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The Wooly Emancipator 

click to enlarge Golden Lincoln, by Oscar Strodl made of wool, thread and yarn in 2006
  • Golden Lincoln, by Oscar Strodl made of wool, thread and yarn in 2006

In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 199th birthday, four portraits of the great leader by Oscar Strodl will be shown at Incident Report in Hudson. These portraits are not painted, but composed of wool, yarn and thread. In several cases, the background is canvas or felt sewed over and over again with various colored threads on a sewing machine, creating a vibrating field reminiscent of Van Gogh’s landscapes.

Strodl explained the origin of his work with fibers: “I was at the Josée Bienvenue Gallery in New York, and the gallery director advised me to just stop and look at art for a month. So that’s in the city; I come back to the country, and trying to be compliant, I went out and got a sewing machine, and decided to fix all my jeans. And it took a day before I was ‘painting’ on the sewing machine!”

This was in 2005. Since then, Strodl discovered the yearly roving wool festival in Rhinebeck, where he lives. Roving wool is natural sheep wool which has been cleaned and dyed, but not transformed into yarn. “It’s in its nappy state; it sort of looks like big bags of colored cotton candy,” Strodl explains. He has dozens of jars of dyed wool, which he combines like paints. In the same way that tiny pixels of color create an image in a photograph or on TV, subtle combinations of wool fibers make an image.

“For example, I’m trying to have a black that’s more vibrant than just black, so I will use a really dark turquoise, a really dark red, and a dark Army green, let’s say. And that minor, minor contradiction—even though you’re not aware of it—is going to create a much more luscious, intense black,” says Strodl.

These complexities within the image reflect Strodl’s view of Lincoln: “What interests me in Lincoln is that he’s so described by contradiction. He has this incredibly masculine side, in which he’s an amazing wrestler, he’s chopping wood, he has a really, really rustic look. And then he has this other side where he’s openly melancholy; he has a [male] bed partner, and when the guy leaves, he’s tragically sad. And that fullness of contradiction is a great symbol for our country.”

Incident Report is a viewing station founded in July, 2007 by three artists who live in Hudson. It emphasizes the work of young, local painters and sculptors, as well as international artists. The exhibit is viewable 24 hours a day in the window of a storefront at 348 Warren St. “It’s particularly nice at night because the windows are lit,” says Nancy Shaver, one of the Incident Report curators. Each show also appears on a website. For those intimidated by the aggressively white walls of art galleries and baleful looks of gallerists, a viewing station is perfect.

Lincoln allowed the public into his office every day around noon. The president would often surprise a visitor with the hearty greeting: “Well, friend, what can I do for you?” Now the public is invited to see Lincoln, constructed of yarn, thread and roving wool, at any hour in Hudson, New York.

Oscar Strodl’s portraits of Lincoln will be shown at Incident Report, 348 Warren St, Hudson, and on, starting February 18 and will remain until March 31.

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