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Riverton artist uses wool as a felt sculpting medium

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Riverton ­— Wyoming wool has been well known for keeping generations warm under blankets and clothing. Now a Riverton woman has taken the practical fiber and transformed it into fine art.
    Artist Deb Podgorski started needle felting with wool when Bobbie Burk taught a class on the craft. Podgorski found a friend in Burk and also discovered a love for turning wool into art.
    A craft that evolved from the Industrial Revolution, wool needle felting is craft that anyone can pick up, says Burk. However, she says Podgorski took needle felting to a fine art. The technique works by applying a barbed needle to wool and felt. Wool fibers have natural barbs, says Burk, and the needle helps to combine the fibers and attach to the felt.
    Podgorski starts with synthetic felt and uses different textured wools and varying sizes of needles to layer the wool. The wool comes from local growers including Burk’s small flock. Podgorski uses both natural-colored wool and dyed wool and her wool of choice is from the Navajo-Churro sheep breed; the same breed the Navajo tribe uses for their well-known blankets.
    “It comes naturally in all of these beautiful colors; from white to the shades of brown and all shades of gray,” says Podgorski.
    She has developed a love for the art form and even struggles through the pain of arthritis to continue her art. Podgorski’s uses her needle-felting talents to create everything from “paintings” with wool to wool statues and even chessboards complete with chess pieces.
    The wool has a lifelike quality to it that Podgorski says gives each completed piece its own personality.
    “A whole group of people can make the same thing and they will each turn out differently,” says Podgorski.
    Burk agreed saying that wool needle felting is something anyone can do.
    “Even if they’ve never been into crafts or any kind of art training, they’ll sit down and do it perfectly and each one turns out completely different,” says Burk.
    The lifelike characteristics of wool seem to draw viewers into the work, says Podgorski.
    “I had a painting of a sheep in a show last year and when people would look at it, they would be drawn in,” says Podgorski. “It’s natural to want to touch it. A [traditional] painting doesn’t draw you in, but this does.”
    From childhood, Podgorski has worked with several types of art including painting and clay sculpture. Her background in art has transferred into her needle felting and wool has become her true love.
    “Clay has a stiffness, I like the wool better because it comes alive,” says Podgorski.
    Needle felting lends itself to whatever background the crafter has and begins to grow with them, says Burk. The popularity of the craft continues to grow and Burk says anyone interested in learning can find information online, from local wool growers and at stores selling wool. She encourages crafters to buy from local wool growers and says needle felting is so easy to pick up and fun to do.
    Podgorski’s needle felting days won’t end anytime soon. She is currently commissioned for 10 pieces of art and is available to do more. But whether she is creating wool masterpieces for others or for her own enjoyment, Podgorksi’s work will continue to come to life with the help of wool.
    Liz LeSatz is the Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be e-mailed at

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