’t expect to see her art photography.
For several months, Klemetsrud has stretched herself as an artist and switched mediums to wool felting.
Latitudes &Fibers features three-dimensional, functional artwork: from table lamps that take inspiration from birch bark to hanging lanterns, felted purses and clothing to bowls and cosy “cat caves”. Klemetsrud has experimented with different felting techniques, all of which she learned by self-discovery and a lot of practice.
“Felting has always intrigued me,” she says. “I’m amazed what you can do with it. Everything: whatever imagination you have, you can create anything you want: you can shape it into whatever you want.
“It’s a way for me to grow as an artist.”
People who visited Klemetsrud at a winter market at Art Matters last winter will have seen a preview of her fascination with felting: she made a series of Scandinavian-inspired gnomes that were sold out by the end of the market.
Born in Ludvika, Sweden, the Scandinavian countries hold a lot of influence with Klemetsrud.
“I’ve seen feltwork in a lot of places. I just love it; it’s natural, organic, eco-friendly. There are no harsh chemicals being used, either. With photography or paint, you have smells of different paints or mixed media that you mix with it. With this (felting) there’s no smell to it; it’s natural.”
Klemetsrud uses various types of fleece and fibre for her creations, depending on what she wants to make. She sources her fibre from a variety of places. “Some is locally on the Island. Some is from Scandinavia, because I’m Scandinavian.”
Family members will send her fibre from back home that she uses in her creations.
She used a batt of wool from Sweden to demonstrate the beginning process for a cat cave. “It’s thick because it’s used to make sculptures.”
She prefers to work with wet felting, which involves soaking fleece with hot, soapy water, then pressing layers with mesh netting to rid the piece of bubbles. Klemetsrud uses a dense foam pool noodle to roll her fleece pieces flat. “It’s an intense workout.”
One scarf, for example, takes approximately 1,700 rolls of the foam.
A cat cave typically takes four to six hours from start to finish.
Klemetsrud works in her spacious kitchen on a large central island, and when the weather is warm and sunny she hangs finished pieces outside on her deck to dry.
While photography has dominated her creative outlet over the past few years, she doesn’t turn to her camera the same as she used to. ‘This is my new passion. When my hand goes into the wool, when it’s wet and warm with the soap, it’s like they know what they’re doing by themselves. It triggers something inside, that maybe because I’m Scandinavian it’s been passed through generations.
“It just feels natural when you touch it. I fell in love with it.”
Although Klemetsrud has switched to a new method of creativity, one thing hasn’t changed. “Nature inspires me,” she says.
She came to this realization in her late 20s and early 30s, when she lost several family members to cancer. The loss hit her at her core. While rediscovering herself, she developed an intimate relationship with nature. It was nurturing, she says: it taught her “lessons about our communal co-existence with the natural world.”
Klemetsrud feels a spiritual connection to her family when she spends quiet time in places of natural solitude and “mystery.”
“Nature has always inspired me, in photos, no matter what it is. But this is organic and close to nature because it’s from animals; it’s part of nature.”
Life has taught her how sacred things are, and spending time in nature has given her the resolve to “communicate the mysterious connections we all share with this land.
“This is just the beginning for me in the wonderful world of fibres and felting,” she says.
“I have many goals and dreams to pursue with fibres. When working on a project, my next idea is already taking shape in my mind,” Klemetsrud says.
“I think and believe that felting is going to bring out the best of me as an artist.”
Klemetsrud’s work hangs at Port Alberni City Hall, in Gallery 223 in Nanaimo and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet, BC Ferries, Art Freelance and various US and European collections.
Latitudes and Fibers will hang at Art Matters Artists’ Collective in Harbour Quay until July 28. An artists’ reception with Klemetsrud is planned for Friday, July 7 from 7–9 p.m. at 5417 Argyle St., beside the Blue Door Café.
Klemetsrud is also planning a felting workshop next fall, with a date to be announced later.