Traditional Arts in Northwest Pennsylvania. Interview with April Cox
-Interviewed by Kelly Armor, Edited by Nat Richmond
For 10 years April Cox has had a small alpaca farm in Crawford County and made fine crafts from their fleece. She wasn’t born into this lifestyle. She said, “I grew up in the Florida suburbs and we're just expected to go to school and get a job, and that's pretty much what I did, although I did hate being indoors all the time. Growing up I always wanted to either be a farmer or be an artist, and God had a way of making sure I could be both at the same time. Even now I can't wait to do chores. Every day, I love coming outside, I like playing with the dogs, I love working the ground and having alpacas, I just love every bit of it.”
She lost her job in the 2008 recession and a close friend suggested she move with him to Pennsylvania. They later married and started both a large garden and keeping hens, pigs, and chickens in addition to alpaca. In 2020 they decided to focus solely on raising alpacas. “My aunt taught me how to crochet when I was little, but I never did anything with it, but when we decided to get alpacas, I thought I’m going to have all this fiber, I should probably pick that up again. It just came back to me so easily and I then realized how much I love fiber! I love everything about it; I love working with it, I love dying it, I love creating things with it, I like teaching other people about it. You have this animal hair, and then you work with it and it becomes something else.” Alpaca are not naturally docile. She finds she needs to spend time handling them every day to build trust. Every spring they shear the animals. She spins some of their wool and sends some off to get cleaned and spun by a mill. She also felts much of her fiber. Felting is a process where the fibers tangle themselves into a solid mat. Wet felting is a process of hot water and force. Needle felting the wool is subjected to a barbed needle. She does both. “Just the fact of turning hair into a usable item fascinates me, and with wet felting, it shrinks as you felt. You start with a hat pattern that's huge, and you're like, how is this ever going fit someone, and then it starts shrinking as you're working with it. It just seems like magic.”
She felts hats, scarves, pin cushions and egg-shaped shakers among other things. She sells at festivals, fairs, and on Etsy. There are many people who can knit, and a few people can spin, but only a small group of artisans raise the animals and create art from their fibers. She is connected to schools, groups, and other artists and farmers. “Our community is Spartanburg and Corry. Even though they are really small towns, they are extremely supportive of us.” April exudes calm joy. It is clear she is completely at home with her rural creative liefstyle. “A lot of people are fascinated by our process from the farm to the end product. I love what I do. I like talking about our operation. I love teaching felting because it's a simple process, people can't grasp it in their head but then they do it and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is really cool.’” You can see April and her wares at the Western PA Maker Market on Saturday, November 19 at 1307 State Street from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.