During a visit to Cooper-Hewitt about a year and a half ago, West-coast felt-maker Janice Arnold was intrigued by the form of the museum’s conservatory. Its domed roof and iron mullions resemble the radiating struts of the framework of a yurt—the circular tent dwelling of the nomadic tribes who first created felt. Next week, Arnold will begin installing Palace Yurt, an installation created especially for the Museum’s exhibition Fashioning Felt.
The traditional yurt is a trellis-frame tent covered with thick, humble felts made from raw sheep’s wool. The largest, most elaborately decorated tent is the place of celebration, songs and epic poems. Arnold’s design is a fantasia on the yurt form, which is still the preferred environment for events of spiritual significance, even as nomadic peoples become more urbanized.
Arnold will create a total environment from her luxurious handmade felts, which combine Merino wool with silk and metallic fibers and sheer fabrics. Her technique allows for the creation of richly textured areas in combination with gossamer sheer ones. The wall panels will use that sheerness to maintain the light-filled feeling of the Conservatory, while the leaded glass pattern of the ceiling inspired a mosaic of sheer and opaque areas. The window seat will be covered with a thick, dense, hand-beveled felt, to enable visitors to experience felt’s tactility and contemplate both its history and versatility.
The fabric panels composing the walls and ceiling are so large that they have to be felted outdoors at Arnold’s studio in Centralia, Washington. Nomads felt in the spring and fall, but Arnold’s team has been working through the winter to complete the installation. Unseasonably cold temperatures coupled with record snowfall have made it challenging work indeed. But the Palace Yurt, both traditionally and in this contemporary interpretation, is the place to gather for celebration when the felting is done.
The traditional Palace Yurt form has a domed roof and canopied entrance.
The iron framework of the Conservatory’s roof resembles the struts of a yurt’s trellis frame.
Janice Arnold’s felt fabrics combine dense and translucent areas in a myriad of patterns.
A double arch with a Mongolian blessing will frame the entrance.
Arnold’s felts for the installation will be made on a base of silk gauze, with wool, silk, soy, and metallic fibers felted in.
The thick felt cushion for the window seat will have a hand-beveled edge, revealing layers of color.
Sacred symbols protect both the yurt owners and their welcome guests.