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Yarn art in Schiller Park will be down by Labor Day

Mike Gilbert is holding a cup of coffee in one hand and picking up trash with the other when I pull up to Schiller Park.

His company 5Linx, just moved across the street to the Harro East building, and Gilbert noticed the park had been what he calls "forgotten."

Surrounded on two sides by chain link fence, Gilbert thought it might be nice to rehab.

"So I was researching ways of decorating chain link fence. And one of the things I saw in other cities was something called yarnbombing."

Yarnbombing is the act of covering objects or structures in public places with decorative knitted or crocheted material, as a form of street art.

So Gilbert reached out to local crocheter Hinda Mandell to get something going. With a call on social media, Mandell rounded up 45 women, most who had never met each other, to create yarn art for the park.

Mandell says Rochester has a long history of women using crafting to effect change in Rochester.

"We can go back to the 1850s and look at the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, and they were benefactors of Frederick Douglass and his newspaper. We can look at Frederick Douglass’s wife, Anna, who took in piecework to help ends met when her husband was traveling. And we can also look at Susan B. Anthony, who encouraged women in the sewing trades in New York in the 1860s to organize because they were excluded from the men’s sewing trades union."

Schiller Park has a history of its own. The park used to be double the size, before it was cut by the Inner Loop, and was named after philosopher and poet Friedrich Schiller, who wrote the poem "Ode to Joy" that Beethoven later put to music. That’s why a lot of the art is music-themed.

Jane Weerasinghe is one of the 45 women who contributed work to the all-volunteer project. Her yarn work also can be found wrapped around trees along the Erie Canal.

"To bring something to the city of Rochester, that my humble hands made, it was thrilling to me."

The city of Rochester was involved in the process, Gilbert says, and gave its blessing as long as the project followed certain parameters, including a limited installation timeline. That's why Gilbert was confused last week when an email from the city asked him to take all the yarn down immediately.

Gilbert says he’s not interested in fighting the city. They’ve been engaged and supportive all along.

"What we're really looking for is to raise some awareness about the need and the value of art in our parks. Especially in our parks where maybe they don’t get as much care as they might warrant."

The process to knit or crochet a piece as big as some of the ones the park takes time. Both Gilbert and Mandell said the issue was more about valuing the artists' time.

The art around the stop sign was brought down last week. Mandell and two other women were cutting colorful, handmade blankets wrapped around trees during this interview. 

City Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Norman Jones says once the art left the fence and hit inside the park and the trees in it, it became problematic.

"We said hold on, wait a second, this is a public park. This is something that when we do anything in the park we usually have some type of input from everyone who uses the park."

Gilbert says they would have happily completed any further authorization needed to grow the project, had they known it was necessary.

The art along the fence will be brought down by Labor Day.