This monthly blog from The Maker City features a look at some of the Knoxville area’s outstanding makers – artists, crafters, and custom builders. This month’s blog showcases efforts that the Mayor’s Maker Council is spearheading on behalf of military veterans. Details on how to become involved with the Yellow Ribbon Project to be announced in the coming months on The Maker City Instagram account. Follow @themakercity to stay in the know.

Victoria Walsh of Macrame Momma

Victoria Walsh

How did you get started as a macrame artist?

I’ve always been interested in art therapy in general. When I was in college, I interned at mental health facilities; we did group or individual therapy. There were a lot of restrictions -- we couldn’t use knitting needles, for example. So we started tying knots, making friendship bracelets and bookmarks, and it caught on.  Macrame opens up a space for conversations and is very nostalgic -- everyone has a memory of their mom’s macrame. It pulls together generations.

What is Macrame Momma doing to benefit veterans and how does it align with the Mayor’s Maker Council’s plans?

Since I’ve been part of the Council, we’ve been trying to figure out how to aid in larger issues through the Maker Community. I had done the Yellow Ribbon project in Orlando -- a 400-person-strong site-specific installation showing support for local veterans inspired by the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. So, we’re looking at using that as a way to gather up our resources. Find individuals and organizations, focus the majority by funding projects with sponsorships. We want to kind of test the waters. We’re hoping we can bring fiber artists like knitters, crocheters, weavers and others together to do projects around town -- it would be so neat to see their art up in various locations, and the sponsorships would go back to the vets. Laurie Kay suggested starting with the Yellow Ribbon Project this coming spring when the daffodils are blooming, because they’re yellow too.

Brief Bio:

Born in Orlando, Florida, Victoria Walsh financed her college education at the University of Central Florida through the Army ROTC program, with plans for military service after graduation. But she suffered a serious injury right before she was to be commissioned and had to recalibrate. She founded the Yellow Ribbon Project in Orlando, teaching that state’s U.S. Representative Stephanie Murphy how to tie square knots around trees in the process. “Everyone in my family is a veteran,” says Walsh. “I always remembered that vet connection.” Walsh says she has recently relocated to “Knotsville” in order to “tie in” with the Appalachian craft community. She praises the area’s rich craft and historic folk art communities, innovative entrepreneurship and cooperative mindset.

Laurie Kay of Monsters Made With Love

Laurie Kay of Monsters Made With Love

How did you get started as a “monster maker”?

I was taught to sew by my mom who is a perfectionist; everything needed to be perfect. I never finished a project because it never seemed good enough! In my 40s I made my first monster; I thought it was for my kids, but they wanted nothing to do with it. I loved that the arms could be lopsided; as long as the guts stayed inside, it was fine! I have a crooked smile; she has a crooked smile. My friend Christy started sharing about this on social media and I couldn’t fulfill all the requests, so I started teaching people how to make them, then developed kits. I teach sewing with a self-love twist.

What is Monsters Made With Love doing for vets, and how does it align with the Mayor’s Maker Council’s plans?

I work with Oak Grove Homeschool co-op, teaching sewing classes to kids four years old up to 12 years. They make a monster for themselves first, then one to give to someone they know who needs love. And the third one they make is for a foster child or a vet. I have many monsters to give to veterans and was just trying to find a good connection and a place to do it. This is perfect -- to work with fiber artists on the Yellow Ribbon Project. Victoria Walsh is so passionate and such a go-getter, and Jonathan Clark has so many connections and is a great storyteller. Maybe we can continue doing it and possibly have a big celebration in November too. I don’t think it’s going to be a one-day event. It’s going to grow, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Brief Bio:

Originally from Detroit, Laurie Kay grew up in Michigan and lived in Florida for 11 years working as an automotive trade show specialist before moving to Knoxville for the four seasons. “I’m a halfback,” she says. She started Monsters Made With Love in 2015. She teaches sewing classes, leads workshops and offers therapy through her art for such organizations as the Cancer Support Community, Boys and Girls Club, Restoration House and Emerald Youth Foundation. The mother of two -- a daughter at University of Michigan and a son at Bearden High School -- says, “You need to make a monster of yourself before you make one for anyone else. You have to love yourself first. And you don’t have to know what you’re doing to do it.”

Jonathan Clark, Executive/Artistic Director, of The Carpetbag Theatre

Jonathan Clark

How did you get started as a performer and arts executive?

When I was 12, I was invited to my first Youth Theatre Festival, presented by the Carpetbag Theatre. I’d seen a few plays and productions as a young person, but I’d always seen adults on stage and kids placed in secondary roles. Seeing kids younger than I was, who looked like me and talked like me, leading the way and owning a stage was a brand-new world for me and very special to a young person of color. I really believed I could do that, too.

What is The Carpetbag Theatre doing for vets, and how does it align with the Mayor’s Maker Council’s plans?

Our Creative Arts Reintegration Program has always been centered around giving vets the opportunity to tell their own stories. We also turn those into digital stories. We usually do this work in residency -- Florida, North Carolina -- all these different places where we’ve had access to vet communities. And one of the things we really want to do is focus on the vets here at home. So as the council started throwing ideas back and forth, I thought the Yellow Ribbon Project was such a cool story. My mom has sung that song her whole life and I didn’t know what it was about! That really draws a parallel for me. We wanted to give vets an opportunity to get involved with the arts as therapy, whether it becomes entrepreneurial or just a creative outlet. What we hope to do is put out the call to sponsor a tree and get the materials. Connect vets with creative resources that are here at home -- almost like a job fair for the creative arts,  the center being the Yellow Ribbon Project.

Brief Bio:

Born in Knoxville, Jonathan “Courageous” Clark graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in psychology. He started writing and performing poetry with the Carpetbag Theatre’s Youth Theatre Festival in the late 90s. “I started at 13 and kept going.” In 2020 he took over the executive/artistic director position from Carpetbag’s executive director of 45 years, Linda Parris Bailey. Clark says his administrative style is forged by the organization he serves. “It all really goes back to the way that Carpetbag has tried to operate -- through ensemble practice. It creates a space for leadership. Everything we do is a team effort.”  Clark is a board member of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Alternate ROOTS, and was an inaugural member of the country’s first Intercultural Leadership Institute.

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