“Scape Coat,” one of the pieces in the series “Ritual Against Homelessness,” 1991; hand-spun, hand-knit Churro wool, leather, shell, bone; collection of the artist
“Scape Coat,” one of the pieces in the series “Ritual Against Homelessness,” 1991; hand-spun, hand-knit Churro wool, leather, shell, bone; collection of the artist

Katharine Cobey is called a fiber artist; her unique perspective has brought her to use a wide variety of materials to make knitted fiber sculptures. “A stitch has a shape, a mass, like bricks, or building blocks,” she said. Most people think of knitting for making clothes, covering a form. And some of her pieces are that, yet they are often larger than life, or abstracted “coverings” made from materials that might not be comfortable to wear, like metal or plastic.

Cobey started out a “Lit” major in college, and wrote and published poetry early on in her career. She had a serious injury in 1976, and wasn’t able to walk while recovering. She had learned how to knit as a child, and during this time began a more serious sojourn into knitting. Once she became involved and began creating knitted art, she chose to focus on this, and not on writing. The first pieces she exhibited were called “Dream Shelters,” very tall teepee-type shapes, shown at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia, where she had a working and exhibit space.

Many of Cobey’s works are nonverbal commentary on difficult social issues. I would also say, the poet did not go away, but does appear in some of her titles, like “Old Laughing,” “Mime for the Gulf War Birds,” or “Silk Snakes and Blue Skies.”

We talked of two-dimensional work that often gives the illusion of something — versus making a piece that stands alone with a voice that is not verbal, and that has a tangible presence, rather than being a facsimile or representation of something else. “It’s not a representation, it’s a reality,” she said.

“Make Shift” is a knitted plastic cape garment, made with black garbage bags trailing onto the floor, that could be worn by a tall person. 

“Portrait of Alzheimer’s” is a knitted shawl piece that begins cohesively then begins to unravel in trails.

“Empty Room,” made of red coated wire is one of the few pieces she has made using crochet.

Teaching has a place in her life, and she has taught at the Fiber College of Maine for many years and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle. She published a book called “Diagonal Knitting: A Different Slant,” in 2010; the piece on the cover is made with white plastic kitchen bags.

She is currently working on a knitting book for beginners based on the the building block idea, rather than the traditional patterns.

Her upcoming show at the Farnsworth came about when Cobey put out there that she’d like to find permanent homes for her large pieces.

The Ogunquit Museum is now home to the “Boat with Four Figures,” a piece that took seven years to make, is 30 feet long with 6-foot-tall figures, and was exhibited in the foyer of the Portland Museum of Art 20 years ago.

Katharine Cobey: A Different Voice will be on view at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland from October 4 through March 22, 2020. Cobey will be giving a talk at the Farnsworth on Saturday, October 5, at 2 p.m. Cost: $15; $10 museum members, including gallery admission.