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Omaha artist's 'yarn bomb' promotes tree planting

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Check out a look at the roots of an 82-year-old tree that fell during a thunderstorm in Omaha.

The trees lining Cindy Weil’s property in the Fairacres neighborhood were “bombed’’ over Labor Day weekend.

The “explosive” was yarn — knitted into colorful afghans, crocheted into wall hangings, hooked into tapestries and now wrapped around maples and other leafy creatures.

Weil herself was the “bomber.” A fiber artist, she created the unusual outdoor installation to focus on Omaha’s need to replace trees lost in the hurricane-force wind storm earlier this summer.

“Trees are really important here and in Nebraska, thanks to Arbor Day being founded here in 1872,” she said.

One of her trees was nearly stripped in the July 10 storm. On Thursday, leaves were growing on the maple despite its lack of branches.

Weil said the tree immediately tried to “save itself” by sprouting new buds that grabbed sunshine. But an arborist said it was too far gone to come back. It will be cut down in December.

That spunky tree, along with her desire to make a statement on increasingly extreme weather, inspired Weil’s art project.

She said she thinks the Omaha wind storm — like severe hurricanes, floods, fires and heat around the world — illustrates the reality of climate change and its effects.

“This is not normal,” she said. “I thought I would yard-bomb my own trees to get a tiny platform to say that we are part of the climate-change continuum. It’s a way for the trees to yell ‘pay attention to me.’”

For the past week, Omahans have been doing just that.

“People stop all day long, park and jump out to talk to me,” Weil said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who stop are really excited. It makes them feel happy and they feel simpatico about trees.”

She created some of the pieces that decorate the trees and some came from the Immigrant Yarn Project, an effort she led and curated in 2018 and 2019.

Weil solicited fiber art from people around the country to represent generations of immigrants from around the world. More than 600 people responded. As the lead artist, she compiled the contributions to create 80 totemic sculptures that were exhibited at the Fort Point National Recreation Center in San Francisco.

More than 30,000 people visited the exhibit during its two-month run. She sold some of the work from that project and was able to donate $25,000 to the International Rescue Committee, which responds to crises such as the current situation in Afghanistan. She also sent funds to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Weil ran her own wallpaper design company before she began her fiber-art career about five years ago. She is an Omaha native and a graduate of Creighton University. She moved back here earlier this year to care for her aging parents.

She has a studio in the Mastercraft Building where, she says, she makes fiber sculptures on commission and for exhibits. And despite the immigrant and climate-change projects, her work “is not generally cause-based,” she said.

She’s clearly passionate about trees, however. She planted about 200 on her property near 68th Street and Underwood Avenue and plans to get involved with citywide tree-planting efforts.

Her sister, Kelly Klein, was in town from Minneapolis over the Labor Day weekend and helped her with the yarn bomb.

Each of the pieces is made with acrylic fiber so it will dry with no damage after rainfall, she said.

The art offers bursts of vibrant color and interesting patterns on the tree trunks. Weil said she mixed pieces she liked together without any overarching theme, although one tree is done in red, white and blue.

“This is fun, colorful yarn, meant to say ‘Let’s take care of our trees,’” she said.

Weil plans to leave the exhibit up through October, then throw all the pieces away.

“There’s a hell of a lot of bugs on these trees and I’m not bringing that back (home),” she said.

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