Flowers, Insects, and Aliens … Oh My!

When Jessica Curtaz started teaching fiber arts in Philadelphia’s suburbs, she wanted to encourage her students to explore making shapes rather than focus on wearable items, like scarves or beanies. That experience sparked a realization that she should try to practice what she preached, and her own recognizable practice began to emerge.

Yarn bombing is the most applicable term assigned to the street art Curtaz has brought to the city’s urban landscape. Imagine a mural made of yarn that is then hung on a chain link fence or (ungreased) light post. Curtaz creates images of flowers, insects, aliens, and creatures from her imagination, much to the delight of anyone who passes by it on the street.

Often, Curtaz will have an idea for a specific site, like the playful monster that adorns Starr Garden Playground at 6th and Lombard streets. But sometimes she just keeps materials at hand so she can bring it to fruition when she finds a place that feels right. Her work can be found all over Philadelphia. She has installed salamanders outside a community garden in Kensington, roses at Philadelphia International Airport, and even carnivorous plants overlooking the Schuylkill River from their place on the Girard Avenue Bridge.

Given their surroundings, not all of Curtaz’s work can last forever. She says the longest-standing yarn bombing creation is about two years old, noting that the last time she checked on it the colors were muted and it looked much different than when she installed it. Luckily, Curtaz brings her work indoors, too, and she will as one of three artists in Fleisher’s Wind Challenge 1 exhibition that opens Friday, October 4. Working with what she calls a “translucent canvas,” elements of chain link fencing reference her work’s regular location.

For Wind Challenge 1, Curtaz says she’s appropriating elements of fairy tales, mythology, and religion. Her largest piece in the exhibition, a crocheted black widow spider, examines the myth of Arachne, who was cursed for daring to challenge Athena. Her pieces blend humor and escapism into an “explicitly political feminist project,” she says.

Beyond her street art, Curtaz tries to make art accessible to everyone in a number of additional roles. For six years, she’s been leading accessibility art outreach programs at the Main Line Art Center, engaging with communities throughout the region. She also teaches at the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, and she’s been involved with the Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Porch Light project,

Wind Challenge 1 opens with a public reception on Friday, October 4, beginning at 6:00 p.m. The exhibition features work by Jessica Curtaz, Jenny Lynn, and Melissa Joseph. It will remain on view through November 9. Learn more about the Wind Challenge Exhibition Series and Curtaz’s fellow artists. The Wind Challenge Exhibition Series is generously supported by the Wind Foundation and Fleisher’s members.

This story was written by Kailee Walsh, who is interning with Fleisher’s communications department this fall. Kailee is a senior journalism student at The College of New Jersey. She thinks Philadelphia is the center of the universe and loves to watch movies. 

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