World-Renowned Felt Artist Janice Arnold Creates ‘Homage to Water’ in Lacey


With an unwavering dedication to her craft and a boundless well of curiosity, Janice Arnold has stitched her name as a pioneer in the world of textile art. She has been at the forefront of the textile art world for over four decades, felting immersive installations that revolve around refined handmade textiles. Thurston County residents can experience one of Janice Arnold’s works at the Washington Ecology Department in Lacey.

Her journey through the world of ethnographic textiles takes her on faraway travels to discover ancient textile traditions within their cultural contexts, allowing her to gain insights from indigenous communities. She has developed a profound respect for their wisdom and the spirit embodied in their art due to these expeditions. These influences, woven with her ability to listen to the voice of the fibers, allow her to guide the material to courageous places on a scale previously unexplored.

“I strive to have my textiles evoke curiosity and a feeling of wonder that brings a person into the art. Some people remark that my textiles are so organic they appear as if they were grown rather than human-made.”

Janice Arnold’s Path to Textile Artistry

Janice’s journey into the world of textile artistry can be traced back to her early childhood as the youngest of four. She is a cartographer’s daughter and actively participated in her father’s map-making endeavors, accompanying the family on weekend trips to measure new roads for his maps. She credits her focus and patience to these outings. Before fabric even came into the picture, she was developing the skills her work requires today, yet it wasn’t long before a thread found its way into her palms. “I learned how to sew by altering my sibling’s clothes to fit me,” she says. “I grew up with tools, not toys.”

Janice Arnold and assistant Claudia Cornew work on laying up the wool fiber for these featherweight panels. Photo courtesy: Janice Arnold

“I love moss. All the qualities of the earth inspire me!” adds Janice. “We’re constantly reminded of the forces of nature in the northwest.” For her, textiles were not merely fabrics but living art forms that covered landscapes in textures and colors. This revelation would serve as the catalyst for her extraordinary journey as a textile visionary. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at The Evergreen State College and then went on to work at Nordstrom in the corporate visual merchandising department. Here, she designed and created her first felt installation in 1999, consisting of 200 8-foot-tall sculptures depicting exaggerated forms of clothing that appeared in store windows in more than 30 cities nationwide that year. She is currently working out of the decommissioned Grand Mound School which was recently added to the Historic Register of Thurston County. The schoolhouse and two-acre schoolyard grant her the space needed to work on the grand scale she is known for.

Janice Arnold rolls wool into felt for a thick felted slab outside her studio. Photo courtesy: Janice Arnold

“We are tactile beings and have an innate desire for organic textures. I have made it my life to demonstrate the versatility of wool fiber and show how it can be used for more than one purpose.”

Honoring Traditional Felting with ‘Homage to Water’ in the City of Lacey

One of Janice’s latest installations, “Homage to Water,” resides in the Washington Ecology Department in Lacey. Expanding over 438 feet through rocks within the building, this felt river is comprised of upcycled coffee bags from Olympia Coffee Roasters and Dancing Goats, scraps of metallic organza, woven and unraveled threads of textiles, reclaimed wool fibers from past installations, and small amounts of new wool. Using only water, wool, and a combination of pressure and agitation, Janice has collaborated with the materials to create this awe-inspiring tribute to the essential force of water.

a river made of felt winds between real rocks on a table
This is a piece of the ‘Homage to Water’ installation at the Washington Department of Ecology building in Lacey, shot from the second floor. Photo credit: Rose Hayes

“My goal with this installation was to emulate water, but not in a literal sense. Looking down from the upper floors it offers a new perspective for the viewer – to feeling small. Nature is more powerful than we are, we need to live in balance with it.” Water is critical to traditional felt making, and Janice strived to honor this practice through the delight and joy this installation brings to visitors and employees at the building alike.

“Homage to Water” has been in the works since 2009 when the Department of Ecology Art Committee Chair, Jeffree Stewart, invited Janice to meet and discuss the possibility of an exhibition to showcase her art. During that time, Janice’s Palace Yurt installation received international acclaim as the centerpiece of the exhibition Fashioning FELT, which hung for six months at the Smithsonian National Design Museum in New York City. All the while, the felt river continued to run through her mind and was finally completed in June 2023, where it will continue to flow until the end of September.

Janice Arnold lays silk fibers onto wool sections midway through the felting process, using linen burlap, wool fiber, and silk fiber felted together. Photo courtesy: Janice Arnold

Honoring Wool from Thurston County to Central Asia

Janice Arnold’s work has found a permanent home in the esteemed collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, as well as various public and private collections worldwide. The recognition of her exceptional talent is evident in the numerous grants and awards she has received. Currently, Janice is engaged in metamorphic projects co-sponsored by the Smithsonian, Union of Kazakh Artisans, Chevron, and the U.S. Embassy. These ventures encompass captivating in-person presentations and installations in Kazakhstan and Washington D.C., along with engaging community events in Olympia.

Large felted curtain hanging down from the ceiling on either side of a hallway, starts out white then fades to many colors.
This is a site-specific temporary installation at Grand Rapids Art Museum, Mich., hanging at 34 feet. Photo credit: Janice Arnold

“I call felt our first fabric,” Janice shares. “My mission has been to explore the boundaries of felt. Through this exploration, I’ve discovered how to create beautiful and exquisite fabrics from the humble fibers of wool. I credit my ability to work in this unusual art form by learning the language of wool. This allows me to listen to the voice of the fiber and honor the traditional nomadic process with every piece I make.”

Her artistic legacy stretches far beyond her mesmerizing creations. It encompasses a lifelong commitment to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of textiles while pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. Janice Arnold’s work serves as a testament to the power of art in bridging gaps between different cultures and communities, fostering dialogue and empathy from Thurston County all the way to Central Asia.

Tours of “Homage to Water” are available by calling the Department of Ecology.

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