Photography and words by Elouise Paabo
Crochet, you may remember it from your childhood. Making cushions and scarfs while carefully choosing your colours to intertwine together like a rainbow lollipop. Or perhaps you received an itchy crotchet blanket passed down from your grandmother to you at Christmas time, thrown lazily over the couch to warm whoever sat there while the family sat around and ate and drank for hours on end.
Wherever you have come across crotchet in your life, I’m sure you would not be expecting to come across it in the middle of the Californian desert. Yet, amidst the scorching heat and the abundance of Dr Suess like Joshua Tree’s I stumbled upon the smallest Crotchet Museum in the world.
It was an accidental discovery as we were merely trying to find some public showers, (as you do when you’ve lived in your car road tripping around the states for three months), when we ventured up an alley way to find a little corner of the world that was unlike any other. Unique in its quirky crotchet creatures, teddy bears, hand painted clothing and even an intergalactic mirror spaceship that you could climb into, this place skyrocketed our imagination well and truly out of the Californian desert.
I asked the creator of the World’s Smallest Crochet Museum, Shari Elf a few questions about this eccentric little world she’s created.
How did you come up with the idea of having a Crochet Museum?
It all started when my friend, folk artist Ramona Otto, gave me 2 crochet poodle bottle covers. She said “You should collect these.” I said “Really?” and then I kept finding more in various colours and sizes with sparkly eyes and I saw that they did look cute together on a shelf. The collection really grew and started including other cute animals and things when I moved to Kansas City in 1999. I’d find cute crochet items at estate sales, yard sales, antique stores and thrift stores. I had to build a shelf for my collection and jokingly called it the crochet museum. When I moved back to the Joshua Tree area of California in 2004 it took about 20 boxes to move my collection. It had really grown thanks to my also having a Crochet Museum page on my website. People would send me stuff from all over and I’d find stuff on eBay. I met a great contributor to the museum when I purchased some cute vintage crochet things from an eBayer and she told me she used to work at the Smithsonian. She continued to send me cute finds for years. In 2006, I found an old drive through photo processing building, it looks like an old fashioned camera. It was on the side of the road in Yucca Valley. I tracked down the owner, my ex bought it for me and we moved it to his newly purchased property and moved my collection in pretty quickly because we were also having an opening party for the new Art Queen galleries in Downtown Joshua Tree.
“I loved sewing when I was a child and made clothes and furniture for my dolls.”
What memories do you have of crochet from your childhood?
No one in my family crocheted but my Grandma Selma’s best friend, Ruth, was a big crafter and, as an artist, I was inspired by her made with love things all over her house. I loved sewing when I was a child and made clothes and furniture for my dolls.
What is your favourite thing about being located in the middle of the desert in Joshua Tree National Park?
A slight correction, my museum is located in the town of Joshua Tree, not the national park but we are very near Park Blvd, which is the road to one of the entrances to the National Park. Not everyone realises there is Joshua Tree, the National Park and the town of Joshua Tree. My favourite thing, the stars at night, the atmosphere, the beauty. And my museum stands out like a bright cactus flower against the sandy backdrop of the desert.
Do you have a favourite Crochet item in your collection?
Sometimes they get stolen, someone stole my whole octopus collection and we’ve been trying to build it back because they were favourites of mine. I had a big red dragon someone also stole before I reluctantly had to put a lock on the door. I think drunk people from the bar next door may have stolen some of the things. I used to leave it open all the time. I love so many of the collection and it changes.
“Life is an inside job, no one is going to do it for us, no one outside of myself is responsible for my happiness or my unhappiness.”
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring artists out there?
Just do your art and make yourself happy. Life is an inside job, no one is going to do it for us, no one outside of myself is responsible for my happiness or my unhappiness. Knowing and experiencing this as reality in my life frees me from victimhood. We are 99.999% energy, our thoughts direct or lives. One of my favourite teachers, Dr. Pat Allen, often says this quote, which I love “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” It goes to show, no matter where you are in the world, take the backstreets and you may not only discover where the streets have no name, but you may also fall down the rabbit hole of wonderland where you’ll find crazy trees, colourful creatures and best of all, a tiny world of crochet.