This past summer, I was lucky enough to intern at the National Museum of Natural History as they prepared for an exhibit that is coming to the museum this weekend: The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. This project is a collaboration of Margaret and Christine Wertheim, two sisters from California who combine art, science, conservation, and mathematics to create a unique coral reef-like structure constructed out of crochet. Unbeknownst to my supervisors, this project was right up my alley. An avid craft enthusiast since childhood, I have always wanted to explore the medium of crochet, and the fact that this exhibit involves so many different disciplines made it even more fascinating to me. What better way to raise awareness about coral reefs than creating one in our own community made out of beautiful and delicate needlework? (Plus: Who doesn’t like crafting for a cause?)
As part of my internship, I created a video podcast documenting the construction of the Smithsonian Community Coral Reef, which will be the largest part of the display in The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. In this podcast, I interviewed participants and shot footage of them crocheting individual pieces – called polyps - that put together will make up the reef. Making this podcast was such great experience not only because of the unique nature of this project, but also because of the wonderful people I got to meet at events held at several D.C. area yarn shops as well as the Smithsonian itself. Before I would film anything, I always sat down with the participants, a great majority of whom were women. I was fascinated by hearing their stories of how they came to be involved in this project, from the woman who was crocheting in memory of her deceased, former-diver husband to a teacher involving her pre-teen students in the projects. There was no shortage of stories.
Most of the participants came from the artistic perspective of the exhibit, avid crocheters who are always looking for a new project. But along the way, they became interested in the science, mathematics, and conservation of aspects as well. One specific image comes to mind of one of the workshops held at the Smithsonian. As I came in, one woman was taking out a small stack of books she had brought with her from her local library to help educate her fellow crocheters on making their coral pieces naturally accurate. Another woman had checked out books from the kids’ section of the library that included vibrant illustrations and pictures, inspiring her to branch out in crocheting different types of coral then the ones that had been initially suggested.
The sheer enthusiasm for being accurate in their designs was impressive enough, but the creativity of the participants was truly stunning. As part of the Toxic Coral Reef section of the exhibit, one woman had the brilliant idea of using old videotape reels as yarn, resulting in a shiny and diseased looking piece of coral. Along with her design, I witnessed many others crocheting with makeshift yarn made from plastic bags as additions to the reef, creating a stiff, captivating coral that must be seen to be believed.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better internship experience, and I’m so excited to make the drive down from Boston to see the exhibit.
Natalie Zarowny, Intern, Exhibits