Some of Naperville’s high-profile figures are swathed in an extra layer of warmth this winter.
In case it has escaped your notice, public art pieces all over town have been bundled up against the elements with hand-knitted scarves. Attached to each is a scrap of muslin bearing the stamped image of a mermaid, and the cryptic words “Merm Stitches.”
From regal to whimsical, the statues were hit as part of a trend being manifested around the globe under various terms: yarnbombing, guerilla knitting, yarnstorming, yarn graffiti.
Seventeen Century Walk sculptures in all had the wool pulled over their necks — several with multiple mufflers, one for each figure. It was a systematic blitz executed in the late afternoon a few weeks ago, in the midst of snowfall that added nearly six more inches of flakes to the depth on the ground — and layered logistic challenges onto the task. And for weeks, the knitter’s identity was not widely known.
Century Walk Corp. President Brand Bobosky said he didn’t know who was doing it, but he doesn’t mind the spate of neck-wrappings — though he finds some of the terminology troubling. Any phrase containing the word “graffiti” can make a public-art patron’s blood run cold.
“It’s a national phenomenon. They have these yarnbombers all over the place. They do trees,” Bobosky said. “I find it kind of neat, in terms of calling attention to our public art that’s there 24/7.”
The phenomenon’s local manifestation isn’t brand new, he noted. The piece on the northwest corner of the Nichols Library parking lot has been bundled before.
Bobosky said the Cat in the Hat sculpture outside the Nichols Library was yarnbombed previously, swaddled in a natty striped body wrap with coordinating band encircling its iconic stovepipe hat, as was the Green Eggs and Ham piece at the 95th Street branch. Their scarves, however, are new.
“This is not the first time around, but we all think it’s great,” Bobosky said. “It’s kind of like well-wishing, and dressing them up.”
As it turns out, paying homage to the city’s public art was the whole point of the yarnbombing endeavor. Still, the source of the scarves appeared unknown to people around town. Aided by Facebook, The Sun caught up with her last week.
“I love Naperville,” said Kelly Borsberry, a travel nurse certified in addictions treatment, who lives near Peoria but comes to town to work at Linden Oaks Hospital on a contractual basis. “I had seen the statues and I thought, gee, where did that come from?
“We all tend to pass by these things without really knowing much about them.”
The more she learned about them, the more she wanted to spotlight the pieces — as many as possible, anyway.
“If I did just one, it would call attention to the sculpture,” said Borsberry, 46. “But if I did all of them, it would call attention to the Century Walk.”
She wound up adorning 17 of the collection of 41 pieces with a total of three dozen scarves — but she would have done more if she could have.
Planning her route carefully to maximize her efficiency, Borsberry set out at 5 p.m. Feb. 4, hauling a metal ladder from one site to the next. The whole task took about four hours, and passersby gave her no trouble as she worked.
That came as a surprise outside Naperville Central High School, where Borsberry wrapped the Be The Best That You Can Be sculpture, a tribute to Central alum William “Billy” Scherer, with a scarf as people came and went to an event under way that evening.
“I must have had 40 to 50 people pass me as I was doing this, and only one woman asked me, ‘What are you doing?’” she said, laughing.
There were snow-related complications, including the little dog that is part of the Horse Market Days sculpture at Naper Settlement. With more than two feet of snow on the ground, Borsberry said the pooch couldn’t be found.
And in Burlington Square Park, the Spirit of the American Doughboy and the Spirit of the American Navy sculptures were out of her reach, due to the deep snow. The five figures that comprise the Veterans’ Valor sculpture in Central Park got their scarves, however.
“All the military were supposed to have those bright-red scarves, to honor their sacrifice,” Borsberry said.
Wrapping it forward
Her husband, an attorney, was mildly concerned about the possibility that Borsberry might get into trouble for tampering with the community statues, but she had a hunch that the town would tolerate a little accessorizing whimsy. And it has.
She hopes that when spring comes and winter’s woolens are being stored away, the scarves will be taken down and passed along to people who can use them, perhaps through one of the city’s social service agencies. If no one does that, she said she’ll make one more pass with her trusty metal ladder and take them all down, and donate them herself.
An artisan who has worked with needles, yarn and thread for many years, Borsberry is looking ahead to her next project. She said it will be larger than the Naperville undertaking, which was her “trial run,” and closer to home. Beyond that, she’s not saying. But she is glad to have taken on the Century Walk project.
“I had put it on my bucket list, to do this for something fun,” she said.
She’s pleased that her first foray into guerilla knitting has caught people’s attention.
“We’ve got to remember to look at what’s around us.”