Melanie Bestwick doesn’t think of herself as an artist. But the modern homesteader and mama of three is a passionate and seriously talented knitter. So when the Loudoun Arts Council put out a call for submissions for its inaugural Farm 2 Fashion creative challenge, Bestwick was inspired to take her craft to the next level. And she had a natural partner in her friend, alpaca farmer Aimee Long.
Bestwick’s alpaca fiber sculpture is one of 13 projects on display at Franklin Park Arts Center as part of the show, which challenged artists and artisans to create works from materials sourced from area farms and agricultural businesses. The exhibit, a collaboration by the Loudoun Arts Council, the Friends of Franklin Park Arts Center, and the county’s Economic Development office and Rural Economic Development Council, wraps up with a public reception and awards ceremony Oct. 28.
“A lot of people don’t know how many hundreds of artists actually live in the county. I’m always trying to get the word out about the cool stuff that’s happening and this is another way to do that,” said LAC President Jill Evans-Kavaldjian, adding that the show “shines a spotlight on the importance of our arts and culture in creating a vibrant economy and a good place to live.”
For Bestwick, the show was a chance to underscore her philosophy of eating—and creating—locally.
“There’s the whole farm-to-table movement. There should be a farm-to-fashion movement where we help out these farms and do things in a locally sourced way,” Bestwick said.
Her sculpture, “Alpaca Poncho in case it gets chilly,” features an ethereal creamy white alpaca fiber poncho on a handmade model created from a repurposed mannequin on a base built by her husband, woodworker John Bestwick. The design includes chicken feather accents (both Bestwick and Long are chicken lovers), but Long’s high-quality alpaca fiber yarn is the heart of the piece. In a humorous touch, Bestwick created a new head for the mannequin with a giant ball of yarn.
Long and her husband, Troy, bought Long Meadows Farm near Lovettsville in 2013. Initially, the couple hoped to start a dog kennel but fell in love with alpacas after visiting another local farm. They bought their first six in 2014 and now have 27 alpacas, most of which are rescue animals.
“They’re amazing gentle creatures, and it’s amazing what you can do with their fibers,” Long said, adding the yarn is incredibly soft and naturally hypoallergenic.
Long Meadows yarn is spun by a small mill in Pennsylvania, and Long also sells finished products including hats, scarves and gloves made through a co-op mill in New England. Long recently launched an ecommerce website for yarn and knit goods, and she plans to open a small farm store on the property next spring or summer.
And Long and Bestwick’s alpaca fiber collaboration is just one take on “agri-couture.”
Visitors on a recent Saturday were enchanted by the delicate 19th century-inspired dress made of netting and dried flowers created by a quintet of Hillsboro-based farmers and artists who call themselves the Grit & Grace Gap Divas, including artist Laney Oxman, designer Claudia Forbes and farm owners Amy Marasco, Alta Jones and Alison Badger (who also participated in the construction of the project).
Jan Kernan’s striking giant corn stalk ballerinas have been another crowd favorite, while Padma Jen Koch’s “F’Armor,” an imposing knight made of metal farm equipment, offers a completely different take on the challenge.
“I thought it was so interesting how everybody took such a different approach to what farm-to-fashion meant. There were definitely some more artistic approaches. I think mine was definitely among the more practical,” Bestwick said.
For Evans-Kavaldjian, the beauty of a creative challenge like Farm 2 Fashion, is that it brings new artisans out of the woodwork, mixing work from established artists like Penny Hauffe, Jan Blacka and Evans-Kavaldjian herself with submissions from folks like Bestwick who haven’t shown their work before.
“A lot of [the artists] had never worked sculpturally, they’d never worked conceptually—this was an exercise for them,” Evans-Kavaldjian said.
The idea for the show was hatched a few years ago by former Rural Economic Development Council member and Loudoun Arts Council President Cindy Lowther and Loudoun Economic Development Agricultural Development Officer Kellie Hinkle. The initial concept was a runway show with live models, but organizers decided that an installation would be a better fit for the artistic talent pool in Loudoun. Several artists built their own mannequins for the show, while others dressed mannequins provided by the arts council with ceramic faces created by Loudoun artist Amy Manson.
The exhibit really pops and has been a hit with play- and concert-goers, said Franklin Park Arts Center Director Elizabeth Bracey. The show was drawing plenty of interest from attendees young and old during intermission at last weekend’s performance of Main Street Theater Company’s production of “Oklahoma!” as visitors explored the pieces and checked out the artists’ statements that accompany each work.
“People are just amazed by them,” Bracey said. “They’re intrigued and then they start walking around and they’re really drawn in.”
The Farm 2 Fashion reception and awards ceremony takes place 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at Franklin Park Arts Center near Purcellville. Attendees can check out the “agri-couture” creations and enjoy live music by Loudoun-grown musicians Fiddlin’ Dave and Morgan, food by the Loudoun Cattlemen’s Association and Gina’s Pies and wines from Otium Cellars. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Get advance tickets at franklinparkartscenter.org. The show runs through Oct. 30.
For more information on Long Meadows Alpacas, go to longmeadowsalpacas.com.