Ursula Raney demonstrated the art of needle felt sculpture in the reading room of the Salmo Public Library Monday afternoon. The artisan is currently working on a collection of seasonal dolls using natural wool fibres and bits of foliage as inspiration.

Dolls bring nature to life

A sample of Raney’s needle felt sculpting is currently on display in the Salmo library.

As the season changes so will the face of a local artist’s work titled “Nature as a Doll.”

Ursula Raney, an Erie-based artisan, is a recipient of the 2014 Columbia Basin Trust grant for arts and is sculpting her $1,530 award into four unique dolls that will reflect the magic of winter, spring, summer and fall in the West Kootenay.

“I really like fashion and design, and the spirit of nature and fairy tales,” she explained. “Through exploring different forms of doll making, I have a really clear idea of who my old man winter will be, but I am still thinking about my summer garden thief.”

Raney has been an artist with a needle since she first laid eyes on her grandmother’s exquisitely stitched dolls at the tender age of eight.

After refining her own sewing skills over the years, the needlecrafter weaved her fibre-based abilities into making dolls using needle felt sculpture. Needle felting is a practice that uses notched needles to sculpt un-spun wool into three-dimensional objects through the process of “jabbing” fibres into a densely matted shape or form.

Raney combines needle felting with her talent to anthropomorphize, or “see” faces and human forms in nature and develops the dolls using natural wool fibres and foliage from the woods around her rural home.

“I use materials from nature and blends of wool in the process to form the dolls,” explained Raney. “Sometimes I will see a piece of root or stick that reminds me of something and I work with that along with coloured thread and yarns” she said. “I also like to use fragrant herbs like orris root, to capture the different scents of each season.”

As the weather warms, Raney will complete the seasonal doll collection and plans to share her exhibit with the community in the reading room of the Salmo Public Library.

“A lot of people are curious about what I have been working on,” she said. “Some of the dolls are fragile with tiny bits of seasonal ephemera so I am hoping to start there and then we’ll see where they can go.”

A sample of Raney’s soft precision in doll making is “Mermaid #1,” a doll currently on display in the village’s library as part of the Salmo and District Art Council’s gallery called “We Heart Art” Volume II, which is a showcase and sale of local work that opened just in time for Valentine’s Day.

This is the second year the arts council held the event to support artists living in the West Kootenay including its district from Erie to Salmo and the Ymir to Nelway area.

“The show is to promote awareness for the arts and support the art community as a whole,” explained Raney. “February is typically a difficult time of year for visual artists,” she continued. “It’s a lean time and can be financially tight because it’s not a peak season.”

This year’s opening reception was well attended with several artists selling one-of-a kind pieces that have since been replaced with modestly priced works from the council’s open studio group, available for sale until March 8.

“There is a lot of diverse work to show from artists ranging from highly educated to dabblers,” said Raney. “So far, the fundraiser has been even more successful that last year.”

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