Hazel Tree Wonderland: The making of a textile forest in downtown Akron

by Sophie Franchi

 Photo by Sophie Franchi

Photo by Sophie Franchi

When Karen told me that I’d get to work with her and Chelsea on our very own Curated Storefront exhibit, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it was going to be awesome.

The Curated Storefront is a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge winning project conceived by Rick Rogers. It’s an ongoing series of art exhibitions created in unused storefronts in downtown Akron. The intention is to activate those spaces in an effort to bring business back into downtown.  

Located at 68 East Mill Street, our storefront is in a fantastic location: right in the middle of downtown, in Greystone Hall, across from the John S. Knight Center and the Akron Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau. We had two windows to work with: a large window, viewable from the front and side, and a smaller window off to the left.

In the large window, we created a fabric wonderland. Chelsea hand-dyed all of the rayon and silk textiles on the far right of the exhibit with dyes that she created from avocado, blackberry and indigo. She dyed the draping fabrics in an ombre fashion, with avocado or blackberry dye on one end fading into indigo dye on the other, and all of the sheer silk fabrics were dyed with indigo. All the indigo fabric was dyed in a low-submersion dye bath, so the natural twist of the fabric setting in the solution created its own unique print. Once they were dry, Chelsea stitched the panels to create some cinching, which created a resemblance to Austrian stage curtains.

Chelsea also heat treated and hand-dyed the wool roving (the long, rope-like wool textiles in the middle of the exhibit) with dyes from onion skin, privet bush berries and indigo. She left some roving untreated for a different effect.

 Photo by Sophie Franchi

Photo by Sophie Franchi

Together, the three of us hung the individual pieces of roving and yarn and and played with them to create different textural effects. We then incorporated spanish moss for another organic element. We hung two Akron architectural relics: salvaged light fixtures from the ends of the deli counter at the old Bisson’s Grocery Store that used to be in Wallhaven. Then we hung the fabric panels on the far right, twisting, turning, draping, and re-draping until we got the effects we wanted.

 Photo by Chelsea Uhl

Photo by Chelsea Uhl

For the smaller window to the left, Karen found an owl that that she made even more majestic by painting him and adorning him with feathers that she cut individually out of jewel-toned crushed velvet and glued on one by one. We nestled him behind a witchy black lace curtain to balance the lighter mood of the other window. During the day, the owl is more hidden, and the viewer has to look a little harder to see it. But at night, the owl comes to life, as nocturnal creatures do.

 Photo by Sophie Franchi

Photo by Sophie Franchi

 Photo by Courtney Cable

Photo by Courtney Cable

The Hazel Tree Wonderland exhibit is best viewed in the early evening, at night, or before dawn, as that’s when there is the least amount of light reflecting off the windows to obstruct the view. The exhibit will be on display until January, when the next artist will take over the storefront. Next time you’re grabbing a cookie from Sweet Mary’s Bakery or some tacos at Nuevo, stop by and check it out!