One of the things that initially drew me to NEFS was its emphasis on sustainability and supporting local agriculture, for feltmaking as a medium depends upon the earth and the creatures on it to succeed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of Claudy Jongstra, a Dutch fiber artist who believes strongly in the process of feltmaking as a social message. I was introduced to the work of Ms. Jongstra by NEFS instructor Eva Camacho, and I immediately wanted to share her message!
Ms. Jongstra was initially trained as a fashion designer, but she fell in love with felt in 1994 after seeing a Mongolian yurt on display in the Netherlands Textile Museum (Stylepark 2017). She was a pioneer of felting silk and wool together, and the result was transparent yet sturdy felt. Ms. Jongstra tends a herd of Drenthe Heath sheep, a breed with only 1,200 surviving animals that is essential to the ecosystem of northwest Netherlands (Richard 2017). Its fiber has long staples and a blonde color that is “typically Dutch,” and she dyes the wool using plants and fibers from the botanical garden that she grows on her farm. These include madder, St. John’s Wort, and African marigold. This cultivation of age-old, place-specific processes is characteristic of her felting credo, and she says, “I think we people have lost touch with nature. Here we work with these natural materials and products hoping to appeal to people’s ecological conscience so we can take better care of the earth” (Submarine, Femke Wolting & Bruno Felix 2012).
As Laura M. Richard writes in an essay that can be found on Jongstra’s website, one of the most compelling things about Jongstra’s work is the integration of process and meaning, “one driven by ethics and conservation” (Richard 2017). She believes in co-operation among artists as well as preserving the historical context from which her felt arises, and she uses her methods as a response to mass-production of textiles and fabrics (Richard 2017).
To me, Ms. Jongstra embodies some of the most fascinating parts of the felting, an ancient form that is both utilitarian and artistic. I take Ms. Jongstra’s work as a call to action for felters everywhere: why don’t we connect to the history and the world around us to create something truly representative of our time? Why don’t we get to know our local farmers and experiment with dying our own wool? Initially intimidating, but if Jongstra’s work is any example, it must be so satisfying!
Jongstra’s work has appeared in the work of fashion designers John Galliano, Donna Karen, and Christian Lacroix, as well as museums and galleries around the world. Also, the Jedis in Star Wars Episode 1 wore coats made of Jonstra’s felt (Stylepark 2017)! Check out her website, an example of her work (Stylepark 2017) and a YouTube profile (Submarine, Femke Wolting & Bruno Felix 2012).
Richard, Laura. “Of Wool and Murals: The Art of Claudy Jongstra.” Last modified 2017. http://www.claudyjongstra.com/node/7.
Submarine, Femke Wolting & Bruno Felix. Filmed [October 2012]. YouTube video, 05:08. Posted [October 2012]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8b3YDs5qnc.
Stylepark. “Claudy Jongstra: Biography.” Last modified 2017. https://www.stylepark.com/en/designer/claudy-jongstra