San Francisco’s Fog & Fury reinvigorates the art of handmade wool feltAuthor:Robyn Wise
A favorite material of artists ranging from Joseph Beuys and Robert Morris to Kiki Smith and Andrea Zittel, felted wool captivates with its sculptural properties and sensual hand. The ancient textile—created when unspun animal fibers are compressed with water and become interlocked—predates all other fabrics and has earthy, straight-from-nature appeal. In the hands of San Francisco artist Kristin Kelly Colombano, traditional felting techniques have found new life, yielding an artisanal line of pillows, throws and one-off upholstery textiles known as Fog & Fury.
A Bay Area native, Colombano studied painting and photography at San Francisco Art Institute, but ultimately found her true calling in 2010 during a trip to Mongolia, where she observed the region’s renowned felt-makers first hand. By 2016, the designer’s refined, painterly compositions of alpaca, camel, yak, goat, and silk fibers had caught the eye of De Sousa Hughes showroom. (“We carry hundreds of fabrics, but nothing has the texture and warmth of Kristin’s work,” notes co-founder Erik Hughes.) Since then, Fog & Fury has gained a following of top local designers, among them Fisher Weisman, Kendall Wilkinson, and Matthew Leverone. Here, the rising star shares the inspiration behind her artistry, which she pursues with restless invention in her light-filled Mission District studio.
What inspires your subtle color palette?
The color in my work comes purely from the different breeds of animal fiber I use. To me, felted wool looks best in a natural state, so I honor the fiber’s raw qualities and never dye it. Mohair and angora provide the most beautiful, lustrous whites. Other varieties like camel and alpaca have gorgeous honey, gray or black tones. Same with the silk inclusions I’ve been using in my most recent work—there’s a lovely gold color that comes from a certain leaf the muga worm eats.
Where else do you source material?
From all over the world! I can get nice angora and mohair from local farmers in North Marin and Mendocino and to the south in San Luis Obispo County. Fibershed in Marin is a great resource, and they’re also doing important work to build sustainable soil-to-soil textile practices. The most beautiful sheep fiber comes from Australia, New Zealand and the UK—it has a supple quality I prefer. The silk I use comes mainly from India and China.
What influences your design motifs?
I think nature does it best. I’m inspired by organic abstraction—weather patterns, the texture of tree bark, geological formations. I love mixing different fibers and tones and creating gradient hues. It’s especially fun to play with the silky texture and placement of all the curly, right-off-the-animal locks before they’re combed out.
Each piece is one of a kind. Do you ever create pure artworks meant for the wall?
Rarely. I do view each piece as a singular work of art, and there’s a great a tradition of hanging textiles on the wall solely to look at. But I find it more satisfying to make functional items for the home because you can actually touch them in that context. The irresistible, tactile allure is the whole point.
What’s the story behind the cool name of your brand?
‘Fog’ because it’s San Francisco’s nature icon, plus water is necessary for felting. ‘Fury’ because it takes intense agitation and pressure to tangle the fibers. Felt is sometimes called the angry fiber because eventually you have to knead and beat it aggressively during the final stages to get a tight, strong fabric.
What’s next for you?
I’m always dreaming of surface design. At the moment I’m having a love affair with muga silk and experimenting with new ways to blend it into my work. I’m also prototyping new styles that include open work and voids, which work well layered with other textiles and will hopefully join my collection later this year.
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