Arts and Entertainment

Art school graduate from Langley creates a fanciful family

Lucy Brennan’s menagerie of brightly colored soft sculptures, a senior thesis project for the University of Washington, has increased the population of her younger sister’s bedroom.   - Photo courtesy of Lucy Brennan
Lucy Brennan’s menagerie of brightly colored soft sculptures, a senior thesis project for the University of Washington, has increased the population of her younger sister’s bedroom.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Lucy Brennan

She created nine children in her little sister’s bedroom, and her sister still speaks to her.

She is recent University of Washington graduate Lucy Brennan of Bayview, and her brood of nine vibrantly colored and whimsical childlike sculptures — along with other colorful sculpted headpieces, books and fiber menagerie — were sewn on a machine she calls Parasceva.

It started somewhat simply.

“In the summer before my third year at the University of Washington, I got a sewing machine,” Brennan explained.

“I named it Parasceva after the patron saint of sewing — and of blindness — no coincidence! I decided to make fiberophilia my main occupation.”

The precursor to all this procreation started back at South Whidbey High School, where Brennan had been drawing, printmaking, throwing pots and crocheting, among other scholastic endeavors. She received lots of encouragement, including a scholarship from the Whidbey Island Arts Council, and set out for Seattle to make her mark.

Brennan recently received a degree with a double major in comparative history of ideas and interdisciplinary visual arts, for which she was required to create a thesis project of fiber art.

“I sewed a family of nine life-sized children for my ‘soft sculpture’ installation, and made books for all of them — some less conventional than others,” Brennan explained.

One book doubles as a sleeping bag, another is disguised as a sack lunch.

Brennan’s sculptural work is not typical in style, shape or texture, and may have no reference point for the viewer besides the blend of candy-floss memories that remain from children’s picture books a la Lewis Carroll, vintage comic books or perhaps the most fantastical costumes remembered (or imagined) from musical theater or operatic productions.

Santa Claus may have been an early influence, though.

Back to her colorful brood.

“All of these I made in two-thirds of my very generous 13-year-old sister Gloria’s loft-bedroom, which earned the nickname ‘Santa’s Sweatshop’ because of the sweltering temperatures during woodstove season, and because its ceiling is only four feet high, making it just right for toy-maker elves,” she added.

When she arrived at the university four years ago, the fibers department was somewhat obsolete, which meant Brennan had to get creative in her declaration of a major. She combined an interdisciplinary visual arts major with a comparative history of ideas major and sought out any classes with a stitch of fiber interest. She also began an ongoing series of independent studies with the felters, weavers and stitchers among the art faculty.

Before she could say “dorm room madness,” Brennan found herself in a whirl of fabric, stuffing, buttons, zippers and anything else that can be opted for one so enamored of fibermania.

“I found them at yard sales and in thrifts stores; my friends, housemates and family gave me their worn- out clothes or bed sheets to experiment with,” Brennan said.

She also landed a job designing costumes for Seattle’s Maureen Whiting Dance Company, which included creating a felted elephant headdress and a crocheted reptile spine. It was during this period, she said, that she began sewing her first fabric books, as well.

“Now that my thesis show is over and I’ve graduated, Gloria continues to allow my family of stuffed toys and our snowdrifts of sewing supplies to occupy her bedroom,” the grateful sister said.

But beyond the confines of the attic workshop, Brennan has her sights set on the future and of life as an artist.

Her work will be shown at the upcoming Whidbey Open Studio Tour later this month, presented by one of her first sponsors, the Whidbey Island Arts Council. Tour-goers will find her studio on the tour map at location No. 34 near Bayview. She will also be part of a collaborative group show at MUSEO in Langley in October with other fiber artists.

And recently, Brennan has installed a new line of her signature “stuffed” jewelry at Eddy’s, the T-shirt shop on First Street in Langley.

When asked where she thinks she might like to go from here, her elfish connection comes to the fore.

“I can imagine having a toy store someday,” she said.

To see her fanciful final show at the University’s gallery, and to see other media creations, go to her Web site; click here.

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