Wrapped Up : Yarnbombing at Morris Arboretum

Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is a historic public garden and educational institution. It promotes an understanding of the relationship between plants, people and place through programs that integrate science, art and the humanities. Learn More

Morris Arboretum welcomes fiber artist Melissa Maddonni Haims this spring with an exhibit, Wrapped Up: Yarnbombing at Morris Arboretum opening the first day of spring, March 20, 2016.

The idea first came to the Morris Arboretum when Director of Horticulture and Curator, Tony Aiello saw a yarnbombing exhibit at Kew Gardens in England, and was intrigued.

With some research into local artists, Morris Arboretum found Melissa Maddonni Haims who is a fiber artist based in Philadelphia. She creates yarn graffiti, soft sculpture, and large-scale installations with crocheted materials. The majority of her work is produced using recycled, reclaimed and rescued textiles.

Haims’ studio is located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in a building that was originally a knitting factory manufacturing hosiery from the late 1800’s through early 1900’s. Today, in addition to Melissa’s studio, there is a custom woodworking shop, paint and photography studios, and an art therapy facility.

Haims’ work space is clean, bright, and orderly with high ceilings. Bins of finished and ongoing projects fill the space along with wrapped chairs she’s created, and the windowsills are lined with bright spools of thread. A sundress crocheted from plarn (yarn made from plastic bags) adorns a dressmaker’s model. It was created on commission for a customer trying to reduce her carbon footprint by using only locally produced products or those destined for the waste stream. The dress sports buttons Melissa fashioned from wine corks to keep with the client’s directive.

Haims works with recycled and upcycled materials. Yarn is primarily obtained as mill ends (the seconds) from carpet and yarn mills. Even structured pieces have an armature of rescued waste such as paint buckets. Her covered chairs, which are the mainstay of her business, dot the studio, and are exhibited and sold at high end craft shows such as the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show

Raised in the Philadelphia area, Melissa graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in marine affairs and painting. Her career in the arts began in New York City in the 1990’s, but she returned to Philadelphia in 2004, where she now lives with her husband and teenage daughter.

The switch to textiles came about in response to loss. As her mother was losing her battle with cancer she asked Melissa to finish knitting a scarf for her that she had started as a gift. After her mother’s death Melissa found herself in possession of two contractor bags filled to the brim with yarn for projects her mother had abandoned, and although Melissa thought she had adequately prepared herself for her mother’s death, she found her herself using the yarn to work through her grief. The result was Heaven and Hell, her first large scale installation piece. With huge pieces hanging from the ceiling to represent heaven and soft sculpture stalagmites depicting hell, this piece helped launch Melissa’s career as a fiber artist.

Since 2010, Haims has been exhibiting at contemporary art fairs in Philadelphia, Miami and Chicago. During Art Basel Miami in 2011 she was awarded the Tomorrow Stars prize at Verge Fair, and was invited to show public installations at Select Fair in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In March 2015 she was nominated for the Pulse Prize at the Pulse Contemporary Art Fair in New York City during Armory Week. .Her work has been shown in galleries, museums and is held in private collections throughout the United States. She was recently featured on an A&E network television program about artists who make work out of unusual materials.

Morris Arboretum is excited to have her work on display this spring through fall (or until it succumbs to the elements). In her studio as she prepares for the Arboretum installation she has two large multi-colored pieces on the wall, as well as several plastic storage bins full of work completed for the Arboretum. They include warm yellow panels that will adorn the stump of a golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata). Two of the Arboretum’s wooden bridges will be covered in yarn: one will be assembled with squares crocheted or knit by Arboretum community members at a Yarn Along event in early March. The squares for the other bridge have become Melissa’s “traveling” pieces. Just about everywhere she goes, some of her needlework is her constant companion, to slip in a stitch or two at a meeting, at the movies, or waiting in line. When it comes to crocheting, Melissa has muscle memory. As she whirls around her studio she continuously picks up works in progress and adds a few stitches.