Shauna Richardson: the artist hooked on ‘crochetdermy’
PUBLISHED: 10:06 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:48 28 October 2020
She’s invented the word crochetdermy, made a menagerie of life-like animals, and created a wool-based sculpture of Prince Harry
Many people crochet teddy bears. Shauna Richardson crocheted a life-size brown bear – and then, tigers, dogs, deer, donkeys, monkeys,larger-than-life-size lions – and Boris Johnson as a gorilla.
That first brown bear took her eight months and launched a new career. Ten years ago she came up with the term ‘crochetdermy’ for what she did. “Really it was for dinner party purposes,” she said, “‘I crochet animals,’ is a bit of a conversation killer.”
Shauna has been crocheting since childhood, learning from her grandmothers who were both avid crocheters. “Typically I would have gained just enough knowledge to enable me to start freestyling and doing my own thing,” she said. “I joined a crochet club at junior school, but as I’m not a big fan of rules I don’t know that my membership would have been overly long.”
As an art student she used crochet to turn her ideas into something tangible, but it was after her degree that she began crocheting life-size and uncannily life-like animals. “Apart from the challenge, it amused me to witness people’s preconceived images of crochet toys being shattered when confronted by a life-size bear,” she said. On holiday in a caravan at Burnham Market, she decided to enter the huge bear in the ‘one knitted, one crocheted’ class at the flower and produce show. It won.
“It was a an intervention I carried out purely to amuse myself, but it backfired a bit when I won Best in Category and went on to beat some rather fabulous gooseberries to win Best in Show,” said Shauna.
Today her crochetdermy is commissioned by organisations and individuals with price tags starting at £600 and the most popular range selling for £3-£4,000. A lion might take three months to make, but even smaller animals can be very labour-intensive with tiny paws to get perfect.
A recent commission was a cockerel standing on a cat standing on a dog, standing on a donkey. The three-metre tall piece, called The Bremen Musicians after the Brothers Grimm fairytale, was bought by Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Boris Johnson, re-imagined as a gorilla, was another commission, for an artists’ show within the Chelsea Flower Show. “I don’t know what Boris’s reaction to it was, but his then wife Marina Wheeler seemed to think I had captured a certain something of the man,” said Shauna. Eight years ago she created an unofficial portrait of Prince Harry, and turned him into a ginger baboon. “I don’t know if he has seen it, but I once gave his father a Crochetdermy book featuring the piece,” said Shauna. “I have hopes that it will one day make its way onto the Prince’s wall; it is the only way I will be parted from that piece.”
Some of her animals are even designed to replace actual taxidermy, without a once-living animal being involved. Instead, Shauna uses mohair wool. “Using a single colour rough yarn helps me to create something uncanny and realistic rather than something resembling a toy,” she said. At first she stuffed the animals, but moved to lightweight rigid material such as polystyrene for added realism. “Most recently I have been creating pieces with no innards at all, these empty skins tend to better demonstrate the stand-alone sculptural qualities of the crochet,” she said.
Shauna has long been fascinated by the question of what art actually is. As a student, hearing that anything that had no practical use could be art she decided to turn her extremely practical van into art – convincing the university that it was a temporary art installation (installed each day on the car park where she would otherwise not have been allowed to park.)
Shauna and her artist husband Mark, and their Jack Russell dog, The Bean, have just moved to Overstrand, near Cromer. “I was raised on long summers in and around Brancaster Staithe, my husband likewise in Cromer,” said Shauna. “There is a real community spirit about Overstrand. The Belfry Centre for Music and Arts is here; there is always something interesting and creative going on. We are both drawn to the sea and have lots of friends in the area; moving to Norfolk permanently seemed the only sensible thing to do.”
They usually share their home with Shauna’s menagerie of crochetedermy but right now all the animals are out on display in exhibitions as far apart as London and New York.
However, watch out for more woolly, life-size and astonishingly life-like animals taking shape in Overstrand.
What is the largest animal you’ve crocheted?
A 25ft lion - one three created for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The lions toured the country in a bespoke mobile glass vehicle. Called The Lionheart Project, it was the world’s largest single-handed crochet sculpture.
And your favourite?
I think my favourite has to be the portrait of Prince Harry as ginger baboon. It still makes me laugh.
Have you ever tried taxidermy?
I haven’t tried taxidermy, but by trying to create something that looks life-like, I have an insight into how difficult taxidermy must be. One eye a millimetre out of place and the whole thing looks off.
Do you ever crochet ‘normal’ things too, like blankets or cardigans?
Not when I can buy them.