Yarn bombing hits Whitehorse

For two weeks in August, one of Whitehorse's most recognizable landmarks will be a little bit warmer ... and maybe a little bit less recognizable.

For two weeks in August, one of Whitehorse’s most recognizable landmarks will be a little bit warmer … and maybe a little bit less recognizable.

The decommissioned DC-3 airplane, CF-CPY, which sits on a pedestal in front of Whitehorse’s Yukon Transportation Museum, is going to have its wings and fuselage covered with patchwork quilting.

It will be an “airplane-cozy” for the world’s largest weathervane.

It’s a process known as yarn-bombing, whereby objects that range in size from door handles to cathedrals are completely adorned in knitted or crocheted patterns.

And it’s about to take Whitehorse by storm.

Museum executive director/curator Casey McLaughlin first became aware of the art form while strolling through downtown Vancouver with a friend in February.

“We were walking through Lighthouse Park and there was a rusted old sign that had lost its usefulness, but someone had knit a cozy for it,” she said.

Inspired by the artfully altered sign, she returned to the Yukon with “bombing” plans of her own. She contacted the Yukon Arts Centre with an ambitious plan: “Let’s do the DC-3.”

Jessica Vellenga, the art centre’s director of visual arts programming and a founding member of the new Yarn Bomb Yukon collective, jumped at the opportunity.

“I was all over it,” she said. “I thought, ‘we need to make this happen.’”

Among the aspects of the project that Vellenga finds most appealing: the chance to make an important contribution to the nascent eight-year history of yarn-bombing.

“There was a church in Helsinki (Finland) that was yarn-bombed. Ours won’t be as big as that, but it might be the biggest transportation-related yarn-bombing ever and it will be the biggest one in Canada.”

An art project of this scale requires the assistance of hundreds of people both inside and outside the territory.

“We’ve already started collecting donations of material, and some people have started knitting it all together,” said Vellenga.

“Anyone across the world that wants to help is welcome to contribute.”

Vellenga herself is planning on spending most of her time this summer putting the project together.

McLaughlin is also excited by the grand scope of the project, but she emphasizes that such an undertaking is also serious business for the museum.

“I contacted (artifact) conservationists to ensure that they had no problem with our plans and then I had to make sure we had support of the (transportation museum’s) board of directors.”

But now that the proper channels have been traversed, McLaughlin gushes about the awareness this yarn-bombing will generate for the museum.

“It’s an opportunity to get the museum seen by the world,” she said.

For McLaughlin, the increased attention is a chance to get people interested in the things she is passionate about.

“It’s a great opportunity to educate the public on what museums do, the process of conservation and Yukon history,” she said.

It’s also a way to display the power and importance of co-operation among organizations – the museum, the arts centre and Yarn Bomb Yukon.

As non-profit organizations, like the museum, deal with ever diminishing budgets, this is an important lesson, said McLaughlin.

“We need to learn how to be more self-sustainable and that means collaborating.”

Adding to the community involvement is architect Mary Ellen Read, of Northern Front Studio, who jumped on board by designing the pattern for the DC-3s quilted cover.

All the local support for her idea has left McLaughlin flabbergasted.

“This could probably only happen in the Yukon,” she said. “It’s such a unique place.”

And while McLaughlin does have serious intentions and real goals for the project, it is hard to deny that part of yarn-bombing’s charm is its bizarre sense of fun and creativity.

When another Yarn Bomb Yukon member, Vanessa Corkal, was asked what she is most looking forward to, her mouth turns into a half-smile.

“I love the idea of tourists driving their RVs down the highway and seeing the DC-3 covered with yarn and wondering what it’s all about,” she said.

For Corkal, it’s a chance for the Yukon, as a whole, to assert itself as a place where big ideas and imaginations can flourish.

“Hopefully it will be a ‘meme’ of the day.”