Photographs by Bob Rozycki
As a child in Belarus, Elena Rosenberg learned to knit from her mother.
It’s doubtful anyone could have predicted that the step mirrored by so many other mothers and daughters through countless cultures over hundreds of years was actually the earliest spark of a most artistic career.
Today, Rosenberg is a Scarsdale-based creator of wearable fiber art.
But those three simple words don’t convey the artistry found in the creations that feature the finest yarns, intricate stitches, unique designs and a rainbow of color.
There are scarves and shawls, cowls and capelets, shrugs, fingerless gloves and even fiber necklaces.
Not only does Rosenberg design and create this work, she also takes care of her own publicity and sales, which makes for some very busy days.
“Because of the nature of my things, the fall and winter are my ‘season,’” Rosenberg says, pausing to chat on a recent morning.
Later this month, she’ll be exhibiting her handcrafted work at Crafts at Lyndhurst. It will mark Rosenberg’s debut at the prestigious showcase of fine contemporary craft.
For many artists, exposure comes in stages, with the best often advancing from local to regional then national art, design and fine craft shows.
Though she was selling on Etsy, the online marketplace for crafters, Rosenberg wanted the work, exposure and immediacy of meeting customers directly, all benefits that come with participating in a show.
Rosenberg joined the circuit a couple of years ago – with a bang. Her debut exhibition came at one of the nation’s leading craft events, the American Craft Council Baltimore Show in Maryland.
“They had an emerging-artist program,” she shares of the flagship show of the well-respected organization. “I applied kind of on a whim and was accepted. At that time, I was only designing and doing this part-time.”
It was, as they say, a game-changer.
“When I went to the show, I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Rosenberg says she felt a kinship with her fellow artists and artisans and was buoyed by the reactions of the discerning shoppers and collectors, people who have a real appreciation for sophisticated handmade goods of singular quality and style.
Rosenberg, who moved to America with her family when she was a teenager, wasn’t knitting her days away while living in the Bronx.
A student of humanities – psychology and literature to be precise – Rosenberg went on to earn a pair of undergraduate degrees from Fordham University and a master’s degree from New York University.
Now she lives with her husband in Scarsdale and works out of a home-based studio, sometimes joined by her mother.
This career in knitting was not something Rosenberg long planned. Instead, she says, it was more of an outgrowth of another creative endeavor.
Rosenberg has been a fine-art photographer, focusing on detailed, black-and-white nature studies.
Her work earned her solo and group exhibitions at various venues including Wave Hill, a public garden in the Bronx.
“That was all about textures, patterns, shapes and lines. In a lot of ways, that’s what I like about what I’m doing,” she says, linking the photography to her knitting, which she found herself coming back to.
And that thread continues.
“I find that most of the times, I’m actually inspired by things that are not textile-based,” she says. Instead, she can be touched by something as simple as the grain on a piece of wood, something that might have been a past photography subject.
Creating wearable work has given her a different experience, perhaps one more personal.
“This is something that can be touched and worn,” she says. “It’s a more immediate experience in a sense.”
Each of her works, from the chunkiest shawl to the most lace-like scarf, reflects Rosenberg’s unique approach.
Also ranging from delicate to bold is her fiber jewelry, not your traditional find.
“People ask, ‘Is it knitting, crocheting?’ It’s done with a crochet hook, but I don’t use traditional stitches.”
No matter the project, though, it’s clear Rosenberg thrives on the creativity of her chosen field.
“Before I moved into designing my own accessories and garments, I obviously studied some knitting pattern books, not so much patterns for actual items but the knitting stitches.”
She says that while knitting is “such an ancient activity,” there is still room for innovation, evidenced by her own patterns.
She will, though, study the past and interpret it in her own way, creating pieces that “echo things from the history of fashion.”
Rosenberg herself is a strong supporter of fellow artists and artisans. A compliment on a pair of earrings she’s wearing, for example, yields the fact they are handmade by an artist. It’s the same with the custom scarf and shawl pins she uses for some of her pieces. The accents, both practical and artful, are handcrafted by Minnesota artist Harry Firth.
“They’re sustainable in that they’re made from fallen trees,” she shares.
Projects, of course, vary in how long they take to complete. Ask how long a shawl might take and the answer signals the elaborate nature of Rosenberg’s work: “A long time… hours and hours and hours.”
That attention to detail, her unique approach and use of luxe materials have become her trademarks.
“There are a lot of yarns out there, but I wanted to work with yarns which are very high quality,” she says.
Indeed, a quick survey of her work finds she has used everything from Merino wool and mohair to cashmere and silk.
Many of her yarns are exclusive Italian blends and she likes those yarns that feature silk elements.
“The silk content gives you the soft and subtle sheen,” she says.
More recently, she has begun working with organic materials such as undyed cotton yarn from Peru, as well as fibers sourced from local alpaca.
“It’s just heavenly to the touch,” Rosenberg says.
Rosenberg always has an eye on building her business, something she pursues on several fronts, including a strong social-media presence.
Since last year, she has also served as a contributing author and social-media manager for Fiber Art Now magazine. In addition, she’s a member of the American Craft Council, the Surface Design Association, the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen and the Textile and Fiber Art List.
Though Rosenberg does sell online, she continues to participate in a variety of shows.
Crafts at Lyndhurst gets her season under way and she then travels to Philadelphia for next month’s Pennsylvania Guild Fine Craft Fair. A pair of shows closer to home follows, Crafts at Purchase Nov. 1-3 and CraftWestport Nov. 9-10. Rosenberg wraps up her show schedule in early December with the Craftboston Holiday show in Massachusetts.
She’s looking to expand, perhaps publishing patterns of her most popular designs and exploring new outlets for creating one-of-a-kind art.
For Rosenberg, a big part of what she does – and what she thinks makes her work so different than items commercially produced – is the tactile connection.
Something created by her hands becomes a one-of-a-kind adornment for someone.
“These pieces are wearable,” she says. “They’re not something to be put on a pedestal and admired. They’re meant to be worn. The body becomes an integral piece to the project.”
To Rosenberg, it seems, the process isn’t finished once she puts her needles down. That comes when it finds an appreciative owner who will wear it with pride.
Elena Rosenberg will be exhibiting Sept. 20-22 at Crafts at Lyndhurst, 635 S. Broadway in Tarrytown. For more details, visit artrider.com. For more on Rosenberg and Elena Rosenberg Wearable Fiber Art, visit elenarosenberg.com.