Knitting Landscapes: Virginia Catherall Captures Utah Landscape in a Brand New Way

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Knitting Landscapes: Virginia Catherall Captures Utah Landscape in a Brand New Way

By Abigail Raasch

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Surrounding the University of Utah, we have gorgeous mountains, pleasant hikes and the great outdoors. We take pictures of the Salt Flats or the Uinta mountains as we try to fully capture their beauty, but it doesn’t quite work. Many local artists have made it their mission to go to these landmarks and capture them in their desired mediums. Virginia Catherall, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts curator of education, is one of these creative individuals who are passionate about capturing the magnificent beauty of the land. She doesn’t do this through any common medium. She does so through knitting. 

The Beginning

In an interview with Catherall, she talked about her life as a visual artist, starting with her position as an art educator. Catherall has been at the UMFA for 25 years. She joined after receiving one Master’s degree in museum education and then received another in educational philosophy. What got her into this field of education was her hometown art museum. As a high school student, Catherall decided to become a volunteer teacher at the museum. Catherall said, “That was when I thought: This is what I want to do with my life, I really love teaching about art. So I did it.” With remarkable conviction, she followed her dream all the way to Utah. “Not many people have that story where they know what they are going to do and then do it,” she said. 

Catherall learned how to knit while in graduate school to alleviate stress. “There has actually been research done on repetitive tasks like knitting … it’s considered as a type of meditation,” Catherall said. “I loved it, and I did a lot of it.” Little did she realize back then, her stress-relieving hobby would soon become a passionate medium for art.

Eight years ago, Catherall and a friend ran out of gas on the Salt Flats. Catherall said, “We were stranded out there, sitting on the Salt Flats, waiting for somebody to come and rescue us. I was looking out on the Salt Flats, and I was overcome by the beauty.” She continued, “I lamented the fact that I couldn’t draw, I can’t paint and I am a terrible photographer. I just really wanted to capture it in an artistic way. I was overcome with this feeling. I then thought: Well, wait a minute. I can knit. Why don’t I knit this inspiration?” The story truly begins with an empty tank of gas and a beautiful view, but it ends with Catherall discovering her true path to visual art.

Wearable, Interactive Art

Catherall creates what she calls wearable art. It’s easy to argue it could simply be labeled as fashion, but the knitted ensembles create canvases. Catherall said, “It’s surrounding yourself with the landscape.” With the Salt Flats piece, for example, Catherall used her talents to create her first piece ever. It was a scarf, detailed as an elaborate painting. “I was trying to capture the flatness and then the rocky edges, to really capture the feeling of the vastness.”

Catherall argues the reason these pieces truly are wearable art is the human interaction aspect. “Seeing it on somebody brings it to life. I was thinking of my pieces as not just pieces that you can wear though, but wearable art. My thought was that I wanted to surround myself with the landscapes I was seeing.” It became a new challenge for Catherall. “I wanted to make these things, where you could be in the landscape through the interpretation of the art.” At all exhibits where Catherall’s work is displayed, she creates a portfolio with pictures of people in her art and the process behind each piece, better informing the viewer of what they are looking at.

Through the past eight years of knitting landscapes, Catherall has been a part of numerous exhibits around Utah. She sells all her pieces at hand prices and for a viable reason. Catherall’s heart for community, sharing art and teaching have led her to make patterns of her pieces. These patterns are then given away or sold at low prices for those interested. Catherall said, “I want to make it available for those who maybe can’t afford my art.”

The Future

This September, Catherall will spend a month as an artist in residence at Capitol Reef National Park. She will receive housing in the park for a month and will use her time there to receive inspiration and create art. Catherall said, “I will hopefully be spending a lot of time hiking and knitting … really exploring the park, and exploring the natural landscape. But I will also be an ambassador.”

While adventuring, Catherall will be responsible for being an advocate of the arts to all she meets. She will be expected to explain the Artist in Residency Program and the art she is making. Catherall will also be enjoying her passions of teaching by holding an artist talk in Torrey, Utah at the Entrada Institute and holding classes at some of the local schools. The only catch with this project is by the end of the one month, Catherall will be responsible for donating one piece of art back to the park. Anything else created she can take with her and share with us. Catherall said, “This is an opportunity to just get some amazing inspiration…my color palate is going to be much more orange now.”

To see Catherall’s work, you can follow her on Instagram at @lakesaltknit or visit her website at lakesaltknit.com.

 

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@AbigailRaasch