Yarn Bombing a Literary Landmark on Vancouver's South Side
Image by Jeffrey Christenson
The Historic Joy Kogawa House Society—with Vancouver authors Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain—yarn bomb Joy's cherry tree
In late March, cherry blossoms will take over the city; however, earlier in the month, if you pass by a small, unassuming bungalow in Marpole, you’ll find a cherry tree covered in yarn blossoms. This yarn bombing is the efforts of the Historic Joy Kogawa House in collaboration with local authors Leanne Prain and Mandy Moore.
The Historic Joy Kogawa House Society was started in 2006 in a campaign to save the literary landmark from demolition. With the help of The Land Conservancy of BC and an anonymous donor, the house at 1450 West 64th Avenue was purchased and saved from destruction.
Also at 1450 West 64th Avenue is the cherry tree that features prominently in Vancouver-born poet and novelist Joy Kogawa’s writing, particularly Naomi’s Tree, a picture book about friendship, forgiveness, remembering and love.
Joy Kogawa in front of her childhood home in Marpole, on Vancouver's south side. (Image: Vancouver Courier / Dan Toulgoet via The Historic Joy Kogawa House)
Vancouver-born poet, author and essayist Joy Kogawa
Joy Kogawa, born in 1935, lived in the house until age six when all Canadians of Japanese descent were interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Joy and her family were sent to an internment camp in Slocan, BC. Once they were released, they resettled in Alberta, where she and her family grew up.
Joy studied education at the University of Alberta and music at the University of Toronto, also receiving honourary doctorates from a number of Canadian universities. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of BC, the recipient of a National Award from the National Association of Japanese Canadians (2001) and was awarded the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Now living in Toronto, Joy assisted with the campaign to save her childhood home and has been supportive of the initiative the society has taken in her name. It now stands as a cultural and historical reminder of Canadian-Japanese injustice.
The society also arranges a writer-in-residence to live in the house each year, organizing a variety of community events around the residency.
Knit and crochet cherry blossoms to be afixed to the cherry blossom tree at the back of Joy Kogawa's. (Image: Jeffrey Christenson)
Yarn bombing Joy Kogawa's cherry tree
The Historic Joy Kogawa Society, which has been honoured with a City of Vancouver Heritage Award, is now working on developing the house as a cultural and artistic hub. The yarn bombing events are part of this new direction.
Ann-Marie Metten, executive director of the Historic Joy Kogawa Society, said this collaboration is “opening doors” to new possibilities and partnerships.
Board member Lenore Rowntree, who is part of the fundraising committee, first suggested yarn bombing Joy Kogawa’s cherry tree after admiring the yarn bombing tags at the David Village Community Garden near her home in the West End.
Ann-Marie had heard about yarn bombing through the Masters in Publishing (MPub) program at SFU; Leanne Prain, an MPub 2007 graduate, had pitched the yarn bombing book as part of a class project. Local publisher Arsenal Pulp Press published Yarn Bombing: The Art of Knit and Crochet Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain in fall 2009.
Leanne and Mandy were introduced at the (now defunct) Knitting and Beer meet-up, which Leanne, who came from a crafty family and learned to knit with a friend, had started as a way to meet more knitters and learn new techniques.
Neither had done yarn bombing before they began researching the book.
“I’m a knitter but I’m not a colour-in-the-lines person,” said Leanne.
Mandy, a clothing designer and technical editor for online magazine Knitty, said that yarn bombing gives everyone the “chance to play and be creative.”
“Knitting is international,” says Mandy, and Leanne agrees that there is a global trend with yarn bombing as knitters travel and want to spread their tags. The Internet allows artists to capture the moment and record it—even if someone takes down the yarn bombing within a few hours.
Yarn Bombing co-author Mandy Moore knitting during the first knit-in at Vancouver's Historic Joy Kogawa House. (Image: Jeffrey Christenson)
Yarn blossoms viewable at Joy Kogawa House through March
The cherry blossom yarn bombing at Joy Kogawa House is slated to stay up for the month of March. Leanne and Mandy have spoken to the caretaker and an arborist about the effect on the cherry tree, which is now diseased and dying. The yarn blossoms will not affect the tree in any way and will be cut down once it begins to naturally bloom.
What will happen to the blossoms afterwards? Mandy and Leanne mysteriously hint to a "re-bombing" but also say if the yarn blossoms are in good enough shape they could be repurposed as pet blankets for the SPCA.
Knit-ins at Joy Kogawa House
Leanne, Mandy and the board members of Joy Kogawa House held the first knit-in on Sunday, January 23, from 2–3:30 p.m. There was an excellent turnout with more than 30 knitters and crocheters.
Mandy and Leanne chatted about yarn bombing successes and mishaps as fibre enthusiasts munched on tea and treats. Near the end of the afternoon, Joan Young, a retired school teacher of Japanese heritage, read aloud from Naomi’s Tree—the book inspired by the Joy Kogawa House cherry tree.
There will be two more related events held at the Historic Joy Kogawa House in Marpole. The next knit-in is Saturday, February 5, and then all the flowers will be stitched into place on Sunday, March 6.
If you can’t make it to the event, you can still mail in your blossoms, or drop them off if you’re in the neighbourhood. Leanne has received email from Oregon and Los Angeles knitters who who intend to send blossoms for the tree.
Leanne Prain, who co-authored Yarn Bombing, measures the cherry tree in anticipation of yarn bombing it. (Image: Monica Miller)
On yarn activism, from Yarn Bombing: The Art of Knit and Crochet Graffiti
"Each time you participate in crafting you are making a difference, whether it’s fighting against useless materialism or making items for charity or something betwixt and between.” —Betsy Greer, craftivism.com
"You can change the world a little by doing things, very small things, not big things, by very small things. It sticks in people’s minds. That was the start of this kind of idea, to do something positive." —Jan ter Heide, Knitted Landscape