Hollis woman crafts wild animals from felt

HOLLIS – Walk into the Hollis home of Lynda Petropulos and you will find yourself in the company of lions, tigers, monkeys and giraffes.

No, she and her husband, Jim, are not big game hunters or exotic pet owners, but rather she is an artist who sculpts wild animals in felt. She is a juried member of the Hollis Arts Society and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, and will exhibit her works in Nashua and Boston in May.

The Hollis Arts Society will present a free show at the Huntington at Nashua from May 2-3, and Petropulos is among those artists whose work will be featured.

She has also been invited to exhibit at the May 18 RAW: Boston show, part of a worldwide organization that showcases art, fashion, music, film and performing art.

Knitting led to felting

She is the typically the only fiber artist participating in a show. Her craft is unique and has been years in the making.

“My grandmother taught me to knit when I was little,” said Petropulos, who works as a paraprofessional at Hollis Primary School. “I got bored with the patterns so I started making my own things. Then I wanted to make my own yarn, so I raised Angora rabbits and spun their fur into yarn. I read online about felting and tried that.”

She began with wet felting, creating scarves and mittens that she sold at Junz Boutique on Main Street in Nashua. Several years ago, the former dental hygienist discovered needle felting, and has been hooked ever since. Since angora wool doesn’t work with needle felting, she switched to sheep wool and no longer raises rabbits.

“I card it, dye it and get it ready myself,” she said. “I have gotten wool from local sheep, but as I do more detail, I’ve found a specific Finnish wool I like and I buy the raw wool on eBay.”

Animal lover

Petropulos grew up on a farm in Paxton, Mass., surrounded by animals. She has never been on a safari (it’s on her bucket list) but said she has always been interested in animals. She studied anatomy and physiology in college, which gave her an awareness of muscles and expressions. She downloads pictures of animals to work from.

“I get a profile, face on and as many different angles as I can,” she explained.

She started sculpting animals after her son left for college. When she visited for Parents Weekend, she met his roommate’s father, a sculptor who had just written a book, “Anatomy of a Sculptor.”

That caught her attention, and a new line of projects was begun. She began sculpting friends’ pets and people, including Mr. and Mrs. Claus, but grew passionate about large, wild animals.

From raw wool to finished sculpture

Petropulos described her production process from start to finish. After the raw wool is washed, dried and carded, she dyes it using powder dyes dissolved in boiling water. The dyed wool then has to be dried and carded again before it can be felted.

“As far as assembling, they are made like a snowball,” she explained. “I roll a piece of wool till it gets to the size I need. By poking it with a barbed needle, it pushes the fiber from the outside to the inside, the fibers tangle up, and this is felting. Kind of like working with clay – it’s made from the inside out. No stitching or gluing.”

She doesn’t have a separate studio, but keeps her work in progress on the dining room table so she can work on it whenever she has a few minutes. She estimates each large sculpture takes about 100 hours to create from start to finish.

Her first large wild animal sculpture was an elephant head. Including tusks and floppy ears, it measures about four feet wide. It proudly hangs in a staircase in her home, and she has no intention of selling it.

A colorful monkey swings from a curtain rod in her dining room – that sculpture won Best Fiber Art and People’s Choice award in the 26th Member’s Juried Exhibition of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen earlier this year. Another monkey mischievously peers down from atop her china cabinet, with a giraffe nearby. A very lifelike tiger head graces a table top – Petropulos calls him Intensity, and it’s a fitting name. She also mentioned a black bear head she sculpted and mounted, and said she was flattered someone thought it was actually the work of a taxidermist.

A giraffe head and tiger head have been on display at the League of Craftsmen shop in Concord. A zebra head she created resides in the children’s room of the Townsend Library, in Massachusetts while other pieces have been purchased by individuals as decorations.

Her most recent creations have been of lions with windswept manes, which utilize a wire frame to support the flowing mane. Additional photos of her work can be found on her website, www.lp

Upcoming shows

Petropulos said she is grateful to the Hollis Arts Society for its camaraderie, and because it encouraged her to do more juried shows. In addition to the Huntington show in May, she will exhibit at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s annual fair in Sunapee this summer. She will display in the lodge so she doesn’t have to man a booth daily.

She is also excited about her first exhibit in Boston, where she will display a trio of her windswept lions on a black background, along with several other pieces.

Raw Artists is an international organization that showcases artists. She read about the event online, submitted an application and was invited to participate in Boston, and possibly in a show in Manhattan.

“The woman called me and said she has looked at over 800 artists and had never seen anything like this before,” she said. “It’s like a party instead of a show. It’s held at a nightclub, and there are live bands and a fashion show.”