When fiber artist Elena Bondar and her family immigrated to Raleigh from Russia when she was 9, she embraced her new home and especially its arts offerings, from youth programs at Artspace to art classes at Enloe High School and on to studying graphic design at N.C. State University.
Moving here was definitely one of the defining experiences of my life, said Bondar, who turns 26 this month. For one thing, I didnt speak any English. Now I love this area so much.
Bondar, who creates elaborate, inventive felted wool scarves and jewelry, jokes that shes the black sheep of the family. My parents are both scientists and work at GSK, but I was always drawn to fine arts, especially fiber. Some of it came from my family my grandmother made beautiful embroidery and my mom taught me to crochet.
In the summers during middle school she took classes at Artspace, and a Russian silk painter who was a friend of the family gave Bondar lessons. At Enloe, she was delighted to find supplies to make batik, a cloth-dying technique shed been introduced to at Artspace.
I couldnt believe Enloe had such a fantastic art program and teachers, she said. They really focused on technical skills and offered a lot of unique things.
Bondar majored in graphic design at State so she would have a commercially viable skill, and found herself drawn to typography, patterns and other design details. Shes been the staff graphic designer at Skin Sense day spa since 2009 and especially enjoys designing the packaging for their holistic products.
She fell in love with wool during her college years after reading fiber-focused blogs. Id seen felting before, at Artspace, by Sharron Parker, whose work is fantastic. Then on the blogs I saw all these unusual ways to use it with other techniques. I was looking for something new, and it just resonated. It was a way to bring all these divergent interests of mine together, like crochet, beadwork and embroidery.
Bondar works in wet felting, in which moist wool fibers entangle and then shrink to strengthen the fabric. To dazzling effect, she often combines wool with recycled or vintage fabric through a process called nuno felting, in which fibers attach to fabrics, creating a unique texture.
Everything Bondar learned was through experimentation.
I knew that it involved soap and water, and I used just one color chartreuse just to see what it was capable of. What I called the Sweet Pea scarf is one of my earliest pieces. Later I learned how to layer different colors and expand my fibers.
She posted the scarf, which resembles a pea pod and even includes a few felted peas, on the online craft website Etsy in 2008 and it took off. She now sells scarves and jewelry through galleries as well.
The pea adornments inspired her pendants, which led to a wider collection of felted jewelry, including necklaces and rings. Some are simple and subdued while others are large and showy.
More fiber lovers discovered Bondar through the 2010 book 1,000 Artisan Textiles: Contemporary Fiber Art, Quilts, and Wearables, which included photos of three of her scarves and a pendant.
One of the artists fans is Mary Kay Kennedy, who manages Mahler Fine Arts in Raleigh and oversees business at the companion store The Collectors Gallery, which has carried Bondars work for almost two years.
Elena has some really interesting high-end wearable art pieces and some more consumer-friendly jewelry, said Kennedy, who has purchased several statement-making pieces, including earrings and a cocktail ring. Every time I wear them I get compliments. Her work is amazing.
Bondar, who works from her home, challenges herself by releasing a new themed collection every six months or so.
Recent installments have included a grouping inspired by Russian folk patterns and others from nature. Her popular crimson poppy ring was a nod to the Russian lacquer art.
I think my next collection will explore Mexican embroidery and the art of Frida Kahlo bold colors and large necklaces, more embroidery and less beadwork, she said. When people come to my booths at shows, I try to keep it fresh.
Bondar has several upcoming shows, include Apex Peak Fest Saturday and Handmade Market next week. But the one closest to her heart is Artsplosure later this month. At her first showing there, last year, she won a ribbon for an overall honorable mention.
I used to go to that show as an art lover, and when I was at Enloe some of my batik was in the student show. Then last year, when I was accepted as a participating artist for the first time, both my elementary school art teacher and my high school art teacher stopped by. It felt like coming full circle.
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