The Love Armor Project

Mothball the military industrial complex.

Shirley Klinghoffer and Sarah Hewitt had better keep on knitting. Knitting their brows because this last little art intervention of theirs was a real humdinger. Or maybe we should let’em relax for a while, maintain their poker faces and just admit to ourselves–the ante has been upped.

Getting knitting forms the plan, so the work broadcasts immediately deep-dish, Chicago-style feminist collaboration of the “women’s work as high art” variety that we’ve all come to love. But since it’s 2008 and since both genders knit, and everybody can be a Marine, and it’s Santa Fe, and the mistaken occupation of Iraq still sucks, Love Armor transforms the Waxman Gallery into a deconstruction site that posits itself successfully as both a theoretical and social action, a genuine act of peace, love, and understanding. You in the hinterlands, still saying art can’t be activism, all you really need (fur yerself) is a nice Humvee Cozy.

A little knitted dust cover for an appliance you rarely intend to use is such a good thing to have, especially when it’s made by someone who cares. Getting the National Guard to bring a camo-painted Humvee to cuddle and cozy (because sharing is caring) into the former tank armory at the CCA is a hilarious idea. The floating Humvee Cozy has all the classical conceptual elegance of a well-played and well-intended joke, a la Duchamp or Manzoni. In realization it provides the anti-gravity to enact the psychic deconstruction process that is grief.

The Love Armor Project posits an off-white site within a black hole, a still place to honor the 4,000-plus American lives lost in Iraq, many in or around this Humvee, our standard issue military vehicle. The cozy transforms itself into a shroud for those who never got out. The L.A.P. intercedes, nurtures, and as a laying-on-of-hands it offers healing and protection. Knitting is a meditation akin to enumerative prayer, akin to chanting, akin to mother wailing–a father’s tears, one after another.

Milan Kundera called it “the laughter of angels,” when something lifts and unburdens your heart finally, after a long time of despair. The floating cozy, after the Humvee M1026 was driven out, achieved this lifted elegiac emotion via presented absence.

My recommendation: immediately contract eight-five percent of our designers and manufacturers of weaponry to work as artists exploring their deepest imaginations.

Jon Carver
THE Magazine
November 2008

"Although my work changes constantly, vulnerability and strength weave in and out, creating a unifying link"
Shirley Klinghoffer

Shirley Klinghoffer's Love Armor Project is a present-day true-to-life ghost story. It is also, as are most ghost stories, a story of war and love.

Working with the New Mexico National Guard, Klinghoffer took detailed measurements of the Humvee model M1026 - not your slick gangster-style ride, but the actual model currently employed at war in Iraq and Afghanistan–in order that a team of knitters and seamstresses, facilitated by collaborator Sarah Hewitt, could create a life-sized (15' x 7' x 6') fitted cozy of the military vehicle. Over the course of several months, more than 70 participants knit and stitched individually and at numerous "Love-Ins." The result is The Love Armor cozy. Klinghoffer's cozy serves as armor, standing in as protection for our soldiers in service to their country. Like a shroud turned into a bridal veil, the artwork offers defiant beauty where soldiers and civilians alike have found grief and horror.

The Humvee is to be driven into the 6,000-square-foot Munoz Waxman Gallery at the Santa Fe's Center for Contemporary Arts. Ironically, the gallery once was a tank repair station for the Guard, which sent 1, 800 New Mexico soldiers to the Philippines during World War II. The men, members of the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, were overwhelmed by the Japanese and forced to endure the notorious Bataan Death March and subsequent internment as prisoners of war. Only one-half of these young men returned home three and a half years later in 1945.

After the Humvee enters the gallery, it will be fitted with the cozy. On Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the tragedy known as September 11the, the vehicle will be driven out of the gallery, leaving behind its ghost: the cozy floating eerily, poignant with the meaning and empty of substance. Absent the actual Humvee, can its ghost of sewn and knotted cords, a version of "women's work," heal the wounds of war, past and present? Will Klinghoffer's compassionate act of love reveal the scars of violence, sooth the abrasions of hate? So long as one human is defiled or killed in an act of war, the ghosts of our loss must continue haunt us. And artists will work with what is at hand, creating beauty out of sheer survival.

Kathryn M. Davis, art historian


Friday, September 5, 2008
by Kathaleen Roberts • Journal Santa Fe

Shirley Klinghoffer was never the kind of little girl who sat at her grandmother's feet knitting skeins of yarn into doll dresses. How times change. A Santa Fe conceptual artist known for bronze flowers cast from vulval imprints, Klinghoffer is wielding needles and cord to create a mammoth "tea cozy" fit for a Humvee.

Opening in the Muñoz Waxman Gallery at the Center for Contemporary Arts, the "Love Armor Project" involves at least 50 fellow knitters looping enough yarn to knit a house. They're transforming a war motif into a symbol of peace. It all began a year ago as Klinghoffer grew increasingly disheartened by the Iraq war.

"Every day my heart is breaking for the men, women and children in the war zones — the daily trauma, the maiming and killing and so on," she said

As a conceptual artist, Klinghoffer comes up with the big ideas, then decides how to present them. She has incorporated stone, steel, plastic and even deconstructed ball gowns into her work, but she had never touched yarn. So she decided to knit a tea cozy and drape it across a Humvee M1026.

