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Firefly Handmade artist Nina Shope crafts intricate folk art-inspired fabric pieces

From needlepoints to paper garland, her work adds intrigue to interiors

Anatomical heart pendants made by fabric artist Nina Shope, who runs Snapdragon: Unique Fiber and Folk Art. Shope is one of the artists featured in Firefly Handmade’s virtual holiday market. (Nina Shope/ Courtesy photo)
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In years prior to the pandemic, Firefly Handmade hosted seasonal markets featuring over 100 eclectic artisans throughout Colorado. From setting up shop at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and Chautauqua’s Community House to later expanding and moving to the Twenty Ninth Street retail center, Pearl Street Mall and South Gaylord Street in Denver’s Wash Park, the long-running fest has established itself as a favorite among creatives and treasure seekers.

Needlepoint pieces by Nina Shope of Snapdragon: Unique Fiber and Folk Art. Shope is one of the artists participating in Firefly Handmade’s virtual holiday market. (Daniel James/ Courtesy photo)

With restrictions brought on by COVID, Firefly’s usual multi-day, in-person holiday market has moved from its scheduled venue of Balch Fieldhouse, near University of Colorado’s Folsom Field, to the web. Although now virtual, it still features wide-ranging art pieces sure to appeal to a multitude of tastes. From gorgeous jewelry constructed from quartz by Lisa Jay to Rootfoot’s organic plant fragrances, the next can’t-live-without piece is just a click away.

On the community’s Facebook page, new artists are consistently spotlighted and promotion codes given to obtain select items at a discounted price.

Denver-based creative Nina Shope, the artist behind Snapdragon: Unique Fiber and Folk Art, is one of the artisans participating in Firefly’s virtual platform.

Her captivating needlepoints go way beyond the simple flower patterns of yesteryear and manage to spark plenty of intrigue and conversation.

From anatomical heart pendants, complete with sequins, to portraiture that captures the likeness of Mexican art icon Frida Kahlo, Shope’s designs delight the eye and liven up wall spaces with a certain rebellious whimsy.

An eye pendant by Nina Shope of Snapdragon: Unique Fiber and Folk Art. (Nina Shope/ Courtesy photo)

Hers is a world of handmade paper bird garlands, golden-haired mermaids and talismanic eyes.

We caught up with the steady-handed creator to find out what sparked her interest in the art form, her love and appreciation for Firefly Handmade and where in Boulder you can potentially see her pieces next.

Daily Camera: Love the intricacy and bold colors within your work. What sparked your interest in needlepoint and did you ever expect the art form to become such a significant part of your creative life?

Nina Shope: As a child, I would visit museums and want to recreate every artwork I saw displayed within them — especially the textile and fiber art. I had an aunt who bought me DIY kits, so I started doing cross-stitch and beadwork at a fairly young age. I kept at it on and off during the years, but I wasn’t really moved by the end products: loom-woven beaded jewelry and pre-printed cross-stitch designs. When I finally realized that I could use my skills to make objects inspired by my own artistic muses and my passion for folk art, that changed everything. Choosing vibrant color combinations, adding the shimmer of beads and sequins and combining needlework techniques is truly enlivening to me. I never expected to become a fiber artist, because I always thought of myself as a writer, but the tangible thrill of creating something beautiful with my hands has added so much to my life.

Frida Kahlo art dolls by Nina Shope. (Nina Shope/ Courtesy photo)

DC: I imagine this year has been particularly hard on you considering so many art shows were canceled. How did you get involved with Firefly Handmade and would you say the brand has helped expose you to a new and larger audience?

NS: This year has been extremely hard for the artist and vendor community. Many of us depend on markets to sell our work. Some vendors braved the markets that were held later in the year, but I promised myself and my sister that I wouldn’t take those risks. So I had to brace myself for perhaps not selling any artwork this year. Luckily, my friends and community have been supportive despite their own struggles. I’ve held several online sales that worked out well. Firefly was the very first art market that accepted me when I moved to Colorado from New York in 2016. I was so thrilled and I immediately found Firefly buyers to be kindred spirits. I know that Firefly helped me get established in the Boulder scene and I’ve participated ever since in their holiday shows. I’m so grateful for the way they have supported handmade artisans, promoted our work and stepped up in the community.

DC: It’s clear you obviously have a love for Frida Kahlo. What is it about her work you find so moving?

NS: Ever since childhood, I have gravitated toward the mythical, the archetypal, the strange. My sister introduced me to the work of Frida Kahlo when I was in high school and I was immediately moved by Frida’s ability to openly and boldly depict her wounds, emotions and suffering, while turning them into something beautiful, even talismanic. I am drawn to folk art for the same reason: I love how different traditions turn darker and more grotesque subjects — death, skeletons, anatomical art, etc.— into something vibrant, joyful and beautiful while still keeping the root of that darkness intact. That sort of imagery has always helped me feel emotionally and artistically connected and creatively inspired.

DC: What’s your process like? Do you often sketch out a design beforehand or simply go right in and let the needlepoint evolve organically?

NS: For any of my embroidered hoop art, I first draw the outline of the design and transfer it to the fabric. That isn’t possible with the art dolls, so I have to stitch them free-hand which can be very challenging, especially when it comes to facial features. I make all the other design decisions — stitches, materials, colors, as I go. Often, I can’t make my work as elaborate as I would like because of the time involved. But, I am supposed to have a group show hosted by the Madelife Gallery in Boulder this spring or summer. I have been making very large, detailed and elaborate pieces for that, which has been thrilling.

Bird garland by artist Nina Shope. (Nina Shope/ Courtesy photo)

DC: I adore the anatomical heart embroidery pieces. What inspired this unique work?

NS: Our bodies are both fearsome and fascinating, and I have long carried Mexican Milagros — small charms to protect certain body parts). I have several family members who have lost body parts to cancer and I suffer from panic attacks that make me overly attentive to my own body’s rhythms. For some reason, I’m driven to find beauty in things that simultaneously frighten me. I feel the need to tap into the raw, emotional resonance of that sort of subject matter, but I also want to create objects that offer their owners a sense of protection or blessing. I almost think of my anatomical art as needlework milagros.

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