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.
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!