If Jessica Huang’s creations don’t magically come to life in the middle of the night and go on heartwarming adventures together, then they really ought to start doing so. Any one of the St. Paul-based artist’s creatures would look right at home in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe, dealing with some inconvenient natural phenomenon in the Hundred Acre Wood, or waiting for Alice to happen by them in Wonderland so they could shatter her ego with a cryptic allegory.
Jessica’s medium, felt, lends itself perfectly to the creation of fanciful animals. Her minute beasts are warm and fuzzy, and would unquestionably become any young child’s dearest object of affection. That many of them also wear Victorian ensembles is just the icing on the cake.
“I first took up felting back while I was working in Shanghai,” said Jessica. “A colleague of mine discovered felting on the internet, which she gave a try and then quickly gave up. She asked me if I wanted all her materials. I already had an art background, and I’m a brand designer by trade, so felting fell very naturally into my interests.
“Felt is really just a clump of fluff, so I started out with the idea of making a rabbit. But felt is also temperamental. You never have complete control over it, so as the rabbit began to take form in my hands it also took on its own personality. In that way it felt like I was creating life – I had put a little piece of my soul into the rabbit, but he wound up having an entirely different soul of his own.
“I recently made a little flamingo. Such a pretty pink animal in real life, but not a happy looking one. Mine came out with a somewhat judgmental look, like he wasn’t very pleased with his circumstances. I felt kind of guilty sticking pins into him.
“I eventually began toying with anthropomorphism – still creating animals, but giving them more human quirks. I’ve made a lace-collared robin, a suffragette deer, a little duck fisherman in tweed pants, and a clown raccoon, all using the vintage, Victorian style and color palette that I love so much. And each one took on a life of their own as they became happy, grumpy, or even angry right in the palms of my hands.
“People often ask me if I make animations using my creations. I could, potentially. They all have wire armature, so they are fully posable, but animation is a lot of work! For now I’ll just have to imagine they’re moving around while I have my back turned to them.
“My intention for creating these pieces is never to sell them. I just can’t part with something that I’ve put so much passion into. It’s too personal. That being said, I do participate in small art fairs from time to time.
“I also teach the art of felting to anyone who would like to learn it. I’ve been instructing at Textile Center in Minneapolis for two years now, and the Embroiderers’ Guild of America recently asked me to give a felting seminar. Sometimes it can be difficult to rationalize my chaotic creative process to other people. In a way it’s similar to giving shape to loose fibers.
“Teaching is a form of art in itself. But instead of funny animals, I’m creating new felters. That way more people can start realizing their own little fairytale worlds.”
To learn more about Overly Heartfelt and Jessica’s work, please visit overlyheartfelt.com.
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By David Scheller