THUGZ WHO KNIT

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U of O Afghan

It would have been so easy for this exhibition’s curators to slap a silly title- like, for example, “THUGZ WHO KNIT”- on “Hooks, Yarns & Bars,” the Laverne Krause Gallery’s current offering.

The show displays the products (both physical and psychological) of the Oregon State Correctional Institute’s Crocheting 4 Community program, which teaches tough guys how to make warm, fuzzy things.

But though the colorful Afghans and quirky hats covering the walls seem to stand in stark contrast to a cold life behind bars, the project is more about growth than contradiction. These men are recreating their shattered identities, and their works grow organically from their experiences rather than in opposition to them.

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Bread, baking soda and coffee chess set

The show is filled with impeccable crochet work, but its most interesting treasures are also its roughest. How long did it take an inmate to craft this intricate chess set from bits of bread? The piece is a cheeky throwback to tougher prison times, and clear evidence of the great innovation a boring cell can inspire.

“I think I have in my mind an idea of what people might think about prison, and prison art… that people maybe think it’s black pen and ink, and tattoos, and violence… and things like that,” reads a quote from artist and inmate Shawn Mcweeny. “There’s more going on than just that stereotype and that negativity.”

These men don’t knit, they crochet, and they’re definitely not “thugz.” They’re artists.

BONUS STUFF: Emily Afandor, interim director of the Oregon Folklife Network, responds to some questions I sent her in the comments section below and on the Talkback page!

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1 comment
  1. Thank you for taking the time to write about the Hooks, Yarns, and Bars exhibit currently on display at the Laverne Krauss gallery. Perhaps our exhibit does not emphasize the fact that these are not general-population prisoners who have the option to walk into a room and be taught to crochet. This is a very particular group of men who have worked long and hard to earn the privilege of joining the crochet group. Not all inmates are on a path to recovery, and not every inmate gets to crochet. Men in the Crocheting 4 Community group must show a clean record of conduct in the prison for 18-months before being added to a waiting list to join the group, and it can take years for a spot to open up. They must maintain that clean record of conduct to stay on the wait list, and to stay in the club once they join. I don’t know exactly how many spots are available – maybe 12? 15? I believe this limit is set by the prison administration, not the club members. As we hope the exhibit shows, the C4C men really value the unique community they have built in the club, and so seats in the group don’t open easily. Thanks for your interest.

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