The Act of Knitting

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Review by Rebecca M. Alvin

Rhythm. Repetition. The use of fine motor skills in the creation of something for someone else, something made with both creativity and love. A craft? Yes. An art form. Yes, that, as well. The knitter creates by working with a pattern, using two needles and yarn made from sheep or alpaca or goats, or even Angora rabbits. And while the associated imagery when we hear the word “knitting,” is of an old woman in a rocking chair, the history and contemporary practice of knitting is not a gendered activity, nor is it restricted to the elderly.

Shawl by Steve Cook

Maybe you’ve seen the group of knitters who regularly get together at Joe Coffee and knit in a social circle, combining the meditative, solitary experience with the camaraderie of fellow knitters, working on individual projects, but with the collaborative energy such a group offers. It was in passing by this group of knitters that gallery owner Steve Bowersock became enlightened about knitting. He noticed the multi-gender group and asked one of them, John Crane, about it, and from there the idea for an exhibition of works by male knitters took shape.

The resulting show, Men Knitting, and Then There’s Jeff, which opens June 3, features a juried exhibition of about 25 works by male knitters. “What sold me on the show was the history,” Bowersock says. “It’s the first all-male knitting show that I’m aware of.”

Evergreen Stream ( 38 x 46″, acrylic on canvas) by Jeffrey Fitzgerald

The show pairs these knitting works with the paintings of Jeffrey Fitzgerald, an abstract painter. “I see some connection because Jeffrey Fitzgerald’s work has a lot of texture and a lot of beautiful color, so it’s like there’s texture in the knitting as well as the abstract quality. And there’s the texture and the movement of water [in Fitzgerald’s work], so to me pairing them together worked visually,” Bowersock explains.

Crane knows a lot about knitting. Its history goes back at least a thousand years to Egypt, although there is strong evidence that it is a much older craft. The lack of examples from older eras is due to the materiality of knitting; wool, cotton, and cashmere are natural fibers and don’t withstand time as well as stone or metal, or other materials used in early craftsmanship. We know that the female connotations that arise in contemporary conversations about knitting come from more recent history, as its origins lie with male knitters as well as females. Crane, a former librarian at Dartmouth College, can rattle off example after example of the role of knitting in various societies of Europe and the colder climates, going back to a time before the Industrial Revolution. And today, knitting is not something that is gender-specific, with many examples of male knitters, such as famous actors Paul Rudd, Ashton Kutcher, and Ryan Gosling, to name a few.

Hat and scarf by John Crane

“I have one particular sweater vest that I had knit for myself that catches a lot of attention when I wear it. And I’m often asked, ‘Oh, did someone knit that for you?’ And then I say, ‘Yes. I did’. And then there’s this startle. I mean, there just is the expectation that things are knit by women,” says Crane. But, he says, history supports that notion as women knit sweaters for their fishermen husbands and family members, for example, and it doesn’t bother him one bit. “I’m a gay man too, and I’m just very comfortable and experienced with living in a minority in a gendered kind of way.”

Across the Divide (24×24”, acrylic on canvas) by Jeffrey Fitzgerald

The act of knitting is one that requires a certain focus, and yet allows the knitter to carry on conversations, listen to music, watch television, or otherwise engage in activities while creating a sweater, socks, or a scarf. But for John, knitting is a more mindful process. And while he thoroughly enjoys the social aspect of knitting in a group, on his own, he says he avoids those common distractions.

“Some people will watch television or movies, or listen to books on tape or music. And I find that I don’t want any of that. I just liked the peace and sort of the meditative repetition of the process,” he explains, adding “And also, if I’m knitting a garment for a friend, I use the moment to think about the friend.”

The focus, the patience, and the resulting garment that can be seen and enjoyed both as an expression of the knitter’s creativity and as a functional article of clothing—these are what make knitting an appealing art form that seems to be growing in popularity. Perhaps we all need to tame our restless spirits and anxious minds with something that can absorb us in the moment, the detailed handiwork, and the intention.

The show opens with a reception and wine tasting to benefit the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (ASGCC), which offers sexual health services to all genders without regard for ability to pay. All this month, a portion of the proceeds from the exhibition’s sales at Bowersock will go to ASGCC as well.

Men Knitting, and Then There’s Jeff is on view at Bowersock Gallery, 373 Commercial St., Provincetown, June 3 – 23, with the opening reception on Friday, June 3, 7 – 9 p.m. For more information call 508.487.4994 or visit bowersockgallery.com.