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Sheep Producer “Felts” Wool Into Art
We recently spotted a photo of a life-size sandhill crane in a magazine. It looked like the real thing so we were surprised to read the bird was made out of wool.
  Artist Rhonda McClure explains that she makes her sculptures with needle felting, an art form she’s been perfecting for several years. She and her husband, Don, have a 90-ewe flock and process the wool themselves.
  The McClure’s Nebraska farm is a good example of breeding sheep for a specific purpose – a range of fine fibers in a variety of natural colors suitable for spinning or felting. McClure notes that the only wool dyed for the cranes was the patch of red on the head. The rest is all naturally colored.
  To create figures, McClure starts with a wire base – using everything from pipe cleaners to No. 9 wire. She packs wool inside to create a solid core, then finishes the outside by “poking the heck” out of the wool with a 4-in. barbed needle with a diameter similar to a toothpick. The barbs mesh and tangle the fibers to create felting.
  McClure says she figured out felting on her own (both needle felting and wet felting), but didn’t know if she was doing it right. She entered a couple of pieces in the Black Sheep Gathering (www.blacksheepgathering.org) fiber arts show and took first and second places in two divisions. Since then she has won the 3D needle felting division 5 years in a row and won the top award, the Black Sheep Cup, in 2011.
  McClure’s first pieces were sheep and dogs, because she was most familiar with their muscular structure. Since then, she has done all types of animals and people - many customized for clients based on photos.
  “I’m very particular and want them to be realistic and get the proportions right,” she says. “It helps to know every aspect of the animals you are doing.”
  After creating an 18-in. buffalo, she was asked if she could make cranes for last spring’s “Cranes: Taking Flight” exhibit at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney.
  She made a smaller set of birds and took her time to shape the life-size versions. The size – 6-ft. wingspan on the crane coming in for a landing – was challenging, she says, but she successfully pieced it together.
  Most of McClure’s art, sold through her business Ewe and Us, is smaller in size. Sheep that are 4 in. tall start at $35 and small matted needle felted pictures (8 by 10) start at $60. McClure sells in local shops, privately through her website and on Etsy.com. She also takes custom orders.
  McClure also teaches classes on the farm and at wool festivals, covering everything from spinning and dyeing to needle and wet felting.
  “What draws people to my pieces is the fact that I’m involved with every step of the process,” McClure says.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Rhonda McClure, Ewe And Us, 859 County Road 18, Wahoo, Neb. 68066 (ph 402 443-5498; rhondamcclure@gmail.com; www.eweandus.com).

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #5