I’m happy to begin our featured artist series this week! I’ve received 15 requests for features, and will post them weekly in the order received…so if you haven’t heard back from me, don’t despair! You’re on my list! I'm a bit early, and will probably post these on Thursday evenings (that thing called the "real job" interferes).
Peter McMasters of Forest Academy Alpacas is first up! Peter is the hat maker and caretaker of the animals on his family’s farm. His wife, Ingrid, is the spinner and knitter. They live on a small farm outside of Evansville, Wisconsin, with 13 alpacas (probably 14 by now!), two kids, and their dogs and cats.
I asked Peter how he chose the name of his business. There is a stone sign on the front of their schoolhouse-turned-home that reads “Forest Academy, District #1”. The business name is, therefore, written in stone!
Peter and his family started raising alpacas in 2002. “We moved to this property in 2004. Every year Ingrid would go to the sheep and wool festival in Jefferson WI in September and take classes. One year it was all about spinning, another all about dyeing, and this past year 3 days of felting. Ingrid came home from her weekend of classes last September with new skills. She passed them to me and I dove into felting. I had been sitting on the sidelines for some time, letting my wife work with the fiber. Felting finally looked like something I might enjoy.”
We all want to stand out from the crowd, so I asked Peter what aspect of his work would appeal to customers and set him apart. “Some of it is the materials – alpaca from our own farm – and some of it is the process. You can find many folks who knit or crochet a hat and then stick it in the washer to felt it. The end result is entirely dependent of the original pattern. Some will wet felt directly onto a hat form, either by draping a pre-made sheet of felt over it or working from the raw fiber. Again your results are somewhat dependent on the forms you own. My process allows me greater freedom in the final form. While I have some limitations (that I am still learning to overcome), I am not limited to a set pattern or form for the final outcome of a wearable art hat. Each (item) is a unique shape and no two shapes are alike. Also, each one has a unique color pattern based on how the fiber was originally applied during the felting process. “
“Each of my hats has about 5 hours of work in it…more if you consider the year it took for my animals to grow the fiber. In our home we try our best to keep chemicals out of the process. We do purchase dyed Merino (wool) from outside sources because it allows us the ability to offer bright colors without bringing that part of the process into our home. During the felting process, all I like to use is Palmolive. I used to use Dawn dishwashing liquid, but it had detergents I didn’t need.”
Peter’s work can be found on Etsy at www.forestacademyalpacas.etsy.com. You can also find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/forestacademyalpacas. “This (Facebook) allows us to communicate to our fans where we will be showing our products in person.” Area art fairs where Forest Academy Alpacas will make an appearance include the Art Crawl in Waukesha this Saturday, May 7, Fair On The Square in Baraboo on May 14th, the Dragon Arts Fair in Deforest on June 4th, the Cedarburg Strawberry Festival on June 25th and 26th, and the Summer Craftacular in Madison on July 24th. ”I am trying to line up a few more (shows), and that is where Facebook comes in. I can let folks know as soon as something new pops up. And thanks to folks on Etsy I have been able to jump in on some last minute shows. We will also welcome farm visits. Feel free to contact us if you would like to arrange one."
I asked Peter what he is doing when not creating these beautiful felted hats. “I'm taking care of the kids and animals, and working a part time job that allows me the time to create and be home for the kids.”
One interesting thing about Peter that is not related to his Etsy persona is his hobby of flying kites. However, Peter doesn't fly kites in the usual way! “While I have a large collection of specialty art kites, my focus for this hobby is specializing in flying kites indoors during performances. When you ask, “how do you fly kites without wind”, I say, “Quite well thank you.” (It’s been obvious to me in corresponding with Peter and seeing some of his posts on the Team WIST forums that he has quite a good sense of humor as well!) Here is a photo of Peter flying a kite indoors at a Christmas Eve service in Des Moines this past year:
When asked what is the best part of being an artist, Peter replies, “I spent my college career and a few years of my younger adult life in theatre. Then life and better paying jobs came along. Creating these hats and other creations has finally allowed me the ability to express myself. I have needed a creative outlet, (kite flying gigs don’t come up much) and working with the fiber has allowed me that.”
With winter still holding us in its grip in Wisconsin (wait, this is MAY isn't it???), Forest Academy Alpacas' hand felted hats might be just the thing to keep your ears warm! Here are a few offerings from their Etsy shop: