When we think of fiber art, we typically think of things like knitting a blanket or sewing a quilt. But what about painting with fiber? Bonnie Gay Hedstrom is a multimedia artist from Cook County whose work showcases her love for color and design, including her felted paintings.
Hedstrom is a self-described lifelong artist, with an interest in drawing that budded before she put pencil to paper. “I used to follow my mother around asking her to draw this or that,” Hedstrom said. “Finally she said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ and it turned out I could. After that I spent a lot of my childhood drawing.”
That interest led her to the University of Minnesota, where she studied Related Art (interior design) and Studio Art. It was while she was working as an interior designer that her journey to Cook County began: She met Howard Hedstrom, who was from Grand Marais. They married and lived on the Iron Range before moving to Cook County in 1976, where they’ve been ever since.
Amidst busy years of raising a family and building a life in Cook County, time for creating wasn’t always easy to come by. But Hedstrom’s love for art remained strong, and now that life is less busy, she’s not only returned to drawing and painting, but is also exploring new mediums.
In particular, Hedstrom has immersed herself in needle felting, and creating what she calls “felted paintings” out of fiber. It was an interest that began in 2010 when she took a needle felting workshop in Grand Marais led by Karen Lohn, author of the book Peace Fibres.
“I wasn’t a fiber artist, and I had never felt before,” Hedstrom said. “But as I was working with felt, all of a sudden I thought, ‘I wonder if I can make this into something that looks like a painting?’”
The answer to that question was yes. Bringing her background as a painter, Hedstrom dove headfirst into needle felting, developing her own signature style, or what she calls “felting in the painterly way.” The process she uses is dry felting, where a felter stabs wool with felting needles; the barbs on the felting needles tangle and connect the wool fibers together. In Hedstrom’s case, she layers and blends the wool colors together to create an image that resembles a painting. She draws inspiration in part from the vibrant colors found in nature, including the many hues of Lake Superior and its sunrises and sunsets.
“I’m drawn to color and design and use a lot of color in my work,” she said. “I enjoy working with mixed media and collage, and I also like mosaic, which is working with pieces of color. There’s a lot of things I like to make.”
Hedstrom’s family has been a part of her artwork in many ways. Once one of her felted paintings is done, her husband Howard, a woodworker, mats the paintings and sometimes builds a custom frame for them. She’s taught felting to all five of her granddaughters, and a large mosaic of hers is on display in the Grand Marais Family Dentistry, which is owned by her daughter-in-law Alyssa Hedstrom.
As an artist, Bonnie Gay Hedstrom continues to be an active member of the community. Her work can be found in several galleries and shops around Grand Marais, including the Johnson Heritage Post, Betsy Bowen Gallery, and Joy & Company. She also regularly participates in art events and shows. Her work was part of the 2023 North Shore Artist League show at the Johnson Heritage Post; she’ll also be a part of the league’s show at the White Bear Center for the Arts this fall, and the Spirit of the Wilderness show in November and December 2024.
“It’s such a supportive community here in Cook County,” she said. “I’m in the North Shore Artists League and the Northwoods Fiber Guild and have friends who are artists—we’re really lucky in that way.”