Some of the world's biggest street artists gathered in Los Angeles in April for the opening of the Art In The Streets show at the Museum of Contemporary Arts. Mingling in the crowd might have been street art legends such as Shepard Fairey or even the ever-mysterious Banksy.
But not "Captain Hook." She's part of an international movement of so-called yarn bombers taking an old-school approach to street art. Unlike most street artists who travel with spray paint or markers, Captain Hook — as she asked NPR to call her — works with a crochet hook and yarn.
Her "walls" are public fixtures, like the bronze bear statue in L.A.'s Griffith Park that stands zombie-like with its paws out. "This is crochet on a statue," she says, sitting in her Los Angeles apartment, a pile of granny squares in her lap. "This could be happening in 1725."
In mid-March, Hook was feverishly working on the bear's 10th outfit — its St. Patrick's Day attire — a body glove in four shades of green. "I can't make the same thing over and over, so I made a vest, then some shorts, then some lederhosen," she says. "And now ... I think I'm going for the full body."
It's an ambitious project, but Hook has confidence. Raised on a commune in the 1970s, Hook was part of an all-girl needlepoint workforce. "You always had to be making something," she says. "So in the houses I grew up in there were blankets, embroidered dresses and pillows ... covered in needlepoint. I mean, we rocked it. We were good."
Hook, also a writer and actress, estimated it would take 20 hours to finish the outfit and anticipated having plenty of time waiting around on movie sets. But on the afternoon of the "installation," she finds herself frantically crocheting.
"I've been hysterical basically," she says. "I've been up since 6 a.m." Without any time to spare, the project changes scope — Hook alters her original crocheted body glove pattern into a more manageable bear-sized hoodie.
"Now, it's a shrug with a hood," she says. "It's sleeves, a back and a hood."
When the time to vandalize the bear finally arrives, Captain Hook's accomplice, expert seamstress "Vanessa XKiller," meets her at the statue at 5 p.m. The duo has chosen to do the installation in broad daylight to maximize the potential for human interaction.
But in the half-hour they struggle to assemble the bear's green hood, none of the people exercising, lounging in the grass or walking their dogs seem to notice.
"I don't know why, but this one doesn't satisfy me like the others have," Hook says.
"It seems kind of gangster cute," adds Vanessa.
Despite her disappointment, Captain Hook wakes up the next morning eager to do a drive-by. But according to a text message from Vanessa, someone has already taken down the handmade shrug. Perhaps the park's maintenance crew has finally had it with Hook's work.
As it turns out, though, Marshal Barrena, the park's senior gardener and the man ultimately responsible for the bear, is a fan. "It puts a little spring in your step, seeing something like that in the morning," Barrena says.
In a county of 10 million people, if Captain Hook has succeeded in making one gardener and a few passersby stop and laugh, she feels she's achieved her goal. And she's already plotting her next move.
"There's a bust of Valentino that I think would look really great with a scarf," she says.
In Los Angeles, it seems, there's always something else out there, just begging for a pair of crocheted lederhosen. "I saw a dolphin statue in Santa Monica that stands much like the bear, fins out," she says. "When I saw that, I was like, 'Dude, your days are numbered!' "
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Reporter Jennifer Sharpe recently caught up with Captain Hook at her L.A. apartment with a lap full of granny squares.
JENNIFER SHARPE: Captain Hook is taking street art back to the old school.
CAPTAIN HOOK: This is crochet on a statue. This could be happening in 1725.
SHARPE: Most street artists travel with spray paint or markers. Captain Hook, as she's asked me to call her for this story, works with a crochet needle and yarn. Her walls are public fixtures like the bronze bear statue in L.A.'s Griffith Park that stands zombie-like with its paws out. I met up with her as she embarked on what would become the bear's tenth outfit, its St. Patrick's Day attire.
HOOK: I can't make the same thing over and over. I made a vest, and I made some shorts, then I made some different shorts. Then I made some lederhosen. And now, I think I'm going for the full body.
SHARPE: Like a body glove?
HOOK: Yeah, a body glove in four shades of green.
SHARPE: It's ambitious, but she's confident. You see, Captain Hook grew up on a '70s commune, where she was part of the an all-girl needlepoint workforce.
HOOK: You always had to be making something. So in the houses that I grew up in, there's blankets and embroidered dresses and pillows covered in needlework. I mean, we rocked it, we were good.
SHARPE: But when I arrived at her apartment the afternoon of the installation, she was crocheting frantically.
HOOK: I've been hysterical basically. I woke up at six this morning, and I made most of these squares.
SHARPE: And is this still going to be a full body glove?
HOOK: No, it's going to be a shrug with a hood. It's going to be sleeves and a back and then a hood. When you sew it down, it actually looks good. This is it. This is it. Okay, we got it. We got it.
SHARPE: The time to vandalize the bear has finally arrived.
HOOK: Yeah, and it's all pulled down, yeah...
VANESSA XKILLER: Genius.
SHARPE: But in the half hour they struggle with the bear's hood, none of the people exercising, lounging in the grass, or walking their dogs seem to even notice.
HOOK: Vanessa, would you agree with me that it's just weird? I don't know why it doesn't satisfy me in the way that others have.
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HOOK: Thanks. That was that support, right?
XKILLER: That was support, yeah.
SHARPE: Who took it down?
MARSHAL BARRENA: That wasn't me on that one. No, that wasn't me.
SHARPE: As it turns out, the man ultimately responsible for the bear, Marshal Barrena, the park's senior gardener, is a fan.
BARRENA: It just, you know, puts a little spring in your step the next morning when you see something like that.
SHARPE: A little spring in your step?
BARRENA: Yeah, right, exactly. Hey, that's cool, you know.
SHARPE: If, in a place of 10 million people, Captain Hook has succeeded in making one gardener and a few passers-by stop and laugh, she feels she's reached her goal. And she contemplates moving on.
CAPTAIN HOOKE: I was just looking the other day, and there's a bust of Valentino that I think would look really great with a scarf.
SHARPE: Because one of the great things about Los Angeles is that there's always something else out there just begging for a pair of crocheted lederhosen.
HOOK: I saw there's a dolphin in Santa Monica somewhere that is actually standing much like the bear, fins out. When I saw that, I was like: Dude, your days are numbered.
SHARPE: For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Sharpe.
NORRIS: And one final note. Over the weekend, someone outfitted the Griffith Park bear statue with Easter attire, complete with bunny ears. You've got to see this for yourself. Go to npr.org.
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NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.