When you think of artists that work with their hands, what comes to mind are usually potters, sculptors or painters. Kristy Kun is bringing a new craft to light with her dynamic felted wool sculptures. The long, arduous, yet rewarding process she goes through to transform the fibers of raw wool into a sculptural felt, show her mastery of the craft.
So you started your career in the furniture making industry. How did you transition into doing your own thing?
I went to school for construction engineering, I’ve always known I wanted to make things with my hands. 4 years into the program, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to touch anything except for paper. There was a woodworking program in northern California and I packed up and moved there from Nebraska. After that, I got a job and ended up marrying the craftsman I was working for. We built furniture for 13 years. The wool just came naturally from working with wood and doing upholstery. I was trying to find something I could do that was quieter and less dusty. It just really spoke to me, the way the wool is so tactile and so sustainable.
You obviously go through a lot of wool. Where does it all come from?
Well, I don’t have any sheep around here, haha. A lot of the wool is commercially processed. There’s certain fibers or certain textures that only come from sheep in different parts of the world, or are only processed by certain mills. But I started working with local wool growers. There’s a woman in Newberg that has a breed of sheep that was one of the first breeds in the U.S, the Navajo Churro. The fleece has this really crazy, long fiber and then underneath is a soft downy wool. It’s a double-coat and it’s what I’m obsessed with right now.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I like to work in silence. I’m just inspired by the transformation of the wool and the tactile nature of the material. How it’s formed from nature and just kind of translating what I see. Creating depth and texture.
How long have you worked on a project before you’ve reached the point where you’re satisfied with it?
Over 100 hours.
So you consider yourself a perfectionist?
Absolutely! I really make sure that my wool pieces maintain the integrity of craftsmanship that I respect. I also build my own frames, so there’s not only the felting process but also finishing and mounting, milling the wood, structuring the frame..
Do you have a creative process?
It always starts with an inspiration. I go through drawings and sketches and then start deciding which materials I need to prepare. It’s a multi-step process of creating felt. There’s a dry process of laying everything out and placing everything where it belongs and then there’s a wet process where you really have to work those fibers together to bond them. Wool fibers are just like your hair. There’s a core fiber and it has scales. The scales on the wool fibers will kind of release from the core in an alkaline environment. Then with rubbing and agitation, the scales lock together to become a tight, sculptable felt material. It’s kind of like how you make dreadlocks.
What does it mean to you, being a creative in Portland?
I think being a creative person in Portland is about finding what really speaks to you as a person and why you’re passionate about, and then giving it everything you’ve got. Not being afraid to say to the world “This is me. This is what I’m going to do.” It doesn’t matter what it is, if you’re passionate about something then do it well. For the most part, in Portland everyone will accept and respect what you’re doing. So, I love wool, and I love sharing what I know about wool, processing wool, and creating felt.
What would you like to see more of in the creative community?
Well, last year I was approached by some artists of different mediums that saw something in my felting and invited me to participate in a collaborative event. This collaboration, ‘Frogwood’, is a 4-day gathering of over 30 artists. We have metal-workers, wood-workers, basket-weavers, jewelers, and of course, me. We get together and make art collaboratively and then we auction our art at the end. The proceeds go toward our next event. It changed my whole perspective on art and it gave me confidence in my work. It inspired me to do new things. It got me back in the wood shop. I think it’s such a healthy thing for artists to do. It’s all about learning and respecting other people’s opinions.