Friday, October 7, 2011

Fiber Arts Friday and a New Voie de Vie Questionnaire

Ruth Marshall at the Berlin Zoo conducting research of Indo-
Chinese Tigers, during the artist's residency May, 2011, with
Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery. Photo courtsey of
Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery.

I am thrilled this week to bring you the latest installment of the Voie de Vie Questionnaire. Ruth Marshall is a unique and incredibly talented fiber artist, recreating animal pelts with yarn and knitting needles. I was fortunate enough to meet Ruth in New York this past January at Vogue Knitting Live. Two of her pelts were on display, and she was working on a new pelt. I was intrigued and impressed, and spent quite a bit of time speaking with Ruth throughout the weekend. I'm so pleased she graciously agreed to participate in my questionnaire fun. So, without further ado, I present:

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
With Textile Artist Ruth Marshall

Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you became a textile artist?

Before I became a textile artist I was already an artist, a trained sculptor to be exact.  I was also employed as a sculptor at the Wildlife Conservation Society - Bronx Zoo - recreating nature artificially.  I have two fine arts degrees, a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters degree in Fine Arts.  So I have been embedded in the art world for over twenty years.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to design animal pelts from yarn?

 Ocelot #4. 50" x 29"  (127cm x 73cm)
Hand knitted textile. Interpretation of ocelot based
on study of actual pelt at American Museum of
Natural History. Female - collected from Venezuela, 1929.
Yarn, string, sticks. (C) Ruth Marshall, 2010.
Image courtesy of Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery
 The moment I knew that I wanted to design and create animal pelts from yarn was not too long after I rediscovered knitting again.  I had knitted prodigiously as a child and young woman, then left it behind for my artistic odyssey where I began painting, and then sculpting in metal and resins.  On a trip home to Australia several years ago, I picked up some of my mother's needles and started knitting crazy Estonian-designed socks in different colored yarns from Nancy Bush's books.  At that time I was struggling to come up with a satisfying way to say something meaningful about animals, since working at the Bronx Zoo had become my major source of inspiration.  I quicky realized that the patterns on an animal's coat or skin could be recreated as a knitted textile to a high degree of realism. It was an extremely exciting discovery for me and my artwork and continues to be so.

Please describe your personal artistic (design) philosophy.

My artistic philosophy is grounded in the hand made object.  Since I had such a strong craft background from my childhood this really informed and shaped me as an artist.  So a high level of craftsmanship and technique is compulsory for me.  I am also quite a traditional artist, in the sense that I support viewing an artist's work in a gallery or museum.  I LOVE museums and the whole structure and philosophies behind these cultural establishments, and I am terribly amibitious in seeing knitting raised to the high standards that these establishments demand.  While I enjoy other artists' work that celebrate an ‘art for arts sake’ approach I myself cannot adhere solely to that idea.  For me my work has to carry another message alongside it, either socially or politically.

What is your greatest artistic memory?

My greatest artistic memory came in 1987 when I saw Tutankamen’s gold mask in the Cairo Museum in Eygpt.  I experienced a  complete breakdown and disorientation of time and space.  I don’t know how they display the gold mask now, but back then it was a very simple display of wood and glass under flourescent lighting, very basic.  Through the window nearby you could hear the present day pandemonium of Cairo’s traffic, horns blaring, yelling, donkeys braying, etc.  Simultaneously I am looking at the gold mask and it looks absolutely brand new, perfect, like it was completed yesterday and I cannot comprehend that it is 3,000 years old.  It was the most surprising and astonishing experience.

If you could have dinner with any three artists, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

Van Gogh - I have always loved his work, loved his story, I would love to meet him just to know if we could get along or not!  The very much alive Walton Ford - I hear he sometimes does research at the American Museum of Natural History, where I also do my research, so I’d love to run into him one day and have a chat about career stuff, animals, the day to day life of an artist, etc.  I think leading on from the last question, I’d love to watch the craftsmen or women who created King Tut's gold mask.  I wouldn’t need to talk to them just watch them.  I don’t think that would destroy the mystery of what they achieved either, only enhance it. 

One artist I would NOT like to meet is Leonardo Da Vinci.  I LOVE him so much that I could not survive having my illusions about him shattered if that were the case. 

English or Continental?

I guess since I was taught knitting by my Scottish mother and aunt, the answer would be English.

It’s your last object to design (or make). What is it, and what fiber do you use?

The answer to what last object to design or create is always going to be what I’m currently working on, which right now is tigers.  I’m knitting life size pelts, I’m working on my fourth one now, and I still feel that I’m not getting it right, so it’s all about process, as it should be.  Worsted yarn. I’m currently being sponsored by Lion Brand for my yarn, and I love their Alpine Wool series, 100% wool.  I’m running out of options for the orange of the tiger, so if anyone has any suggestions let me know!

What trait do you most admire in artists?
What trait do you most detest in artists?

There’s so many things I admire about artists, it is very difficult to point out just one, so let’s say tenacity.  I don’t think it’s very fair to mention something that I detest about artists, but I do dislike pretentiousness or falseness, and that extends to outside of the art world as well.

You are recommending a design gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. What would you recommend?

For a design gift to recommend I instantly think of Alyssa Ettinger.  She translates knitting into ceramics!  Brilliant!  And so elegant and sleek, beautiful lines and shapes.

The artist knitting during the Berlin Residency, May, 2011,
with her new friend Merlin the chihuahua.
Image courtesy of Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery.

My sincere thanks to Ruth Marshall for some intriguing and insightful answers. You can learn more about the Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery here.

Now, definitely check out Andrea's blog to see what other fiber fun everyone else has gotten into this week.


  1. Great interview! Amazing knitting too. The project looks so...real.

  2. Really enjoyed your interview and the links. What amazing talent....Happy Fiber Arts Friday!!

  3. Great and interview and thanks for introducing me to a fabulous artist!

  4. The knitted pieces are simply amazing! I had to look hard for the chihuahua in the last picture, and I found the ears!

  5. Wow, thanks for sharing this artist with us, I really enjoyed the interview.

  6. This is wonderful & very inspiring. I think I read about her work in one of the knitwear magazines this past year, but you asked more interesting questions!

    The link to Alyssa Ettinger's work is a terrific bonus. Thanks :-)

  7. Thanks so much for the great interview. She certainly does amazing work.I know what you mean about catching up on blog reading. It usually takes me til Wednesday just to get through all the FAF posts. I'm off to get some more knitting done. Have a wonderful week!

  8. Wow - another knitter that I will live to aspire to. Thank you so much!
    Knitting as art is as it should be! Go Ruth!