Gang art is often frowned upon, considered criminal by some.
But not this gang's art.
Perhaps it's because this gang is made up of knitters who call themselves the Tree Sweater Gang. And their art is a sweater that's keeping a tree warm during this cold, cold winter.
Standing outside Studio 603, an art studio on Short Street that belongs to Jennifer Stephenson McLamb, the otherwise snow-covered, rough-barked tree — which has been dubbed Clarabelle Short — is warm and soft.
"I heard about it from a friend," McLamb says about the idea of knitting a tree sweater, "and thought it was a neat idea. We use pictures for inspiration."
As with any knitting project worth its weight in wool, the gang drew a picture of the hackberry tree and took measurements to ensure a proper fit.
"We were out late at night with flashlights and ladders trying to get all the measurements of the tree," McLamb says. The group made sure to leave two feet at the bottom of the trunk for the "dog pee zone."
"Most of the yarn has come from our own homes, and some is donated," says Peggy Burgio, one of the gang members. About 12 knitters are participating in the project. They knit pieces at designated knitting parties at the studio. When a piece is finished gang members sew the edges together around the tree.
"It's not very hard sewing the pieces onto the tree. The bark helps it stick," says Lisa Steele, a gang member. They've started at the bottom of the tree and worked their way up, using a ladder as they go.
"We are planning to add hand-worked panels up the tree as far as we can reach that won't interfere with the leaves. We hope to cover all the major branches and limbs over time," McLamb says.
Some of the pieces have pockets with laminated poems and blessings in them.
The group has worked on the sweater for almost a month, with plans to finish it in time for Friday's Gallery Hop.
Other items at the Gallery Hop include McLamb's jewelry, mixed-media clay creatures by Deborah Westerfield, and works in clay by Wyman Rice.
"It's fun and so important to support artists," Burgio says.
"It gives us something to do. I love to knit. I actually want to knit something that's not just another scarf," says Steele.
This winter's cold temperatures and blowing snow haven't discouraged the gang. And the elements might cause the sweater to fade and wear, but the gang isn't worried.
"If we begin to see damaged areas, they will be replaced as needed, or if the whole tree sweater fades over time, we will certainly remove it. We don't want an eyesore. ... The whole point is to add some fun and color to our little corner studio," McLamb says.
Besides the tree sweater, the Tree Sweater Gang is knitting for a cause. Members are donating and accepting donations of knitted scarves, blankets, hats to the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Shelter.
They will take the collected items to the shelter, which will be glad to receive them.
"Projects like Jen's help us in lots of ways," says Diane Fleet, assistant director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program. "It lets the families that are receiving services know that the community cares about them; it gets people engaged in the issue when they see the art work on display, (and) folks who are making art get even more involved."
The domestic violence shelter consists of an emergency shelter, 24/7 crisis line, legal advocacy, residential and non-residential case management and support groups, financial literacy, children's programming, individual advocacy and counseling, and housing assistance. There are currently 20 women and 18 children at the shelter.
"Our goal is to provide programming that advocates for persons from the point of crisis through self-sufficiency." Fleet says. "BDVP believes that if we are ever to end family and intimate-partner violence, we have to have community involvement."
"BDVP doesn't expect everyone to donate money or hours of their time to our program, but we do hope that they remember who we are, so that if they need us, they feel comfortable reaching out," Fleet says.