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Artist uses home-grown wool for her work

Artist uses home-grown wool for her work

SUMMIT POINT, W.Va. — Bridget Brown should be jealous of regular oil painters. 

In order for her to "paint," her art resources want to be fed, watered and even scratched under the chin. And with a "baa, baa, baa," they'll tell her their moods. But every spring, they'll contribute more than enough wool for her to make a plethora of pieces of art. And she wouldn't want it any other way. 

The 55-year-old earned degrees in art and has been a graphic artist for 17 years. But it wasn't until she and her husband decided to add sheep to their menagerie did she find out she was destined to be a fiber artist.

"It was a process. We got a couple sheep, and got the spinning wheel," she said while sitting in her Wool Shop at her home in Summit Point, W.Va. "And I really loved spinning and working with the animals that I had. And then I wanted more animals. Then I branched out on my fiber art such as weaving. Then I started doing needle felting."

She purchased a kit of a sheep figurine at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

"So I made a little felted sheep. I had so much felt. I was like 'I don't even have to send the wool to the mill, I can just process it myself and wash it myself. I could make it myself,'' she said.

Although Brown still continues to keep her day job as a graphic artist, she spends a lot of time creating items from her own sheep's wool in her Wool Shop for her other company, Bridget's Farm Cart and Wool Shop. Her shop will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, and Sunday, Nov. 12, as part of the Over the Mountain Studio Tour. Celebrating its 28th year, the self-guided tour lets customers come to the artists in Jefferson County, W.Va. 

Twenty-four artists at 10 studio spaces will sell their work and share the way they create their pieces. Brown will be joined by artists Linda Case, who specializes in artwork in polymer clay, and Barbara Acker, whose artwork is made out of gourds. 

"We're a good team —  the three of us — and our products really compliment each other," Brown said. 

Brown will have a collection of work — from magnets to felted figurines of Santa Claus, Guinea pigs, and, of course, sheep — for sale. But her more unusual pieces of work are what she calls wool painting. 

"I couple of years ago, I thought, ' What if I did a flat-felted thing like a painting?," she said, noting her painting background. "Then it just clicked I could make a painting with my wool."

Using the wool sheared and milled from her own sheep, Brown dyes her wool different colors. She often starts with the wool from her East Friesian sheep, Lily, because she's gray that she makes into her own felt by using special felted needles. She wets the felt, then when it's dry, it's the background of her paintings. 

"Then I take the dyed wool in little pieces, and I use the felting needle," she said. "The felting needle pokes it and keeps it into place. That's the start of my painting, until I get really involved in all my little details."

She said most people because she calls them "wool paintings" that she paints the wool.

"I know they're surprised when they see the paintings and I tell them they're made from wool," she said. "Then they look closer. I want to people to see the versatility of wool and all the things you can do with this versatile resource that renews itself every year. That sheep have another purpose besides being eaten, there's a place for that as well. But look all the beautiful products I can create with my sheep's wool."

She said it takes about three days on and off to finish a painting.

"I'll work on it for an hour. Then I'll go out and work on something else. I like to put it up on the wall and then leave the shop, then when I come back in and look and see, oh this part needs more color," she said.

In fact, she said, they're easier to complete than one her figurines because she has to wrap the wool around an armature that is hidden in the body. 

"Some of the animals can get rather complicated, but I enjoy it," she said. "I never get bored."

Brown said she loves that she's able to work from home, which allows her to fuel her creativity and bounce from her graphic design work, to art work to just hanging out with her sheep — all of which are named.  She has more than 60 sheep whose wool she can use. 

"I have Jacob sheep, which are the spotted ones with the horns," she said. "I have Finsheep. they have all the have all the babies, like quadruplets and quintuplets. I have Cormo sheep and they're white and they have fine, soft wool. I have a couple Shetland sheep, and they're just around for attitude." She laughed.

Every year during the spring, the sheep are sheared. Either, she said, she'll sell the fleece to the mill or wash it herself. And then she will use it for several things in her shop. 

"Most of my sheep, I either spin their wool and make nice yarn. I can weave with it. I can needle felt with it," she said.  "Each sheep's wool has a purpose."

For example, the wool from her East Friesian isn't soft enough to wear as a scarf, but, she said, "it's perfect for my paintings. I enjoy having each sheep have a job and they contribute to my art."

If you go ...

WHAT: Over the Mountain Studio Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11,  and Sunday, Nov. 12
WHERE: Studios Harpers Ferry, Charles Town and Shepherdstown, W.Va.
COST: Free admission 
CONTACT: For a map, go to www.studiotourwv.org.

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