Are you in the mood to be intrigued, amused, possibly a bit frightened? Specifically, by colorful animal masks made through an ingenious process using yarn crochet?
Well, good, because thanks to Huckleberry Delsignore and her yarn innovations, such masks exist. And in part due to the masks’ popularity, her career is on a roll. The trailblazing Pittsfield artist is selling her crochet creations at MASS MoCA and elsewhere, is just finishing up a museum residency in the Berkshires, and will soon see her unique masks on an episode of MTV’s Cribs.
We asked Huckleberry about her work, her origins in crochet, and about how she balances “real life” with her one-of-a-kind art.
ArtSake: First – and you must hear this a lot – your masks are SO COOL. Can you trace their origin? Did the idea and your unique process hit you all at once, or develop over time?
Huckleberry: Gee, thanks! I started making masks about a year and a half ago. Before the masks, I used to make odd dolls. I was sitting around with a friend one night and we thought it would be so cool to make something like the dolls that a person could wear. I made the first one as an experiment, and haven’t been able to stop making them since. The process has become refined over time. The newer ones are technically much better than the earlier ones.
Over time I have realized how gratifying it is to have found an outlet that people, no matter what demographic, engage with. Children can’t stop themselves from putting the masks on, while adults are simultaneously horrified and intrigued when they see my art.
ArtSake: Do you create masks on commission, and if so, what would you say is the general ratio of commissioned work to work initiated independently?
Huckleberry: I love taking commissions. It is so much fun making something knowing it is going to be a part of somebody’s life. I get inspired by bringing pieces of a person’s imagination to life. Right now, I seem to make approximately the same number of commissions as additions to my own mask menagerie.
ArtSake: Artists can often list a long series of day jobs they’ve worked to support their art. But I was intrigued to learn that, as an emerging artist, you hitchhiked back and forth across the country, supporting yourself exclusively by selling your crocheted goods. How has that level of self-reliance impacted your art?
Huckleberry: It’s true, my youth was filled with wanderlust. When I was unable to support myself while going to college, I took to the road. I led a simplistic lifestyle, keeping my expenses very low. I crocheted in coffee shops and curious folks would strike up conversations with me about what I was up to. It was a great learning experience. Eventually I settled down and started a family (and started waitressing). By settling down I was able to take on bigger projects and form deeper connections with people in my community. As for my self-reliance, I have always been a very motivated and fiercely independent lady.
ArtSake: Can you describe your experience as Artist in Residence at the Berkshire Museum?
Huckleberry: I was so honored when the Berkshire Museum invited me to be an Artist in Residence this spring. I took the opportunity to make something bigger and more complex than before. After researching geodesic domes, forts, rock and mineral structures, I set off to create a faceted crocheted sculpture that one could go inside. The process of making the work was difficult. There were a lot of setbacks throughout and I was so proud when it was finally complete. Since on display, the exposure of being in The Berkshire Museum has been so flattering. I get a lot of positive feedback. The residency ends this week and I can hardly wait to have the work back and get to view it in different contexts.
ArtSake: You’ve also produced work as a film artist, and you’ve collaborated in theater and photography projects. What do you draw from working in multiple media?
Huckleberry: Life is experienced in multiple medias, and I love collaborating. For me, it is about being available to participate in inspiring projects.
ArtSake: On your blog, you mention that you did a film shoot for MTV in April. What was it for, and can you describe the experience?
Huckleberry: MTV approached friends of mine regarding filming an episode of Cribs at their beautiful and magical estate. They chose to go with a fairy tale theme and asked if they could use my masks for filming. The entire day was so enchanted. It is supposed to air sometime this summer. I can hardly wait to see it!
ArtSake: You have three daughters! How do you balance your family life with your creative career?
Huckleberry: My daughters are ages 3, 5 and 7. Balancing life as a single mother is complicated but they are proud of what I do and love playing with the masks.
I make art to preserve my sanity. I must been actively engaged in a creative project or I feel myself wilt. Fortunately, my work is easily transportable, so I am often crocheting at the park while they play. I also stay up very late and get a lot done while they are sleeping.
ArtSake: Share a surprise twist in the Huckleberry Delsignore story.
Huckleberry: I have no clue how to read a crochet pattern.
ArtSake: Can you point to any one decision you’ve made as an artist that has had the most impact on your career?
Huckleberry: A little over a year ago I lost my job. Little did I know at the time, it was the best thing that could happen to me. My children were in school full time and I had only one thing I needed to focus on: making my art career happen. I crocheted as much as possible, kept my web site fresh and up to date, and did my best to let people know what I was up to. A good web site is an amazing resource these days.
I guess the one decision was to take myself seriously as an artist and to work harder than I knew possible to make cool stuff happen.
ArtSake: This summer, you’re teaching a class on DIY art at IS183 and a weekly crochet class in your studio. What will you try to instill in your students?
Huckleberry: Through the IS183 class I hope to share the resources I have gathered in how to find your niche in the art community and how to get your art into the world. The weekly crochet class will focus on teaching the basics of using a hook and yarn and how to use your intuition to make just about anything.
Images: images courtesy of Huckleberry Delsignore. All photos are by Jay Elling, with the exception of AMORPHIUS BLACK (third from top), which is by Eric Korenman.
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