Alpaca art has never felt so good

Felt artist Cheryl Cook will hold her first exhibition in July. photograph laura ferguson

Felt artist Cheryl Cook will hold her first exhibition in July. photograph laura ferguson

There is nothing at all conventional about Cheryl Cook's artistic practice, which is perhaps why the felter has titled her first exhibition An Unconventional Journey.

Ms Cook challenges viewers' perceptions of the differences between art and craft with a diverse range of felted alpaca-wool pieces that echo the colours and textures of the world around her.

Ms Cook's studio is located on her Tanjil Valley property with nearly 360 degree views up to Mt Baw Baw and surrounds.

"There is an atmosphere here which helps me be creative," she said.

"We had a shed full of [alpaca wool] and we tried getting it commercially-processed into yarn but it is terribly expensive and not very satisfying.

"It got the point where I went to a felting conference in Wollongong and there was this Icelandic felter with Icelandic wool ... and I thought 'if she can travel the world, why couldn't I be equally exotic with Australian alpaca [wool]?'."

Ms Cook is working through two masters degrees and teaches students from all over Australia with a unique preference for alpaca wool.

"I joined the Victorian Felters' Guild ... and they said 'oh, you can't felt with alpaca' - which I thought was a bit stupid because that was what I had been doing for 10 years," she said.

"The analogy I use is wool is like an old kelpie dog that sits on couch and says 'oh, you want me to go and hunt sheep? If I have to'. They'll do it but you really have to force them to do it.

"Whereas alpaca is like the young kelpie pup that says 'Where am I going? What am I doing? Am I going somewhere else?'.

"[Alpaca fibre] is a really good workhorse because it will travel into all different places."

Ms Cook's artistic practice isn't limited to the act of felting.

"I do enjoy the process. I used to get impatient and think 'oh this is so boring'. But working to a disciplined level, with study and so forth, I actually enjoy each component," she said.

"We shear [the alpacas], we dust them ... you lay the fleece out, that will take three to five washings depending on how dirty it is.

"Some I do with natural dyes... I've got [the dyes] made up and they last a really long time. Lay [the wool] out, sprinkle the dye on, roll it up, stick in the vegetable steamer and then you've got your coloured wool."

Ms Cook said she would like to eventually do her PhD in alpaca wool in felting.

"I've got lots of observations of how it works and why it work differently and I'd like to be able to articulate that in a formal, positive sense that helps the industry, helps the artistic component of it and raises the conversation about where does functionality, purposefulness and craft and art, where do they divide and where do they combine," she said.

"What felt gives you is a utilitarian process that creates beautiful things and I think that is what I want to articulate and show in the exhibition."

An Unconventional Journey will be on display at the Station Gallery in Yarragon from July 4 to 29.  

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