Friday Interview: Jennifer Strunge! July 22, 2011 07:46

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I'd like to introduce you to Jennifer Strunge, the creative force behind Cotton Monster, the line of cute and cuddly monsters we have here at Craftland. Seeing these creatures around the store brightens my day, and I had to learn more about the artist behind them. Read on to learn more about Jennifer, and come check out these cuddly monsters in person, they're awesome!

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your handmade business.
Hi there! My name is Jennifer Strunge, I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD where a healthy love of sewing and creating was instilled in me at an early age! I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and majored in Fibers. My senior thesis involved three dimensional quilts and huge sewn monsters, many of them wearable or puppets, made from old blankets and bedding. Shortly after graduation in 2004, I began my business "Cotton Monster," scaling down my designs, making soft sculpture monsters with big teeth and bulgy eyes from recycled clothing, bedsheets and household linens. The larger ones have pocket mouths for hiding secrets inside (or for pretending they are eating your arm!)

Describe your studio for us.
My studio is a little attic room of my house in Baltimore, painted bright yellow with one little window looking out on my garden and a wooded park. It is stocked full of thrifted sweatshirts, track suits, t-shirts and polo shirts, granny nightgowns, bed sheets, more or less grouped in rainbow order. Shelves line the walls, and bins holding the scraps pile up on the floor. What little wall space is left is covered in photos, drawings, clippings, notes, fabric, a few monsters and other random junk that inspires me to stay put in my swivel chair. I sew on an awesome Bernina machine...she is quite the workhorse!

What is it about monsters that drew you to make them?
I've always been drawn to the imaginary...Monsters are something you initially think of as scary when you are young, like creatures lurking under your bed. My wanting to make/sew monsters was a response to this, with the thought that my monsters could essentially protect their owners from the unknown and the things hiding in the dark. Cotton Monsters are good monsters...they are on your side, and will do all they can to make you laugh (a good trait in a friend i think)!

Tell us a little bit about the puppetry work you do for Black Cherry Puppet Theater.
I teach and assist puppetry programs in school residencies, teaching kids how to make and manipulate their own hand and rod puppets, paint sets and put on a performance. I occasionally perform in Black Cherry's traditional marionette shows and help put on puppet variety shows. I am not a natural performer, but can handle it in small bits if hidden behind a ridiculous costume or puppet! I am much more into the act of making puppets, costumes and performative objects then I am in performing with them!

Where do you go when you need a little monster inspiration?
I love going to our awesome local video store, Video Americain and sift through the dvds and vhs tapes. I often rent nature, deep-sea creature or insect documentaries.  So many crazy creatures exist in nature already, I need only to look at some of them to get inspired to go make up my own! I also love renting things like Pee-wee's playhouse and the Muppet Show to watch while I sew and keep me motivated!

What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade means something truly unique, made with care, with love, and of course with human hands. Handmade objects retains some essence of their maker which makes it all the more special to treasure and to pass down. Handmade is keeping the past alive, remembering our grandparents and where we came from way back before machines replaced humans! Handmade is a way of life, providing for ourselves with our own two hands and choosing to support other humans who do the same!

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I made my first trip to Providence last summer and made a point of visiting the shop, as my friend Rachel of Red Prairie Press had some work there. I picked up a postcard advertising the Holiday Show and applied shortly after. I got into the show and was lucky enough to be asked to continue to consign my work!

Guilty pleasure?
Naps. Its hard to work at home and pass by a peaceful bed with two sleeping kitties in it, without occasionally crawling back in for a nap!