Little hands pulled long tufts of colorful, wispy fibers from long stretches of wool as children chattered and Atascadero artist Lauren Birkhahn demonstrated her craft.
Birkhahn was commissioned to create a tree sculpture for the Captain's Family Corner at the new location of the Atascadero Martin Polin Regional Library, and she’s inviting the community to her downtown art studio to help create felted leaves for its elaborate treetop.
Heather Martone, 11, said she likes the process of wet felting, the method the group practiced to make the leaves on Thursday.
“I like the finished product and all the pretty colors,” she said, admiring her work that incorporated swirls of orange, green, blue and pink.
The process — which doesn’t incorporate a needle like other types of felting — involved layering small fluffs of wool inside a cookie cutter to form a desired shape, pouring warm soapy water with olive oil over the layers, and, lastly, agitating the wool — usually with a pressing motion — to open the fibers so the finished product blends together into a fabric-like state to create one solid piece.
The group of 16 home-schooled children went over all the steps last week, creating two or three leaves a piece.
Birkhahn’s 9-foot-tall Radiant Reading Oak, slated to be complete at the end of March, will be made entirely of felt and feature brightly colored elements shifting in color from yellow through the color spectrum, she said.
“When I was making design decisions with the tree, I wanted it to act as a gathering place for the reading activities that would happen there. And, to have a calming and inspiring influence on young readers there,” Birkhahn added.
Andrew Owens, 6, said the process of wet felting was tough, but that he enjoyed trying and working with the colored materials. “I mainly picked green, orange and blue,” he said. “Blue is my favorite color, orange is my second and green is my third.”
Holly Martone, Heather’s mom, stood on the sidelines as the kids created leaves.
“I think it’s really important to expose children to art,” Martone said as she watched. “It gives them an outlet and a way to express themselves and find their own form of expression in a positive way.”
Martone, who owns a chiropractic office up the street from the art studio on Traffic Way, said her daughter is taking more initiative as she participates in Birkhahn’s art classes.
The public is invited to help Birkhahn create more leaves during free workshops planned for Jan. 20, 27, and Feb. 3 at the library’s community room, 6555 Capistrano Ave.; and Jan. 11, 18 and 25 at the Dudleya Art Studio, 5820 Traffic Way. The sessions will be for families and children from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., followed by adult-only sessions from 5 to 6 p.m.
For more information or to reserve a spot, call Birkhahn at 610-2489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.