I have just discovered a royal family of magnificent creatures, visiting Vashon from a faraway enchanted kingdom. They are only here for a short time, so I hope you will get a chance to see them too.
They are currently hanging out — mingling with me and other islanders, if you will — at Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe, inside the section of the cafe that is designated as the Hastings-Cone Gallery.
This gallery, though, is no somber tomb for art. Rather, the aromas and bustle of the cafe spill into it — there are tables and chairs, and the chatter and clatter of hungry customers fills the room.
But the new creatures visiting the gallery aren’t noisy at all. They are a completely silent presence, standing and sitting on pedestals lining the white, fabric-draped walls of the room. Still, they seem to be intently observing all the action that swirls around them.
There is a wolf named Bea, a tiger named Faye, a donkey dubbed Francis, a warthog called Winnie, and a bear named Bodi. I thought Wendell was a jackal until I realized he is a hyena. Lucianna is definitely an alpaca. There are dozens more of their kind, too, and they are all dressed to the nines, wearing long dresses or tiny suits, overlaid with tunics, aprons or other layers of finery made from scraps of satin, brocade, lace and velvet. Several sport jaunty hats and bonnets. One of them wears a crown.
And if you approach them and look at them closely, something will happen: They will gaze straight back at you. They will make contact, and you will feel a connection, a tiny tug, or perhaps an even sharper recollection of a distant day, long, long ago in your life.
These creatures, with coiffures and costumes and personalities that seem all their own, are artworks, of course. They are, to be precise, felted sculptures, but inanimate objects all the same. So why do they seem so alive? Why do they make me remember — why do I hope they will make you remember, too — what it felt like to be a child, holding and speaking softly to a cherished doll or stuffed bear?
Meet someone else now: Monica Gripman, the remarkably inspired local artist who created the sculptures under the banner of her company, Fable Collections.
Working with materials including alpaca, sheep wool, dog and cat fur, llama wool and horsehair, Gripman has spent the past three years crafting the sculptures that adorn the gallery.
She has lived on Vashon for the past 11 years, making many different kinds of art, including paintings, pen-and-ink drawings, photography and more. This is Fable’s second collection of felted sculptures. And two years ago, Gripman and Fable Collections even branched into the performing arts, on the stage of Vashon Center for the Arts, presenting a memorable puppet show called “Darkness Illuminated.”
To create her current show, Gripman worked with collaborators including milliner Laura Clampitt, seamstress Sandra Cooper, and wood and metal workers, John Burke and Allan Stover. Almost a dozen more friends and collaborators are recognized and thanked for their contributions to the exhibit in a sign above the gallery door.
But where did this work really begin? Ask Gripman, and she will recall her own childhood, in the 1970s, growing up in Virginia.
“I had a strong connection to nature and animals,” she said, recalling how she loved to create special shrines for wild animals, sprinkling them with berries and other tasty treats. “I’d fantasize about animal friends.”
Now, she said, her favorite part of exhibiting these sculptures is observing how they transport viewers back through time and space.
“I love to see adults interacting with them, and remembering themselves as children,” she said.
It’s a remarkable gift that Gripman has created this holiday season — felted sculptures that can evoke, for viewers, a ghostly glimpse of Christmases past.
A place of their own
Recently, Monica Gripman launched a crowdfunding campaign to help her realize her dream of establishing a place for her and her collaborators to create more work.
She currently makes all her art in cramped spaces, including her own 750-square-foot home, which she shares with her two daughters and a 16-month-old grandchild.
But several years ago, she purchased an unusual 10-acre property on Vashon, the former site of a satellite communications station run by Alascom, an AT&T affiliate, and used by the company in the 1980s. Two huge, decommissioned satellite dishes still sit eerily on the property, which also boasts bunker-like buildings containing 3,200 square feet of space that Gripman wants to transform into artist’s studios.
She hopes to eventually raise enough money to turn the property into a multidisciplinary, nonprofit artist’s retreat with live/work space for visiting and local artists.
“We want to funnel the things made here into Open Space for Arts & Community, and Vashon Center for the Arts,” she said, noting the scarcity of studio space not only for herself but also for many other artists on Vashon.
Her current fundraising campaign, with a goal of $36,000, is a start to fulfilling that dream with the renovation of part of one building on the property into studio and storage space.
“I can totally see it,” she said while standing on the property on a recent, rain-soaked day. “I want to make this happen.”
Find out more about Gripman’s fundraising campaign and donate at igg.me/AT/FABLE-HOME. Her exhibition continues at Hastings-Cone Gallery through January. All works in the show are for sale — a price book is located at the cafe’s front counter.