Crafts with creatures: The furry, fuzzy and fantastical animals of Big Crafty

HEAD GAMES: Asheville-based artist Haley Nocik turned a love of needle-felting into a line of vegetarian taxidermy. No unicorns were harmed in the making of this display. Photo by Carley Brandau

Market research firm Nielsen investigated a trend that was first noticed in the early 2000s: Wine brands with animals on the labels were selling twice as many bottles as their critterless counterparts. Does such a creature-phenomenon also apply to crafting? Although no such study has been done, animal imagery certainly does have an appeal among indie-craft enthusiasts.

The Big Crafty, one of Asheville’s biannual craft marketplaces, will feature more than 150 artists selling their wares on Sunday, July 12, in the indoor-outdoor space of Pack Square and the Asheville Art Museum. “Summer is our larger event and still very competitive,” says event co-organizer Brandy Bourne. Constructing each show around a mix of new and returning artists, “One of our guiding principles is that each event should be a new experience,” she says.

With the theme of animals in mind, here is a selection of Big Crafty artists whose work includes critter crafts ranging from adorable and playful to wildly imaginative.

Locally grown mythical beasts

“Unicorns are by far my best-seller,” local fiber artist Haley Nocik says of her needle-felted taxidermy series. “There is just something about the magic of the unicorn that appeals to my customers. Sloths are also popular, as are owls and foxes, all of which are probably tied in popularity behind the unis.”

Nocik’s vegetarian brand of faux-taxidermy allows her to work with mythical creatures that may or may not exist in the Asheville wild. It has also won her accolades, such as best-in-show at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair for a life-size tiger head that she created on commission.

Nocik had been needle-felting for nearly three years, and began by making felted Santa stocking-stuffers with her mother. “I enjoyed the process enough to keep working with it,” she says. “The nature of the medium lends itself best to portraying anything fuzzy or furry, so this quickly led to me working mostly with animals.” haleynocik.com

Wild child

“Our kids have taught us the importance of staying young at heart, and what better way to do that than run around with an animal mask on?” says Marshall-based artist Cre Willis, who will be showing at The Big Crafty for the fifth year. “The masks have always been a fun way to connect with our little ones.”

Working under the business name Seven Feathers Tribe, Willis is inspired by the simple lifestyle of family and nature. “If we aren’t creating or working around our home, we are in the woods exploring,” she says. Her projects are continually evolving in response to the playfulness of her children. “They are always throwing ideas our way,” she says. “‘Hey mom, have you ever made an elephant!?’” etsy.com/shop/sevenfeatherstribe

PUT A WHALE ON IT: Animal-centric mugs are a hit, but regionalism prevails. The buffalo is the favorite in Wyoming while the lesser-known
PUT A WHALE ON IT: Animal-centric mugs are a hit, but regionalism prevails. The buffalo is the favorite in Wyoming while the lesser-known armadillo has fewer fans. The Cooke Ceramics whale leads the pack. Photo courtesy of Laura Cooke

Animal dreams

“Companion woodpeckers, coyote crooners and secretive flocks of tooth fairies” are some of the dreamy animal drawings that artist Rosy Kirby of Indian Summer Press will be showing at this year’s Big Crafty. Her collection includes drawings, prints, patches and T-shirts.

Kirby found new inspiration for her work after leaving Asheville’s city limits a year ago. In the wilder landscape, nature became increasingly present in her imagery. “I will fall asleep listening to neighborhood coyotes and photographing the fascinating birds who fly [by] the windows of our house, and they will almost certainly reappear in the next drawing I make,” she says.

These animal sounds, similar to those that Kirby heard growing up on a small fruit farm, are a source of creative fuel for her compositions. “I think many of these environments adopt a sort of dreamlike quality because I rely largely on memory to re-create the moment,” she says. “I draw in order to preserve these feelings in a physical form.” indiansummerpress.tumblr.com

Coffee with character

In 2010 while living in Portland, Ore., ceramicist Laura Cooke began a series of animal-branded drinkware after being inspired by a whale drawing done by her friend, Jon Wagner. “I was charmed by the animal’s ho-hum expression, and with Jon’s permission, created the first animal mug,” Cooke says. “It was a huge hit, and we decided to formalize our collaboration and create a whole line of animal-decorated pottery.”

Cooke also makes a body of animal-free pottery. But, “the whale has always been a best-seller,” says Cooke. “We’ve found that more obscure animals, like the armadillo and the ostrich, have not attracted as many fans.” Location is an influencing factor: “The buffalo is popular in Wyoming, for example, the fox is a hit in Atlanta,” Cooke says. “And the squirrel is a top seller in North Carolina.” cookeceramics.com

WHAT: The Big Crafty, thebigcrafty.com
WHERE: Asheville Art Museum, inside and outdoors
WHEN: Sunday, July 12, noon-6 p.m.

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