Joco 913

Felt artists ensure Overland Park Arboretum is a bright spot, even in winter

Visitors may stumble across these whimsical mushrooms at the Overland Park Arboretum.
Visitors may stumble across these whimsical mushrooms at the Overland Park Arboretum.

It’s colorful, resilient to the winter weather and soon to be seen at the Overland Park Arboretum. However the upcoming exhibit won’t feature plants. The real star of this show is felt.

For the fourth time, the Feltmakers Federation of Kansas City will enhance the arboretum’s winter landscape with felted forms, start Feb. 9. This year’s theme is masks.

“They thought their brightly colored sculptures would really stand out against the winter backdrop of the trees that we have here. It really does pop,” said Katharine Garrison, special events and education coordinator for the arboretum.

The biggest felt sculpture they’ve had was about 4 feet tall.

“They make these, knowing that they’re made out of natural materials, and it’s OK if some of them go back to nature, if a bird takes a piece of it here or there or the sun fades parts of it,” Garrison said. “I think that’s an interesting part of it.”

Feltmaker Judy Santer of Overland Park said the idea for the exhibit came several years ago when she was walking at the arboretum with fellow feltmaker Barrie Mason of Excelsior Springs.

“It was sort of a spontaneous felt in the woods. Neither one of us can take full credit for it,” Santer said.

The federation itself grew out of a discussion she had with her friend, Becky Stevens of Belton, when they were at a Kansas City Weavers Guild meeting about eight years ago. Santer had heard of a group of feltmakers in Columbia, and Stevens suggested they start their own group.

For last year’s exhibit, Santer made a felted checkerboard and covered some rocks with felt to stand in as checkers so people could actually play with it.

“A little boy who looked to be about 6 was with his mother, and they were sitting there playing checkers. He immediately started telling me that the checkers should be flat, because they can’t crown each other,” Santer said.

Santer plans to put the checkerboard on display again this year, in addition to the themed pieces.

It takes special planning to craft a piece that will be able to withstand the elements.

“Realizing that they’re going to be outdoors in all the Kansas weather for about three months — that’s a challenge. You can’t just make a little scarf,” Santer said. “…You’re going to make a piece that has a little more substance to it. Everyone comes at it from a different viewpoint, but you just have to make sure it doesn’t have any weak parts in it, or the wind will tear it apart.”

The exhibit opens on Feb. 9, the same day at the arboretum’s Artisans at the Garden craft show.

“I kind of gives a reason to come out here in the winter, we believe we’re beautiful all year round, and it provides and incentive to come out here and take a walk,” Garrison said.

At the craft show, some of the feltmakers will be conducting indoor demonstrations of how they make felt from wool.

“It’s this ancient process that a lot of people don’t know,” Santer said.

Admission to the arboretum is $3 for adults and $1 for children.