Photo Gallery | Needle felting workshop at CATAdirect Crafts Cooperative

GREAT BARRINGTON -- At Community Access to the Arts, everyone is welcome to sit at the table and contribute their creativity.

On Tuesday morning, 15 volunteers, staff members and people with varying disabilities sat at a table that overflowed with rainbows of wool roving, a material that was being used to create two new public fiber arts murals.

When finished, one mural will be displayed at The Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington and one will be installed at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield. The mural makers used a technique called needle felting, which was taught to them by artist and former CATA Board of Directors member Janet Reich Elsbach.


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"This project is designed to maximize the amount of interaction participants have with one another. Everybody's really doing their own thing, but they have to talk about it and how everything connects to the whole piece," Reich Elsbach said.

Anamyn Turowski, studio director for CATAdirect Crafts Cooperative, said the murals are based on building designs previously drawn or painted by CATA artists.

Building outlines were made onto a grid drawn onto a felt "canvas" by volunteers of the College Internship Program (CIP) a post-secondary support program for young adults on the autism spectrum and those with other learning disabilities.

The drawing was then cut into equal parts and distributed to volunteers and CATA artists to be "colored in" with the wool roving, which is matted into the felt canvas by hand. Participants made a poking motion with the needles to create a vibrant, soft-textured picture.

This summer's project is a new addition to the weekly arts and crafts projects offered through the CATAdirect Crafts Cooperative.

"This just brings us all together," Turowski said.

On Tuesday, Linda Russell, a former second-home owner who now lives full-time in Stockbridge, worked alongside Eric Schumann, a veteran CATA member.

"This is something I look forward to every week," said Russell, who also volunteers at CATA with her fellow members of the Literacy Network of Southern Berkshires. "For me, it's more about getting to know people. I look forward to hearing what they did that week and what they're planning to do."

Schumann said he has a similar motivation. "It's good to get out, and to see more people getting involved. We definitely have more people here now in the summer," he said.

When Schumann began coming to the program about 10 years ago, he said there were only four CATA artists involved.

Volunteer Barbara Campbell, right, and artist Susan ‘Boothie’ Booth work on a panel in the needle felting workshop as part of CATAdirect Crafts
Volunteer Barbara Campbell, right, and artist Susan ‘Boothie’ Booth work on a panel in the needle felting workshop as part of CATAdirect Crafts Cooperative craft summer workshops in Great Barrington. The cooperative is an organization where artists with disbilities and (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)

Now there are people like Jane Cole who come to the CATA studio on Railroad Street to make art. She lives at Riverbrook Residence in Stockbridge, which supports women with developmental disabilities.

In addition to learning needle felting on Tuesday, she previously learned to tap dance and paint through CATA's partnership with Riverbrook.

"It's nice," she said, "It keeps me busy through the day."

CATA Executive Director Margaret Keller said the new mural project is a continuation of the organization's mission to share the talents of its artists with disabilities in public community venues.

Currently, CATA also has an exhibit of its artists' works on display in the Crane Room of the Berkshire Museum.

CATA serves about 600 people across Berkshire County, and nearly half of them live in central and northern Berkshire, said Keller.

"Our mission is twofold, to bring arts to people with disabilities and to share that art with people in the community to expand people's definition of what disability is," she said.

If you go ...

What: "I Am a Part of Art," a Community Access to the Arts (CATA) exhibit of more than 100 pieces of art created by people with

disabilities in Berkshire County.

Where: Crane Room at the Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield

When: Exhibit runs during regular museum hours until Aug. 24. Standard museum admission applies.

Info: To learn more about the exhibit, visit berkshiremuseum.org or call (413) 443-7171. To learn more about CATA and its programs, visit communityaccesstothearts.org or call (413) 528-5485.