Knitting a New Landscape

Cincinnati BombShells aim to soften an otherwise harsh environment


hen does an age-old craft like knitting become hip fiber art, street art and performance art? When it’s practiced by the Cincinnati BombShells yarn bombers, approximately 15 women ages 25-65 with sassy alter egos, Jackie O sunglasses and platinum wigs. 

The mostly secretive BombShells, led by Pinky Shears (fiber artist Pam Kravetz), knotted their status when they and about 100 sidekicks decorated Central Parkway in September. Eight city blocks, 105 trees, a Metro bus, a bicycle and a Big Pig Gig sculpture were covered in felt and yarn in a project sponsored by ArtWorks. It became one of the city’s most talked-about public-art projects in years.

The BombShells’ buzz had grown during summer as they stealthily adorned statues in Piatt and Eden parks and Sawyer Point with knitwear. Invitations followed to put red stockings on the bronze ballplayers outside Great American Ball Park, and to decorate the CAC facade for a gala.

But “the eye was on Central Parkway,” Pinky says. Among the goals: Call attention to its unappreciated park space, honor a female art form, inspire others to work with their hands and spread smiles.  

Warm and fuzzy admiration can turn into participation on Saturday. The BombShells will decorate the Fountain Square ice rink, and “people will be able to leave their thoughts behind using our artwork,” Pinky says. Their fiber ornaments will include space for writing messages.

In return, the BombShells are stepping up their performance art. “We are taking skating lessons,” Pinky says, and there will be karaoke singing. The gals also have assembled winter white “snow princess” outfits. 

“It’s art; it’s performance,” BombShell WIP (aka Work in Progress) says. “It’s fun, funny, creative.” 

It’s formally called “craft activism.” A paperback with that title came out this fall. It’s a new name for an old-fashioned concept — weaving a community together through crafts (think quilting bees) and celebrating the handmade.  

The BombShell Manifesto reads: “We anonymously promote fiber craft as adventure. We aim to soften the edges of an otherwise cruel, harsh environment. We juxtapose vandalism with the non-threatening nature of fibers. ... We are actively contributing to a more positive type of global warming.”

“Although the voice we have is cheerful and fun, it’s also purposeful,” Pinky says. At the square, the BombShells will donate hats and mittens to the Freestore Foodbank and encourage others to give. 

WIP, who teaches art at Clark Montessori, and Pinky, who teaches at Harrison High School, say they didn’t set out to be activists. “We’re a unifying element” is how Pinky puts it. “We are slowing down ... embracing humanness.” 

In March, she was looking for fresh ideas for her students. She found yarn bombing on the Internet.  

“I was enamored,” Pinky says, even though she didn’t knit or crochet at the time. “It’s out in the open. It’s touchable.”  

Articles trace the phenomenon’s start to 2005 and a Texas woman who placed a hand-knit cozy on the doorknob of her boutique. A chapter of “Craft Activism” is devoted to the JafaGirls of Yellow Springs, who introduced yarn bombing there in 2007. 

Pinky shared her discovery with the Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati. Ideas for costumes and bombing targets flowed. Other artists and teachers joined, as well as an architect, an entrepreneur, a yarn shop owner, a volunteer and retirees. 

“The first thing we did was parking meters in Hyde Park,” Pinky says. The bombing was a secret even to her. She stepped out of a Spinning class, saw a cozy around a meter and thought, “Oh my God, someone did it!” Though Crochet Galore’s work was down within 24 hours, “we were setting the stage for ourselves to become public,” WIP says.  

Meanwhile, Pinky approached Tamara Harkavy at ArtWorks, which has helped with funding, permits and establishing contacts. (Yarn and other fibers are taken down by the BombShells after each project and reused.) 

The BombShells also rounded up sidekicks, ranging in age from 5 to 97 and including men. Pinky’s students created flowers for Central Parkway. But they and other sidekicks didn’t know the purpose of their handiwork until just before the bombing.

Pinky says the BombShells thought they’d be finished after the Central project. “We had no idea how it would evolve.” 

“We’re addicted to each other’s company,” WIP says.  

Future sidekicks are invited to a craft brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Arnold’s Bar and Grill (210 E. Eighth St., Downtown). ($25 including tip; RSVP to [email protected].)

“I like the collaboration,” WIP says. “It’s been empowering.” She points out that decorating Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Arts Center building was an opportunity that wouldn’t have come along if not for being part a collective.

And the BombShells have more, big things up their (knit) sleeves, including a large-scale installation in mid-February in the Great Hall of the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

In addition to building community, the BombShells celebrate individualism. Tags attached to knitted and crocheted pieces identify the BombShell artists. “We want to make sure everyone has a voice,” Pinky says. 

Even after all the material for a bombing comes down and sits in heaps at her house, “I love to look at it,” Pinky says, and think about “the process and the progress. We’re feeding each other’s souls.”  

CINCINNATI BOMBSHELLS will “bomb” Fountain Square’s Ice Rink Saturday. For more information, check out the group’s Facebook page.