Mary Ratcliff’s fifth-floor art studio at downtown Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) looks like home. A selection of succulents dots the sill of a window overlooking the skyline, art magazines and maquettes adorn white shelves and the artist herself is nestled in a plush wicker pod chair. In her lap is a piece of her latest sculpture – a gradually thinning skein of yarn chained on a blue crochet hook.
“I really wanted to make the studio an inviting, welcoming space,” said Ratcliff, who was recently selected as MOCA’s third student-in-residence. “It’s because I want people to feel as if they can come inside and contribute.”
An artist whose work stretches across the First Coast from the University of North Florida (UNF) to Jacksonville Beach’s newly opened Seaside Park, Ratcliff will make her downtown debut this December. She’s been tasked with creating a new body of work during her four-month residency at MOCA Jacksonville. Straying from her typical selection of media in steel fabrication, Ratcliff is planning an installation made of crocheted chains and nets.
To make the piece a reality, she’s soliciting the help of the city’s greatest resource – its people.
Bringing people together
Ratcliff’s latest project will be constructed with various fibers, wood, casted elements and most importantly, yarn. The life-size house of yarn will symbolize gratitude, comfort, community and collaboration. It’s a concept Ratcliff has fully embraced in every aspect from her choice of medium to her open-door studio, where she welcomes museum visitors to help her crochet links in an ongoing chain for her forthcoming solo exhibition, Interwoven.
The message is rooted in the Ohio native’s rejection of the violence and divisiveness that seems to plague the world. With the goal of “abstractly linking” people through the joining of fibers, Ratcliff’s wish is for the cooperative nature of the project to bring people together.
“Seeing all the events that have unfolded in the present day is … a little terrifying, quite frankly,” said Ratcliff. “So this project is a rejection of that, a way to get to the root of those issues. It’s a personal and collaborative way to get people to connect with one another.”
The exhibition poses a challenge Ratcliff is more than ready to meet. The UNF student’s existing body of work includes a functional bike rack outside of UNF’s Fine Arts Center, two pieces framing the Thomas G. Carpenter library, an illuminated steel and fiberglass sculpture, and a solar-powered light sculpture at Seaside Park. Given the opportunity to create pieces that will soon occupy museum space rather than her previous site-specific works, Ratcliff sought materials with which she hadn’t worked before.
“I’ll be creating a new body of work and incorporating wood into most of the pieces, which is something I’ve never really worked with before,” she said. “Because I’m still considering the space, there are some design elements that I’m still working out. It’s a challenge, but I’m excited.”
Paying kindness forward
Ratcliff said anyone is welcome to participate in the project with their contribution of yarn or yarn chains regardless of whether they live in the city. Back in her hometown of Allensville, her mother and neighbors have already started yarn chains of their own. In keeping with the theme of promoting connectedness, Ratcliff believes that the further the reach, the better the project will be.
The artist’s hope is for visitors to receive the message of unity and a message of thanks.
“I want people to consider this an expression of gratitude,” Ratcliff said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate since starting at UNF, and I’ve been awarded some amazing opportunities. This is my contribution back to the city.”
For the duration of her residency, Ratcliff will hold regular studio hours, during which visitors are welcome to contribute from noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month during Downtown Art Walk. Visitors are asked to donate by dropping off yarn chains at MOCA Jacksonville’s front desk during business hours, contacting Ratcliff to arrange a pickup in the Jacksonville area or by sending the chains or yarn to MOCA Jacksonville’s address.
Ratcliff’s solo exhibition will open Dec. 10 and will run through April 2, 2017. To learn more about Ratcliff’s project, follow her progress at www.mocajacksonville.unf.edu/blog.