Meet the Artist: Laurel Roth Hope

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  • LAUREL ROTH HOPE: My background is in natural resource conservation and as a park ranger really led me to a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the complexity of natural systems and symbiotic relationships in the natural world. When I moved to the city, those systems weren't as immediately apparent, and so I had to learn new perspectives in order to find them, and that's really what's influenced and driven my work since then.

    Peacocks have been a symbol of beauty and also just well known for their extravagant mating plumage. Mating plumage is a way for birds to communicate their health, their ability to find resources, and basically their value as a mate, and these are all things that humans do as well but just with very different cues.

    I partially was inspired to do the peacocks after seeing some of the drag community of San Francisco and the way they choose to represent themselves. The materials that I ended up using for these are all beauty products: fake fingernails, barrettes, costume jewelry. They're all things associated with human beauty and that kind of communication.

    So with the peacocks, I wanted to make sculptures that both look as though they're in a natural history museum and have elements of the natural environment. That's why I created the live bases for the top, live-edge bases, but I also wanted to have the birds in positions that it's slightly unclear as to whether they're fighting or mating. In the cases where there's two of them, which one would be the dominant and which one would be the submissive? I wanted to leave all of that up to the viewer.

    These four other sculptures, these are part of a series called “Biodiversity Suits for Urban Pigeons.” For each one of those, I carve and create a pigeon mannequin and then crochet a suit for it that disguises it as an extinct bird. Here we have a dodo, a Carolina parakeet, a paradise parrot, and a passenger pigeon, all of which are extinct.

    With this series, I was trying to find a way to approach concepts of extinction but without beating people over the head with the idea too much. I think that both beauty and humor are ways to cross ideological divides and to communicate without having people close their minds down too quickly. I used crochet because it both has a really nice math to it—each row builds on the row before it—and it's very similar to the math you find in nature. Also, crochet has a long history of being used for comfort, for warmth, and for ornamentation, very much like feathers.

    Living in the city has definitely influenced my work. I think it's made me focus more on adaptation and, to some degree, on synanthropic species, those that are ecologically associated with mankind because at this point, those are the ones that are headed towards being successful, where I think the natural environmentalist tendency is to focus on the things that are heading towards extinction. That's very important, but we can learn a lot about biological patterns by studying both.

    Laurel Roth Hope uses traditional techniques of carving, embroidery, crochet, and collage to transform ordinary materials into elaborate animal sculptures that are both playful and poignant. Her work is influenced by her background as a park ranger and focuses on the relationship between humankind and nature, touching on topics such as environmental protection, animal behavior, and species extinction.

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