'I love my Animals. They are Beautiful'; So's the art

2011-10-02T00:00:00Z 'I love my Animals. They are Beautiful'; So's the artGabrielle Fimbres Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Barbara and her two bleating kids peek out at the world through luxurious, curly locks that would make Shirley Temple envious.

The Angora goats are part of Kathy Withers' menagerie at Withers Ranch on Tucson's northwest side. Withers cares for goats, sheep, alpaca, llamas and other animals on her eight-acre family ranch.

The award-winning artist spins the fiber she collects from her animals to create striking works of art, for wearing and hanging.

"People say we keep the ranch like a four-star hotel,'' Withers says. "We run fans and come out regularly and hose the animals off when it's hot. It's like an oasis out here.''

Twice a year, when the animals are ready for shearing, Withers opens her ranch to guests. In addition to shearing demonstrations, visitors can take part in workshops and demos by fiber artists from throughout the Southwest. This fall's Tucson Wool Festival will be Oct. 22, or the following day if it rains. As many as 1,000 people are expected to attend.

"People really appreciate it when they see where the fibers come from,'' said Withers, owner of Unique Designs by Kathy, with a 1,000-square-foot showroom and spinning studio at the ranch.

The Withers family moved to the ranch 11 years ago. Raising animals started as a project for her son, whom she was home schooling. He thought he might want to be a vet, so the family took on a couple of dairy goats.

But Withers, who loved knitting, weaving and other fiber arts, was drawn to the critters' silky hair.

A military kid who graduated from college at 18, Withers pretty much taught herself everything she knows when it comes to fiber arts. "I read books and I have taken a class here and there,'' Withers said.

In the early years, she created only yarns that looked commercial, smooth and perfect. Then she created a yarn that has become her signature product, very colorful with poofballs and doodads woven in. The poofballs are balls of fiber, and the doodads are beads, buttons and stones, spun into the yarn.

"What's cool is the effect you get when you knit it,'' she said of her yarns. "My customers like the Monet effect of shifting colors that the fibers create.''

For wearable art - vests, scarves, sweaters and more - Withers uses the softest kid mohair from Angora goats. As an animal ages, such as in the case of Barbara, Withers uses the coarser fiber for home art, wall hangings and rugs.

"I'm very much into the hanging-it-on-the-wall thing,'' Withers said. "I love designing landscapes with a southwestern theme. And I am always looking for something new and different to do.''

One striking piece of wall art in Withers' showroom is a felting that depicts a desert scene with a clear blue sky, soaring hawks, saguaro, cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo with sparkling red bead blossoms and palo verde, created from wool and mohair.

"I like to see what I can reproduce from nature,'' she said. Wall feltings range in price from $250 to $1,000.

While Withers creates art for sale in her showroom, she also teaches fiber arts classes and designs her own patterns. She teaches students to create beauty in their homes using fibers.

"Most of my stuff is beginning level,'' Withers said. "I teach a lot of women to knit.''

To get the highest quality fibers, Withers carefully tends her flock throughout the year, and breeds her animals for fur color and texture.

After shearing, Withers washes the fiber. Using a carder, she turns it into batts and rovings, creating sections of fiber to be felted or spun. She dyes her fibers in vibrant hues.

"You can blend just about any color and it will be cool,'' she said. "It looks impressionistic. I get bored easy so I mix in lots of colors.''

Withers spins every day. "I spend hours and hours and hours a day spinning. I am a spinner, big time. The thing I like the most is spinning, and the second thing I like best is the design.''

She sells her yarns and art in her showroom, online and at shows and fairs, including Tohono Chul Park and the Fourth Avenue Street Fair. "Eighty percent of my customers are out of state,'' she said.

Summer for Withers is production time. "Fall and winter are when I make my money.'' She works nine or 10 hours a day, and more when preparing for a show.

The hours she devotes to caring for her flock are long, as well. In addition to feeding, cleaning and caring for the animals, she keeps a watch out for the occasional hungry coyote as well as bobcats, rattlers and mountain lions.

As she wandered through her corrals, Withers greeted her favorite Angora goats.

"I love my animals,'' she said. "They are beautiful.''

If you go

• What: Tucson Wool Festival.

• When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 22. In the event of rain, the festival moves to Oct. 23. Tours of Withers Ranch and its woolly residents will be given at 9 a.m. and noon. Check out animal shearing, and workshops and demonstrations by fiber artists and craft vendors.

• Where: 4010 W. Palo Seco (near Thornydale Road and Linda Vista Boulevard)

• Cost: Free.

• Info: 572-3758 or www.uniquedesignsbykathy.com

"You can blend just about any color and it will be cool. It looks impressionistic. I get bored easy so I mix in lots of colors."

Kathy Withers, Artist

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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