Prelude: As I drove away from my interview with Heather Loney, I wondered how many houses I was driving by that might have artists living in them who are contributing to our “Quality of Life.” Ironically, Cathy Hendricks, my proofreader for these interviews (who is also an excellent writer) made a comment in an email after reviewing my interview with musician and songwriter Jack Shannon. She said, “There are people all around us who are so talented, and we don’t even realize it.” Her comment reminded me that the main objective of these interviews with artists within Arts Illiana’s borders is to expose their tremendous talents to you. These contributing artists, who may not have gotten as much attention as others in our community, are weaving a unique fabric into our Quality of Life. Like Laura Bates, Heather Loney is using her talents as an artist to change the lives of prison inmates, and those within her community and beyond, with her collaborative exhibit at the Raccoon Lake State Recreational Area through a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission.
Brian: I like to start these interviews with the artist’s story. What’s your story and how did you get here?
Heather: Well, I grew up sort of all over the country. My father was an artist and he opened three children’s museums across the country. His installation instincts carried over into his work. He would design exhibits, have other in-house artists build them and then install these huge structures for children to climb in and to explore. The first museum was in Muncie, Indiana. We then moved to Pasadena, California, where he did Kid’s Space, and then the third one was The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All the while my Mother was working as an Early Childhood Specialist.
We moved to Pittsburgh when I was 10, and mom and dad lived there until they moved back here to Indiana about 10 years ago. I went to college there. I studied to be a stage manager at Penn State University. I spent the next 20 years doing stage management, mostly along the East Coast, although I did work in Arkansas and Alabama.
Brian: What does a stage manager do?
Heather: A stage manager is in charge of everything as far as communications goes with the production. We start off working on the play a week before rehearsals start. We are with the show until it closes. We are the only staff members who are with the show from beginning to end. During the rehearsals we are setting up the rehearsal space with rehearsal furniture, props and costumes, and get ready for the actors to come in. We sit next to the director and take all of the notes that he/she needs, and each day we produce a daily report that talks to all of the other departments. Once we get through the rehearsal process you go into tech, which is when you move into the theater, and that’s when all of the elements come together. I switch gears and the show begins the process of being turned over to me. Anything that happens on the stage, I am now orchestrating. In the run of the show, I’m the one who calls the actors to places and gets the show running. During the show the stage manager to the crew via headset communication and cue lights calls every scene change, any special effect, any light change, and sound effect.
Brian: How long did you do that, and when did you come to Indiana?
Heather: I did it professionally for 20 years. Then about 14 years ago, I moved here to help out with my family.
Brian: As an artist, how has the transition of moving here been for you?
Heather: Well, I had reached a point in my career that I was tired. The job was exceptionally demanding. So, I decided that I would explore some other options. I am an artist myself, and I wanted to have some time to work on my work. By living here with mom and dad, I of course had access to an amazing artist, my dad, who could help me hone some of what I was trying to do. At the time, I was focused on metals and creating jewelry. Since then I have broadened out a little more with 2-D work and some sculptural work. Over that time it gave me an opportunity to work with my dad, not only on his work, but my work as well.
Brian: Tell us about the Indiana Arts Commission “Arts in the Parks” grant?
Heather: Oh, my gosh, I have never applied for a grant. Nancy Swain here in Rockville is a friend, and she is the one who pretty much pulled me into this kicking and screaming. Right before this grant was due, my grandmother passed away. I was her primary caregiver, and my dad had passed away just six months before she died. I wasn’t sure that I was emotionally or intellectually really with it to be able to apply for such a prestigious grant. But, Nancy held my hand, along with help from Arts Illiana and Art Spaces, who reviewed my grant, to get me through it.
Brian: What was the grant for and how did it come together?
Heather: The title is “Yarn Stormed Trees-An Exploration of Institutional and Individual Isolation.” The earliest I could find anything about “Yarn bombing” was in Europe dating back about 30 years ago. There, in the middle of the night, fellow crocheters and knitters would go into their towns, their cities and cover things in crocheted or knitted yarn. It picked up here in the United States in just the last ten years. Some of them were making statements, like against war or other societal issues.
