A wall of yarn is her palette, a steel hook her brush.
With these, Portland artist Jo Hamilton crochets a new twist on an ancient craft with elaborate cityscapes and portraits that unravel crochet as granny craft.
By painting in yarn, Scottish-born Hamilton, 41, blends fine art training from the Glasgow School of Art with the craft she learned from her “gran.” She moved to Portland in 1996, and painted in oil and watercolor for almost twenty years, but says, “I hadn’t found my medium.” In 2006, inspiration struck at a nontraditional show of tapestry, sewing and embroidery at the Contemporary Craft Museum (now the Museum of Contemporary Craft). She went home, picked up the crochet hook and began a cityscape of Portland that took years to complete. Next were the portraits—friends, coworkers and even dogs.
“Portland excites and inspires me to do unsanctioned things and not think about what you should or shouldn’t do,” she says. She often advises others to “give your patterns the boot.”
Unlike other textile artists, Hamilton never graphs her work. Instead, she uses a photo for reference and crochets from the inside out, starting with eyes and building outward row-byrow. “Nothing is planned ahead, I make it up as I go,” she explains. A fringe of all the yarns used hangs at the bottom of each piece—a signature of her work.
She’s not fussy about the yarn she uses and often collects it from thrift shops. “It’s a weird sort of adventure, where you find treasure that others got rid of for bargain prices and make something out of it,” she says. Color is her main focus, and she sometimes has fun with the yarn, giving people traits such as fuzzy eyeballs.
Her pieces have been shown around the United States and world, mostly recently at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington, where she exhibited a large crocheted male nude. In April, she’ll be showing at Christiane Millinger Oriental Rugs in Portland.