Tempestry Project Spreads Around the Globe

Inspired by a passion to address global change, an Anacortes trio embarked upon “The Tempestry Project,” a unique initiative that has now attracted participants from almost two dozen nations.

The Tempestry Project, a fiber art collaborative, was born in 2017 as a result of a conversation among three Anacortes friends: Emily McNeil, Justin Connelly and Marissa Connelly.

In a conversation prompted by a threatened presidential decision to abandon the Paris Climate Accord, Justin inspired a brainstorming session. The three friends quickly locked in to the idea of capturing and presenting climate change data in such a way that it could not be altered or “erased” from computer archives.

Emily and Marissa, both avid knitters, responded enthusiastically to Justin’s reminder that ancient tapestries are valued for their recording of ancient stories and history. Soon the trio had locked into a plan:

  • Gather historic climate data from locations around the country, starting with our Northwest neighborhood
  • Create a standard spectrum of yarn colors, 32 colors in total, each representing a specific 5-degree temperature range (e.g.31-35 degrees F). The “coldest” color is black, the “hottest” red, with 30 other colors in between.
  • Create a tapestry with 365 rows, each row representing the high temperature on a specific day in history (one calendar year total)
  • Create collections for public display to inform and stimulate conversation

“Once we put our idea together we decided to call our fiber art ‘tempestries,’ combining the words ‘tapestry’ and ‘temperature’,” said McNeil, whose day job is shop manager at Fidalgo Artisan Yarn Company. “All tempestries use the same yarn colors and temperature ranges, creating an immediately recognizable and globally comparable mosaic of shifting temperatures over time.”

From the start, the trio committed to getting other local knitters involved, initially from Anacortes and North Whidbey. For a brief time the group scheduled monthly “knit-togethers,” some of which were held at Johnny Picasso’s coffee and art shop in downtown Anacortes. Soon a collection of tempestries was created, based on weather data gathered at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island from the mid-Forties.

The Deception Pass Collection went on public display at local sites including the Anacortes Farmers Market and the Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center at an event inspired by Earth Day.

Those viewing the collection saw long, vertical tapestries (approximately 8in. X 4.5ft.) with a range of colors: December at top, January at bottom.The collection of colors demonstrated historic temperature changes as in a bar graph, generally with fewer dark/cool bands and more yellow/orange/red bands representing hotter temperatures.

“We have created and hope to create many more beautiful public exhibits – the powerful collaborative work of artists and scientists,” said McNeil.

As noted, the Tempestry Project collections have been on display in this region, including a current display that runs through January 5, 2019 at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in downtown LaConner. It has also traveled as far as New York – and has inspired similar displays in almost two dozen nations ranging from Great Britain to Bulgaria.

Based on a mushrooming level of interest the Tempestry Project founders have created a website, Facebook page and a “kit” that provides background information, universal color spectrum and instructions about how to go forward on this fiber art concept.

About 400 kits have been sold this year for individual tempestries, with many participants motivated by a desire to focus on a year that is significant in their family history.

Climate data for most locations in the U.S. Is generally available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),and through government agencies in some foreign nations.

“It is exciting to see this art initiative take off around the world,” said McNeil. “We are in contact with a research scientist who is going to spend five months in Antarctica. He wants to create a tempestry during that period.” Other projects are based on locations from Alaska to Death Valley.

“We heard recently from two fiber artists in different parts of the country – both working on tempestries based on climate change “back home” in Houston, Texas,” she said. “We have put together another collection demonstrating climate change in Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly Barrow), to show change in a place with more extreme temperatures.”

In the developing world of “climate art,” the Tempestry Project is unique, taking its place among such media as sculpture, painting, photography and “green” technology such as electric cars.

Emily, Marissa and Justin continue to look for opportunities to share their work, from libraries to school classrooms – and they hope the Tempestry Project’s international reach continues to grow – fed and nurtured from a home base on Fidalgo Island.

“As more and more people create tempestries, both individually and in geographic collections, a mosaic of our climate history is beginning to emerge,” said McNeil. “The more people get involved — through knitting, crocheting, discussing, sharing — the richer, the more beautiful, and the more undeniable this mosaic becomes.”

Sidebar: MoNA display until January 5, 2019, with an open invitation to a MoNA “knit-in” on Saturday, December 1, 3:30-5 p.m.

By Steve Berentson

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