As dusk was settling in, a group of graffiti artists struck in Ashland — but not in the way you might expect.
Armed with clews of yarn, they transformed a series of utilitarian light posts into colorful, whimsical, eye-luring structures.
It’s called “yarn bombing,” “guerrilla knitting,” or “graffiti knitting” — wrapping and otherwise decorating everyday structures with yarn under the cover of night. As executed by the group Ashland Creative, the phenomenon can be expected to pop up in unexpected places all over town this summer.
“For a lot of people, it just appeared,” said Dana Cox, one of the artists involved with the first explosion of color that appeared in front of the Ashland Public Library earlier this month. “It’s something to stop and think about, wonder about.”
It is a worldwide movement — the first international “yarn bombing day” was observed on June 11, 2011 — that has emerged in the last decade, with elaborate designs hitting bicycles, statues, trees, steps, parking meters, phone booths, and subway interiors, filling potholes, and even draping entire buses and military tanks in various countries.
In its local application, though, Ashland Creative wasn’t completely rogue. Organizer Andrea Green sought approval from selectmen, Town Manager Anthony Schiavi, and library trustees, and also notified the police force on the night of the “bombing,” so they wouldn’t be apprehended as vandals.
The group’s plan for its “Ashland wrap-it-up art project” is to decorate various structures in town — from benches to mailboxes to bike racks — every few weeks, according to Green, a mixed-media artist who runs Starting Line Studio on Cross Street.
“It’s nonpermanent, not destructive, really more about the process of doing it, and the process of people discovering it,” said Cox, a creative director by trade. “We really want to activate [downtown] and make it more creative and interesting.”
Which comes down to the group’s main motive: To help, if in a small way, reenergize the former factory town.
As Green pointed out, there are many community-building endeavors burgeoning in Ashland, including a community garden, farmers market, Ashland Creative — with more than 200 members, and dreams of eventually opening an arts center — and the playfully titled “Off Center for Wild and Disobedient Creativity,” started by local artist Julie Nardone in September 2011, and now with a base of 225 members from across the area.
“The greater goal is to build community, giving Ashland residents more worthwhile reasons to spend time together in our town, thereby helping to grow the local economy,” said Green.
Nardone, who also took part in the yarn bombing, described it as one step in a “whimsical” plan to attract more people downtown, foster “old-fashioned conversation,” and promote arts, creativity and culture in the community.
“It’s a conversation starter about public art and public participation,” Nardone said in an e-mail. “It’s something different, out of the ordinary. It makes folks sit up and take notice. So many of us spend our days sleepwalking, doing the same routine, following the generic blueprint we get handed at birth. An art project that appears out of nowhere pulls us into the present, back in the wonder of our own lives, flips on our alive selves.”
Using colorfast acrylic yarn — less inclined than wool to run when it gets wet — the small group set about decorating roughly a half-dozen light posts in front of the library on the evening of June 5. The decorated structures feature bands of fuzzy red and lime green, alternating stripes of turquoise and purple, and motley bows and loops in bold colors.
“We improvised, creating whatever designs came to mind,” Nardone said of the artistic process. “I started out doing one pattern and my subconscious took over and I ended up doing something else.”
And the response? Curiosity from both adults and kids, the latter of which have named their favorites and been more than happy to explore their texture.
“People have just been delighted to see the way ordinary functional objects have been transformed into fun, interesting works of art,” said Green, noting some people have admitted to being oblivious to the lamp posts, despite having passed them multiple times, before the yarn bombing caught their attention.
“People often have the perception that art has to be seen in museums,’’ Green said, “but amateur artists can create it, and it can still entertain.”