Save the Sheep Project

Save the Sheep Project Results

Visit our virtual exhibit!

1. Teeswater sheep.


What is the Save the Sheep project?

Sponsored by Spin•Off magazine and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the Save the Sheep project was created to promote understanding about rare sheep breeds within and beyond the spinning community. This project was motivated by a belief that diversity of fiber types is essential to preserving the full range of skills and cultural values embodied by the craft.

Imagine that it is November 17, 1999, and your desk is completely covered with boxes—ranging from tiny envelopes to human-size cartons. You are Bonnie Hoover—and you have less than three days to open, record, tag, and repackage 207 entries for the Save the Sheep contest! The great thing about your job is that you get to touch each piece—marvel at how it was made, and be enchanted by the story it tells. Each box contains the essence of a person or maybe a group of people, spun up into a lovely garment, household object, or artistic expression. Each box also holds the story of one or more endangered sheep breeds these spinners are passionate about. Maybe the fleece was grown by a sheep the spinner raised from a lamb, or maybe a group traveled to a local farm to choose a fleece, or maybe the fleece came from overseas by special order. Whatever the case, this is more than yarn: it is a connection—to a community of spinners and sheep breeders, to a way of life, and to the diverse ecosystem that we live within.

The spinners who entered the Save the Sheep contest ranged from beginners (even children working with their first handspun!) to professionals who make their living from handmade products. Sometimes this was the first time a spinner had used unprocessed fleece—and was learning not just how to spin the wool, but how to clean and comb the fibers. These 207 entries contained so many compelling stories, just as opening the packages revealed so many beautiful pieces. Some packages arrived from as far away as New Zealand, and some were hand-delivered by folks in the neighborhood.

Once they were logged in and tagged, we transported the pieces to Loveland’s McKee Conference and Wellness Center. The center is part of the local hospital, and the folks there offered space when we ran out of room in the office. They set up eighteen large tables, ready to receive the work. Deb Robson, Robin Troxell, Lynda McCullough, and Amy laid out the pieces. We worked late into the night getting the room ready for the next day’s jurying.

2. Bonnie Hoover all covered up by the entries to the Save the Sheep contest.

3. Stacia Ray organizes the entries.

4. Deb Robson, Spin•Off’s editor, and Robin Troxell, editorial assistant, set up the pieces for jurying.

5. Stacia Ray, editorial intern, sorts the entries.

6. Deb models Sarah Swett’s vest. The jury found that most of the garments had to be modeled to really strut their stuff. All identifying marks were removed before jurying—we didn’t know the makers until we were done.

7. Jurors Deb Robson, Marty Hibberd, Terry McGrath-Craig, and Jane Fournier look at a piece. Judy Fort Brenneman, who masterminded jury hospitality and took on the responsibility of booking venues, sorts pieces in the background. You can almost see her.

8. Terry, Marty, Jane, and Deb examine a piece. Amy peeks as she walks by. Amy, who wrote this article, has, “after stumbling over the exhibit title a gazillion times, given up and now calls it Shave the Sheep.” Which, after all, is kind of the point in the first place. . .

The Jurying

The jurors arrived early the next day.

Jane Fournier traveled from Montana. She is a frequent Spin•Off contributor and SOAR mentor, and the co-author (with her mother, Nola Fournier) of In Sheep’s Clothing: A Handspinner’s Guide to Wool (Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1995).

Marty Hibberd and Terry McGrath-Craig drove down from the mountains. They own Hibberd McGrath Gallery in Breckenridge, Colorado, a fine art gallery that specializes in fiber.

Deb Robson is the editor of Spin•Off magazine.

For eight hours, the jurors worked hard to select between twenty-five and thirty pieces, the number that would fit a traveling exhibit. Working as a cohesive group—separating to study the pieces, jotting notes, and reconvening to discuss their thoughts—the jurors marveled at the breadth and depth of the work. Quiet conversations covered quality of spinning, appropriate use of the fiber for garment or object, use of color, overall visual impact, and whether or not an item would travel well or communicate its message to a general audience.

After a lot of talk, debate, and trying on of garments, the jurors unanimously agreed on twenty-nine pieces that would travel to museums for two years—bringing the cause of endangered breeds to the attention of spinners and to the public. These fine objects, made by spinners from all over the world, will demonstrate the importance of diversity in sheep.

Then the jurors discussed ways of celebrating the craftsmanship and exquisite use of fiber in some of the pieces that were not selected to travel with the exhibit.

Once all these decisions were made, work could begin on the presentation of the exhibit itself, as well as on the slide show, book, and swatch collection that are also being developed to promote the cause of endangered breeds of sheep.


Special thanks to these people for helping underwrite the jurying:
Solveig Lark, Gallery East, Loveland, CO
Shirley Ellsworth, Lambspun of Colorado, Fort Collins, CO
Karen Kinyon, Double K Diamond Llamas, Fort Collins, CO

Thanks to these people for great photos:
1 David W. Ward and the Teeswater Sheep Breeder’s Association in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
4, 6, 7, 8, 12 Susan Strawn Bailey.
9 The Dorset Down Sheep Breeder’s Association, Somerset, England.
10, 11 Nancy Van Tassel.

9. A flock of Dorset Down sheep.

10. Elsa (a Santa Cruz Island lamb), two weeks old–before she was recused.    

11. Elsa all grown up!    

12. Stacia and Amy take a break after packing up the remaining 178 pieces.   

13. Some of the Save the Sheep team: Susan Strawn Bailey (about to accelerate to warp speed as exhibit designer), jurors Terry McGrath-Craig, Jane Fournier, Deb Robson, and Marty Hibberd, and assistant editor/box mover Amy Clarke.

If you’d like more information on the background of this endeavor, Deborah Robson elaborates on the Save the Sheep project in her article “Rare Wools from Rare Sheep-Part Two: Why endangered sheep matter to spinners,” Spin•Off 23, no. 1 (Spring 1999), pages 90-­93.

Copyright © 2009 Interweave Press LLC

Post a Comment