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Alaska knitter 'yarn-bombs' sign poles around town for personal beautification project

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A knitting enthusiast in southeast Alaska is yarn-bombing her seaside community by wrapping public poles in knitted casings, sort of like a small-town Christo let loose with doilies.

Fran Hartman has just begun her personal beautification effort in picturesque Sitka. She's decorated four poles and plans at least eight more, with some knitted contributions coming from fellow knitters she's met around the world. The Sitka idea is one she's thought about for months before launching it earlier this month.

"You can only knit and crochet for so many people in your life," Hartman said. "I needed to keep my creative juices flowing."

She doesn't have the city's official permission, but her work is drawing positive reactions. Hartman, 61, is a former teacher who retired from the Everett School District in Washington state before sailing around the world with her husband, then settling in Alaska several years ago. She lives on a sailboat with her husband in Sitka, a town and borough with a regional population of about 9,000 located 90 miles south of Juneau.

A priest walked by one of Hartman's installations the other day and heard her saying she was having fun but didn't want to get caught and thrown into jail. Hartman said the priest told her no worries, he would give her absolution. Before she even wrapped her first poll, she asked a local lawyer what kind of trouble she could get into, and he offered to defend her for free because she wasn't defacing property, there were no safety issues, and the yarn sleeves could easily be removed.

In fact, someone stole a stop sign wrapping that featured three crocheted skulls framed in red. That installation represented a safety message, Hartman said.

Even the mayor, Mim McConnell, liked a Facebook post about Hartman's work. To her, it's fun, and it's fine as far as she's concerned. Nothing is being defaced, and it highlights a town with numerous artists.

"This is just another way of expressing yourself," McConnell said.

Yarn-bombing is a form of street art that has occurred in cities across the country in recent years, with knitters crafting cozies for everything from trees to vehicles. Last summer, more than 1,800 knitters covered Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Bridge in 3,000 feet of colorful yarn.

Local painter Lisa Teas is among 22 artists with the Island Artists Gallery co-op. One of the dolled-up Sitka signposts is near the Lincoln Street gallery, and Teas remembers Hartman borrowing a chair to install her piece on the pole. Teas said she likes the new life the project adds and the splashes of colour. She's heard other residents call the additions exciting, asking who's been doing it.

"It's like this local mystery of who's behind the crochet," she said.

City Administrator Mark Gorman said he will not be alerting police to find out who is decorating public signs. Personally, he likes people who do this kind of stuff. But he adds that a formal request to conduct such a project would prompt a careful consideration by the city.

"Better to ask forgiveness than permission," Gorman said of the yarn mission.

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Follow Rachel D'Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

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