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positively heartfelt: chris armstrong exhibition recap

Chris Armstrong's exhibition, "Positively Heartfelt" will be on view in Kentuck's Museum Gallery until September 3, 2023.

Chris Armstrong, from Nashville, TN, was on sabbatical from his job as a investigator for Death Row cases for the Federal Public Defender in 2003 when he first discovered his love for making needle felted creatures. His daughter was in 4th grade, and the school was hosting an annual Elves Faire event for the community. One of the features of the fair included an "Angel Room" in which only small children were allowed to "shop" for small, handcrafted gifts made from natural materials that parent volunteers created. In preparation for the event, Chris learned the basics of needle felting and discovered he had a knack for the craft. His first creations included a wizard with a long beard, a quail, and an owl.

His work attracted the attention of several parents at the event, and photos of his work were included in an article about the event written by the Nashville Tennessean.

'Hair Surprise' by Chris Armstrong

"I went in kind of blindly. I was the only guy in the group in the parent was me and six or seven moms." - Chris Armstrong

Hoping to make his sabbatical permanent, Chris sent some photos of the felted creations to a juried craft fair. He then sat down and listened to books on tape and began making a stock of his unique art for the fair. He soon had bags of otters, badgers, frogs, possums, walruses, foxes, and other fantastical animals.

Unfortunately, Chris' appendix burst one night, and he had a long, slow recovery that forced him to cancel his plans of attending the crafts fair. Once he got well again, he returned to his job with the Federal Public Defender and did not needle felt again for eight years until he began to consider retirement.

Chris returned to the crafting session at his daughter's former school, where he made a little felted squirrel for the Angel Room. Finding he still had a talent for needle felting, he returned to the craft and began making bigger, more complex pieces.

"Prom Night '74" by Chris Armstrong

"A friend of mine from Germany taught me the basics of needle felting. It's a pretty popular craft there. It started [in the United States], as far as we know, from the internet. A crafty couple went to California and they saw a demonstration of a felting machine...loose wool goes in one end and there's thousands of these needles that frantically punch the wool, and it comes out as a sheet of felt on the other side. They wondered if you could take one of [those] needles and stick the wool into three dimensions and shape it...Sure enough, you could."

Thus, Chris Armstrong's business, Whippoorwool, was born. Those who attended his shows began to see a world of whimsical animals wearing clothes and interacting with one another in human experiences: bunnies at a cookout, cats sunbathing and getting their hair done, possums and raccoons attending a birthday party, and mice playing piano while frogs dance to the music. His work didn't start out that interactive, though—he says it was when he decided to incorporate wire into his sculptures when the real magic started to happen and the characters came to life.

'Piano Dance' by Chris Armstrong

"The first things I made it would be like a frog just sitting there...and then, finally, I thought 'You know what? I'm going to make a chair out of wire'. Once I started making the wire things, it just got completely out of hand. I've made cars, I've made pianos..."

Chris is inspired by the works of Victor Horta (a Belgian architect and designer), Albert Paley (an American artist and metal sculptor), and John Prine (an American singer and songwriter of country-folk music).

Chris hopes that his work will continue to give others joy with their fanciful scenes reminiscent of illustrations found in children's' books.

Chris Armstrong at Kentuck's August Art Night

"Needle felting for me will always be associated with images from stories I read when I was a kid. I love the illustrations from those old books and try to honor the illustrators. I also like that the subject matter usually reminds people of a time when they weren’t so harried. With wool there are no hard edges or truly parallel lines, just like in nature, which is what relaxes people when they go to the forest or the beach."- Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong exhibited at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts for many years, where he has won several awards, including Best in Show in 2019. He also participated in Kentuck's Artists in the Schools program.

We encourage you to visit this show in person during our open hours of Monday-Friday, 9:30am-5:30pm and Saturday-Sunday, 12pm-4pm. Please call Kentuck at 205-758-1257 or email to inquire about purchasing any of Chris Armstrong's available works.

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