Rochester has an incredible pool of talent here. Not just of the medical or technical background but also a vast range of artistic abilities that is truly inspiring. As such, I will be illuminating that talent through this blog, not only to give voice to such an awesome group but to share how you can get involved or show local support. I posted about needle felting a few days ago and through that post discovered the incredible talent of Amarama Vercnocke, a local artist that has worked with a wide spectrum of mediums from cement to wool.

One of her specialties is needle felting (as I mentioned in my other blog, needle felting is becoming a super popular craft and is a great stress reducer. Amarama is teaching a class that I'll share more details about at the end of this post). The video below shows some of her extraordinary art pieces of 3D inspired needle felting art. The intricate detail that she bestows on her art pieces can be seen in person at the Albert Lea Art Center located at 226 W. Clark St. The exhibit runs through March 25, and gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Learn more about Amarama

Courtesy of Amarama Art
Courtesy of Amarama Art

DT: What got you interested in art? Specifically needle felting?

AL: Back in 2003 my husband gave me a spinning wheel that I taught myself to use for spinning wool roving into yarn. (Roving is cleaned and combed wool ready to be needle felted or spun with.)  When my eldest daughter was born in 2006, I had to put my wheel up for a while so she would not get into it.  I had a lot of wool roving left over and had heard about needle felting.  So I bought off of Etsy some felting needles because at the time I could not find them in any stores.  I watched one YouTube video someone had made and was struck by how fun it looked. 

I self-taught myself and after getting the hang of it for about a month I perfected some techniques.  I tried to make my flowers look as realistic as able and created a few techniques that I teach in my classes since then that I coin "wool sculpting".  This is because I ask the student to work with the wool using their fingers in addition to the needle-- as opposed to just the needle being used.  It is similar to making hand built clay techniques that I learned from my father, who was a sculptor, growing up.  Ever since then it has been a joy to work with because it incorporates my past knowledge of sculpture/ 3D aspects as well as 2D and color.  My fibers are used similarly as though they are "paint" colors and hues when applied.  I have yet to be bored working with wool sculpting and enjoy how relaxing needle felting is. 

DT: What are range of artistic abilities do you have (do you do other mediums besides wool?) 

AL: I have a wide variety of ranges of mediums that I have worked in the past. I have drawn and worked with water colors ever since I was a child. Since I was 8 years old, often times I was helping my father with his cement and slate mosaics and wood carvings that he would work on.  In high school, my art teacher taught me how to make stained glass windows, glass mosaics and work with resins for art projects. This was a joy to peruse over the various classes for 4 years. 

When I started college in 1999 at Winona State University, I experienced acrylic and oil painting and found I had a love of working with plaster.  I graduated from there with my BS in Biology (pre veterinary emphasis) and my AA in Studio Art. 

DT: If you could give a bit of advice for aspiring artist what would you say?

AL: I would highly recommend to any artist-- keep doing what you love *and* keep self-educating.  When self-educating, be it at the library or in college,  I would also take extra time in the following areas because they will help you in developing your own art knowledge and art business:  anatomy and physiology, psychology, live drawing classes, a basic accounting class, and art classes each year through community education or local artists in order to not stagnate and keep learning.  Focus on what you do, be patient with yourself, and don't be afraid to ask questions when making art whether it is the process or the outcome of the piece you are trying to make.   

DT: How do you feel your art benefits you and or the community? Why should art have value? 

AL: I had to think about this one for a long time.  My father always told me, "Make art to speak for yourself.  Don't use it to be competitive but use and make it to grow and expand.  Because there will always be someone better in technique and style.  That is a good thing because we as artists thrive on our ideas as being like currency.  It prevents stagnation. So exchange that currency with others and learn. "  

 I have taken that concept with me where ever I go in my art pieces.  I feel that art brings a high value to our community because it can be a thing that transcends languages and can unite people together to create dialogue and a deeper understanding amongst ourselves when able.  I like to create art pieces that involve a lot of touch and the emotions that are secondarily brought up to be talked about.  I create art that involves touch to help one another to empathize and understand how others interact with the world.  I like making art pieces that are touch friendly so that those who are vision impaired or sensory seeking can enjoy while showing those of us who are sighted are reminded there are otherwise to interpret our world.  My daughter who is on the autism spectrum taught me how to see the world through touch on an art piece that I made.  She has taught me so much and I want to share that with the world for the joy I have learned from it.  Art is important for the ways that it can help connect anyone together and in understanding of the world around them. 

DT: Who's your inspiration or what's your favorite inspiring quote? 

AL: My family -- my husband and children inspire a lot of what I do first and foremost.   I draw a lot of my inspirations from being out in nature.  Also the music that I listen to-- which is eclectic.  From Prince, David Bowie, The Doors, Eels, also local jazz groups like the D'Sievers, Pat Eagan, and Root River Jam to name a few.  I am greatly inspired when walking around the Rochester Art Center and seeing the breath taking exhibits that are on display from local and international artists.  When sipping a peaceful cup of coffee at Cafe' Steam or at Kutzsky Market while looking at area artists artworks. 

Two artists that I hold dear to my heart are Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo.  

Vincent said, "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." or Frida once said, "Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly".

If you're interested in learning how to needle felt and leverage the artist that lives deep down inside you, join Amarama on Tuesday, April 4 from 7-9pm at Forager. Event details.


More From 106.9 KROC-FM