Tina Oppenheimer is an accomplished and prolific artist in crochet. Her pieces are arresting, often several feet wide, and frequently employ floral and geometrical motifs drawn from the mandala tradition.
Contemplative beauty in handcrafted work
Mandalas were introduced to the West by famed psychiatrist Carl Jung, who felt that creating these circular, natural patterns originating from Buddhist and Hindu culture was a soothing and healing activity. Mandala-type patterns are found in nature and also appear in the art of many other cultures, such as Celtic knotwork and Native American art.
In Oppenheimer’s crocheted wheels of flowers and recurring patterns, made one knot at a time, the viewer is reminded that in nature, there is still order and balance and beauty.
Such a centered, contemplative artistic perspective has become increasingly rare and countercultural in the rush and noise of the internet age. It takes an unconventional spirit to choose an art form so deliberately slow and subtle. Oppenheimer’s life story shows her determination to forge her own unique way and choose her own values.
A young wanderer picks up her hook
Oppenheimer spent a tumultuous adolescence moving between homes. She was born in Chicago, and credits her parents for supporting her art there in her youth despite significant challenges in other aspects of her family life. She sees her childhood classes at the Art Institute of Chicago as a formative influence, along with an art-focused school that she was later able to attend in Birmingham, England.
Once she moved to Birmingham, her life became nomadic, as she wandered back and forth between the USA and Britain. At the age of 17, when she was living out of a Land Rover in Scotland, she began to crochet intensively for many hours a week. Back in New York the next year, in 1971, she entered her work in the first American Crafts Council northeastern show. For several years, she continued to live a migratory life, picking apples while still creating crocheted works. Finally, after picking apples in Vermont for eight seasons, she settled down in the Ozarks with a husband to raise cattle and her three children.
The livestock and parenting duties didn’t leave much time for her artwork, but in the 1990s, Oppenheimer earned a degree in mechanical drafting from Westark College (now University of Arkansas Fort Smith) and created her company called Ozark Cards based on her drawing talent. She also began crocheting again in earnest.
Now she lives in Fayettevillle. In February 2018, her textile work was exhibited at the Bank of Fayetteville, where it caught the attention of the Galleries at Library Square.
Mastery born of years of dedication
When asked what has led to her decades-long dedication to crochet, Oppenheimer described many benefits of the craft. “When I was younger, I could draw for hours at a time, but now I have adult-onset attention deficit disorder. So, I have to be doing something with my hands. Crocheting is socially versatile: you can do it in public while you talk to people, or you can do it in public and be solitary. It’s meditative and it’s calming.
Oppenheimer said that some of her works are planned, and some are not. “My work called ’YOU ARE HERE’ started as a doodle on an envelope, then got thicker. ‘8 Principles of Boobism’ was going to be a flat mandala, but then I realized I could make it more dimensional. So I know my plans, but they evolve, Or, I plan the middle, and the rest just happens, sometimes depending on what yarn I have around.”
The technique of her work also evolved based on the materials available. “At first, I would only use one kind of yarn in my work, but when people started giving me yarn, I started blending different types in one project. I also use a technique where I chainstitch the yarn before I crochet. This makes it thick, and it’s why the textures are so blended.”
Tina Oppenheimer’s work will be on display in the Underground Gallery of the Galleries at Library Square, beginning with an opening reception on Friday, April 12 from 5:00-8:00 p.m. for Second Friday Art Night. The exhibition, entitled “EMBRAID,” also includes the work of Brandon Bullette and Octavio Logo, two artists also based in Northwest Arkansas. Light refreshments will be served and live music provided by Dogtown Ukulele.
(Source for mandala history: 100mandalas.com)