Looped in creatively Fibre artist ties in to 3D string-art technique popularized in the 1960s and ’70s

Great gift-giving minds think alike.

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Great gift-giving minds think alike.

Madison Danuška is the owner of Tugging at Your Art Strings, a throwback venture specializing in string art, also called nail-and-thread art, a decorative, three-dimensional craft that first gained popularity in the 1960s and ’70s.

A while back, a woman contacted Danuška, to ask if she could fabricate a likeness of her boyfriend’s electric guitar, right down to the pickups and volume controls. Soon thereafter, she heard from a fellow who hoped to get a piece resembling a succulent plant, the sort his girlfriend grew.

“He requested certain colours and details, and I thought it was sweet that he knew her so well,” Danuška says, seated in a bustling coffee shop five minutes from her Osborne Village apartment.

Danuška, who offers original designs on top of accepting custom orders, spent a couple of weeks working on both commissions simultaneously. At some point, while she was going back-and-forth with the individual parties, she began to put two and two together.

“I realized they were in fact a couple that had stopped by my booth at a previous market,” she says with a chuckle. “It was a complete surprise when they traded gifts, as they had no idea what the other was up to. It was such a wonderful coincidence, and I was very touched that they both thought of me.”

Ha, she wishes, says Danuška, 29, when asked if was an A-student in art class.

“I loved (art), I was fascinated by it, but I just couldn’t do it,” says the self-described army brat, who, before relocating to Winnipeg with her parents and two older siblings ahead of Grade 12, split the majority of her childhood between Greenwood, N.S. and London, Ont.

Danuška chose to remain in the city, when the rest of her family ultimately packed their bags and moved elsewhere. By age 20, she noticed the majority of the people she was hanging around with were artistically inclined, whether it was through music, theatre or visual arts. Following their lead, she began to forge her own path, by dabbling in photography.

Then came the spring morning six years ago, when she was tidying her apartment and eyed a shelving unit that had seen better days.

Danuška can’t recall precisely why she decided to try her hand at string art, a painstaking process that involves weaving fibre back and forth, and under and around a pre-set pattern of hammered nails, to create a visual image. Sure, she had spotted examples at secondhand stores on occasion, mostly portrayals of sailboats or some such thing. But that style of art was never foremost in her thoughts, she says.

Maybe it was because her father likes to call her “MacGyver,” for the fictional action character known for his resourcefulness. Or maybe it was because she had a jar of push pins and a spool of thread sitting around, collecting dust. Whatever the reason, one morning she fetched a shelf from the soon-to-be-discarded unit, and, using it as a backdrop, started tap-tap-tapping.

“The first one I made, a guitar, was just on a whim,” she says, scrolling through her phone to find an image of her “ground zero” project. “If I remember correctly, I thought the strings of a guitar would lend themselves well to string art, and they did.”

She enjoyed the process immensely and, a few weeks later, she made two more pieces. The first was a treble clef for her musician boyfriend. The other, for one of her sisters, mimicked the animated sequence from The Partridge Family television show, of a mother bird leading a set of brightly coloured chicks across the screen. (At this point, we would like to apologize to anybody whose ears we may have offended, when, unannounced, we broke into a full-throated rendition of the Partridge Family’s tune I Think I Love You.)

“My sister’s crazy about anything from the ’60s and ’70s, so I did five birds out of string, two for her and her husband, and three for their kids,” says Danuška.

As others clued into what she was up to, she began fielding requests for everything from string-art renditions of ballet slippers, Inukshuks, sports team logos… even the Esplanade Riel and Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

She was initially hesitant to accept any sort of compensation. But when people continued to implore her that she was too talented to be giving things away for free, and how she should consider turning her pastime into a business, she elected to heed their advice.

Tugging at Your Art Strings, a tag she settled on because she’s never met a pun she doesn’t enjoy, made its official debut in July 2019, at an outdoor market in the Exchange District. She smiles, recalling the comments of a passer-by when he noticed her stringed take on the Confusion Corner directional sign, the one with arrows pointing all willy-nilly.

“He wasn’t from Winnipeg and he kept saying what a powerful image it was, how it perfectly represented how befuddling life can be,” she says. “I wanted to say, ‘Hey, don’t put too much thought into it, it’s just a street sign,’ only I didn’t want to spoil his day.”

Michelle Grade is the owner of Miss Chelle’s Esthetics, a home-based business in the West End. Her second-floor studio shares a hallway with other rooms in her abode, and for that reason, she needed to get a sign made, to let her clients know they were knocking on the correct door.

“I was looking for something other than my logo, but I also wanted it to be unique,” Grade says. “I came across Madison on Instagram, and even though I didn’t have much familiarity with string art, I reached out to her, to ask a few questions.”

Hibiscus plants are one of her “things,” Grade says, so she sent Danuška a photograph, suggesting that as a possibility.

She was “blown away” a month later, when Danuška dropped off a five-petaled flower fashioned out of scarlet-red string, that had been looped around close to 150 finishing nails, the lot of which was set against a white background.

“It’s interesting how people react to it,” Grade says of the placard, which measures about a foot high, and a foot wide. “They usually go, ‘Oh, that’s a nice picture,’ to which I respond, ‘You should inspect it more closely.’ When they realize it’s made with string, they’re like, ‘Are you kidding?’”

Like most artists, Danuška, who laughingly says she’s on first-name basis with staff at her neighbourhood Michaels store, has picked up a few tricks along the way. She freely admits that some of her early attempts pale in comparison to her output, nowadays. (Ask her about the pair of Greek theatre face masks she made four summers ago that sported openings for one eye instead of two, “like Cyclops,” after she misjudged where to begin nailing.)

She does work five days a week outside of Tugging at Your Art Strings, mind you, so finding the time to fill orders for, say, the co-ordinates of a cherished family cottage, a loved one’s initials or an outline of somebody’s home province can be challenging. OK, maybe not if it’s Saskatchewan.

“I have a little studio area in my apartment but the thing is, once I get started, I enjoy it so much that I tend to get lost. Some nights I’ll look up at the clock and go, ‘Really? It’s that late?’”

By the way, if you live down the hall from Danuška, know that it isn’t her making a racket in the wee hours of the morning.

“Things can get a little noisy, during the hammering stage,” she says, mentioning that besides her website, selections of her work are also available at the Locals, in the Outlet Collection mall, on Sterling Lyon Parkway.

“A while back, there was a notice going around our building about some loud pounding. I was worried it was me, and called the office, to ask a few questions. When they told me one of the residents had bought a drum kit, I was all, ‘Whew, good to hear.’”

For more information, go to tuggingatyourartstrings.com.


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David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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