By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
In the craggy moments just after dawn Saturday, when not much was moving except bleary-eyed bakers and the innards of a nearby traffic light, three women sat on a bench outside Fair Haven’s River Road Books, each with a somewhat mischievous smirk on her face, knitting.
The women two from Fair Haven and the third from Middletown were in the beginning stages of what was a well-planned sort of guerrilla art project, a stealth mission that toed a fine line between public art and vandalism. In ever-growing circles across the nation and beyond, it’s called yarn bombing, a paradoxical designation that instantly lends itself to head-scratching. Often, it involves wrapping trees and streetlamps in bright knits, without permission.
In this case, though, the matronly vandals had gotten an advance OK from the owner of the bench they were about to attack.
So imagine, as the sun itself needled through iron-gray skies, what passersby thought when they slowly shuffled into the corner bakery for coffee or turned to look from their cars at the stop light.
Knitting and grafitti have been around for ages. The marriage between the two, however, has only taken hold in recent years, and its surge in popularity is what brought Rachel Griffin and Cynthia Barabas and, incidentally, Christyn Budzyna together Saturday morning.
Barabas and Griffin, avid knitters who both have daughters in Fair Haven’s schools, corresponded via email over the winter, trading stories about yarn bombings and tossing around the idea of doing their own bombing.
So with the help of the bookstore in providing a privately owned location read, ‘willing victim’ and Red Bank’s Wooly Monmouth knitting supply store to help spread the word, the two set out to bomb with the aim of bringing a fresh and slightly devilish form of art to Fair Haven.
Earlier last week, a small group met at Griffin’s home to knit pieces that would be used for Saturday international yarn bombing day.
Then, in the early hours of the overcast weekend morning, the trio arrived for about 90 minutes purling red, white and purple yarn onto a bench outside the book store. Budzyna, a 22-year-old who’s made a couple solo bombings in Middletown, heard about it and decided to join in, meeting the other two women for the first time Saturday.
The early start, Barabas said, is because “I think there’s a little ‘a-ha’ moment when people who drove by last night… go out this morning.”
“It lumps into after-hours, guerrilla graffiti art,” Griffin said.
Nobody over the course of the bombing stopped to ask the women what they were doing, and just a few passed by with quizzical looks. The intent, however, wasn’t to gain attention on the spot, Griffin said, but to give people something to think about for as long as the yarn-adorned bench and a couple of handmade flowers in a planter remain outside the River Road business.
“Honestly, I’m going to look at this and laugh or chuckle or smile,” she said. “Whether other people do, it doesn’t affect my feeling.”
By the time they were done, Barabas was sitting on a bare wooden bench next to the piece, and looking at the final product: a fully covered bench that read on its back, “after,” a word thought up by her 14-year-old daughter, Rebecca.
“‘Finishing’ is a big thing for knitters. Getting it all together is a totally different beast,” Barabas said. “Finishing this project in less than a week really makes me feel like I can knit a sweater now.”