Artscape
4:53 pm
Sun July 3, 2011

The trees get 'yarn bombed' in Seattle's Occidental Park

Seattle’s Occidental Park is a leafy oasis in the middle of the city. It’s now also the site of a whimsical installation where all 27 trees and 16 lamp posts and 57 short poles are dressed up in yarn.

Suzanne Tidwell created the installation that's smack out of a surreal Tim Burton movie. Or, Dr. Seuss.

Pink and red stripes. Orange. Yellow.

A jolt of vertical color in a place that doesn't always get a lot of sunlight.

The idea started when Tidwell knitted a purply afghan-looking thing for one of the Cedar trees in her Sammamish backyard.

"I live in a very forested neighborhood, and really, I mean during the winter months, all you’re looking at is these wet dark stumps all the time. It really darkens the whole nature of your whole surroundings. So I’ve tried to liven it up."

The tree's been wearing the knitted "sweater" for the past 18 months.

Genesis of a movement

The garments have also been called tree socks, tree leg warmers, tree cozies and even tree condoms.

One day Tidwell was driving through downtown Sammamish when she saw four dead trees. She decided they should be wrapped in hot pink and purple as a public art project. She convinced the city to let her and another artist wrap them up.

They paid for the yarn themselves. Then they got a public grant from 4Culture.

The project livened up the intersection, but it also sparked controversy about what are is and whether public money should fund it.

Guerilla art

There's actually a name for this kind of business, of knitting or crocheting things and then wrapping up ordinary items such as parking meters, fire hydrants, even busses. It's called "yarn bombing," and it's a kind of guerilla art that's occurring all over.

In West Seattle, there's a group of yarn bombers called called Yarn Core. And on their blog there’s a photo of the Fremont Troll, with a knitted beanie, posted in June.

An artist who identifies herself as Olek wrapped a bronze bull statue on Wall Street. And then she uploaded a video of her work.

Open source yard bombing

Tidwell does her work out in the open and in public. The Occidental Park project is being funded by a grant from 4Culture, the King County arts organization, as part of its ARTSparks 2011 program. It's also being funded by Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

She uses a knitting machine, which sounds like a saw and looks like a giant harmonica, to make evenly-stitched striped panels. It takes two or three of these large panels to wrap one tree trunk. She climbs a ladder or sometimes rents a lift to wrap the tree, then hand sews the final seam up the trunk.

It's like she's outfitting the tree with a giant corset.

Something to smile about

Everyone who walks through the park has something to say about the project.

"It’s like Cheshire cat stripes wrapped up around all the tree trunks and all the light poles in the entire park," says Jeff Strain, who works for a video company nearby and stopped in the park on a coffee break. "I mean everybody here, every time they walk by,  I see them smile.  It's fantastic."

The yarn installation is up at the Pioneer Square park through the summer.

You can see a panoramic image of the installation by photographer Bradford Bohonus by clicking here.