As I was contemplating what I wanted to do, wrapping trees came to mind when I found something similar Online. I work in the recreation department at the Rockville Correctional Facility for Women, and we have many talented crochet artists here.
What I wanted to do was to create a project allowing the women there to crochet pieces that would be put together along with pieces done by women in our community. Those pieces would be crocheted together and wrapped around trees. Seven trees were wrapped at the Raccoon Lake State Recreational Area.
I hoped it would create an experience for the women inside the facility to fulfill a desire to contribute to society within the prison. They often want to give back to the community for the support that they get from the community, and one of the ways they could do that is to help us celebrate the 100 years of Indiana’s state parks system.
Brian: Can you explain the reason for the title a little more in detail and the statement you wanted this project to make?
Heather: Each of the women involved from the institution crocheted a piece that matched a measured area of one of the trees and as wide as she could make it depending on how intricately she crochets and how much yarn was in the skein she received. Then someone from the community did one that was above it and then someone from the institution did one above that one. These were rotated, one above the other. The experience of isolation was that these two sets of women, the ones in the institution and the ones in the community, were not able to communicate with each other. So for the persons who were out in society, it gave them the experience to explore what it was like to be cut off from someone you need information from. For the women in prison, that is an ongoing challenge for them.
Brian: What was the impact of this project on the women involved at the prison?
Heather: The group of women at the facility who were involved in this ranged from 19 years old to 70 years old. After I explained the project to them and what was going to be involved, I was very surprised to look up and see some of them crying. I said, “Okay, I didn’t mean to make you cry. What’s wrong?” One of them came up to me and said, “Miss Loney, no one has ever cared about what we feel in here.” That really spoke to me about why I wanted to do this project. It really helped me to engage even deeper in what I wanted the message of this project be. Which is that these women have broken the law and they are where they deserve to be because of that crime. But, that doesn’t change who they are. I always say to them, “What brought you here is not who you are. I am here to work with who you are.” This project to me is a physical manifestation of that message. I want society to see them as the women they are and not for the mistakes they made.
One of the things that will go into their packet is a certificate for their involvement and a letter of appreciation from myself. Their packet is an ongoing record of behavior and programming they have completed during their stay. This packet can be sent to their Judge for review so the Judge can see what improvement they have made.
Brian: Where is the exhibit in the Raccoon Lake State Recreational Area, and how long will it be up?
Heather: It is located on a foot trail just off the Miami Vista on Berry Drive in the Raccoon Lake State Recreational Area. The exhibit will be up until the end of October. Groupings of six trees have been wrapped in knitted and crocheted handwork. There are also crocheted baskets (or nests if you will) for critters to use as a home or as a receptacle for their personal belongings.
The people at the Raccoon State Recreational Area were wonderful and were willing to help me in any way.
It will be interesting to see how the wool adapts as the weather changes and the impact nature will have on it.
Brian: Regarding the grant, what did the funds cover?
Heather: The grant was for $3,000. The grant covered the materials for the 100% wool yarn itself, art supplies to do the preliminary drawings, for the print media for posters and post cards, travel expenses including the state park pass (since I went in out of there many times), copying and printing for the information sheet handed out to those coming into the recreational area, and whatever is left over is for my fee.
Brian: Once other parks see this will they want to do this as well?
Heather: Well, I don’t know, but that would be wonderful. I would be really happy to put something like this together for them.
Brian: Do you have to compile a final report back to the Indiana Arts Commission?
Heather: Yes, I believe it is by December 2016, and there is a final report that they send to us that we fill out. We have to report where the funds went to and a rough estimate of how many people saw the project and any feedback from the public regarding whether they liked it or not and why. So, I also set up a Facebook page so the public could provide us with feedback (yarnstormedtrees).
Brian: Thank you. This is an interesting project, especially because of the people you orchestrated together.
Heather: You’re welcome. I’m excited that the readers will have an opportunity to learn more about it.