"When a person is knitting something for someone, it's showing love and trying to protect someone like a mother protects a child," she said.

She found a partner in large-scale fiber artist Sarah Hewitt. The two women contacted more than 70 art world friends from Seattle to Maine, then set up a Web site. They decided to use the stiff cotton/polyester cord used in old-fashioned Venetian blinds, readily available at Home Depot, for strength, if not comfort. They knitted and purled the 1/4- to 1/2-inch in diameter fiber on size 13 to 15 knitting needles. Then Klinghoffer and Hewitt sat down with measuring tape and calculator to devise multiple patterns to join together for the "final fitting."

"When I divided the template into patterns, I felt like I was fracturing the surface like fractured lives," Klinghoffer said.

Accustomed to creating sculptures from woven fiber, Hewitt felt drawn by the ineffable sense of connection that bonds women who knit. "Everybody speaks the same language," she said. "Everybody tells their story while everyone's quietly working. And I love hearing people's stories."

It was Hewitt who took blueprints from the military supplie, then translated and divided them into patterns.

"I think swaddling something that is so hard and aggressive is a good start at getting people to look at something differently," she said.

Like all knitters, the women made adjustments along the way. Button flaps substituted for rivets. A crocheted doily sufficed as a headlight cover. The knitters sent in their finished pieces without casting off to make them easier to connect.

Bernice Pearl of New York served as the "finisher," a role she was used to playing for family and friends. "Shirley would bring me these bags (of knitted cord)," she said. "They were in perfect shape, but everybody knits differently –– some were looser, some were tighter."

Santa Fe's Jayne Nordstrom knit the vehicle's right rear door. "It was very difficult to work with," she said. "It was very heavy. Pressing down on the needles — I got sore thumbs. We had to climb up on tables."

"We've got seed stitches, we've got ribbing; most of it is stockinette," Hewitt said. "All of the borders were done with some kind of decorative stitch."

Klinghoffer chose a blood-red cotton to blanketstitch the individual pieces together; she said the results remind her of Frankenstein's scars. "Somebody did say this is the color of the sand and the rocks in Iraq," she added.

Help arrived at critical points. Chaz Lopez of Unica Cleaners commercially steamed and ironed the piecework gratis. The McCune Foundation gave a small discretionary grant. Home Depot offered gift cards. New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman helped Klinghoffer contact the New Mexico National Guard to provide a real Humvee to model the cozy.

"They just wanted to recognize all the soldiers," Sgt. Mark Weingates said after driving the Humvee into the gallery for its final "fitting" on Tuesday. "It's not whether the war is positive or negative; it's the soldiers themselves they want to show support to."

So far, the group has experienced only one negative reaction to the project –– from a potential knitter. "For some reason, she didn't quite get it," Klinghoffer said. "She wasn't happy about bringing anything from war into it. She interpreted it as supporting the war."

CCA's Cyndi Conn liked the idea of a joint project with the military. The nonprofit arts center shares space with the New Mexico National Guard. The Muñoz Waxman Gallery site once served as the guard's tank repair house.

"I said, ‘If you can do it, I want to show it,' " Conn said. "It was such an original idea."

The project has consumed a year of Klinghoffer's life; measuring, cutting, knitting and fitting were part of her everyday existence. She has "six or seven" sculptures languishing in various stages of incompletion.

"I'm a person that really internalizes international woes," she said. "I can't live my life in some really comfortable place; I have to reach out to people."


LOVE ARMOR | "Love-In" event
Wednesday, March 5, 2008, 5:30pm
Center for Contemporary Arts
Muñoz Waxman Gallery
1050 Old Pecos Trail

For more information or to volunteer for this event, contact shirley Klinghoffer at 954.4012

Although February is traditionally the month to celebrate "love", especially of a romantic nature, on March 5th the Center for Contemporary Arts hosts an event celebrating universal love. This event, the Love Armor "Love – In," will be held in connection with Shirley Klinghoffer's LOVE ARMOR Project that premieres this summer at the Munoz/Waxman Gallery, (CCA).

The LOVE ARMOR Project began as a means to show compassion for the men, women, and children (both our military and the innocent civilians) in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Klinghoffer's vision is to transform a war icon, the Humvee, into a symbol of peace and hope. This involves knitting a life-size cozy form fitted for a Humvee M1026, which measures 15" x 7' x 6' with her collaborative partner on this project, Sarah Hewitt. The patterns for this cozy were created and sent out to artists and knitters nationwide. 50+ participants have responded with a generous spirit to knit the patterns that will complete the Humvee cozy, the central image of the love armor project. Besides the Humvee cozy, which will float zen-like at eye level in a vast open space, the project is to include full video documentation of the process, an interactive forum, an educational program, and an original musical composition created especially for the LOVE ARMOR Project. Our goal for the project is to bring people together with a humanist voice.

At the mega "Love-In," tables will be set up with the blocked and knitted sections ready to be stitched together. Our vision is to gather a multitude of participants in the Muñoz Waxman Gallery to begin the "healing" process—stitching together the sections as a love armor community. This event will be filmed as part of the documentary to be shown this summer.

We encourage you to join the LOVE ARMOR community on March 5th and "feel the love". For more information on this project, please check the LOVE ARMOR website,

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