Quantcast

Astoria artist weaves larger-than-life creations

Photos by Stephanie Crousillat Photography

BY HAYLEY BRIDGEWATER

Meet Happy Camper Lee. Stage manager, distillery tour guide, Peekskill born hiker with a crafty heart and an adventurous soul, and a true modern-day Renaissance woman. More formally known as LeeAnn Lisella, she has rightfully woven herself a moniker as Astoria’s “giant knitting lady.”

Giant knitting?

Yes, giant knitting.

Most mornings you will find her nestled in her apartment, surrounded by 30-pound boxes of unspun wool roving, ferociously knitting her cozy creations to the smell of coffee and the strains of NPR. Knitting has always been a part of her life, and now she is sharing it with others. Originally taught by her grandmother, LeeAnn’s knitting started out as a small hobby. Recently, it has taken on a life—and a business—of its own.

“This business has been in the making since I was a kid,” Lisella says. “When I was about 8 years old, my favorite game was ‘art show’ where I showcased my work in my parents’ hall and made them purchase my finger-painted and clay creations.

Once I moved to New York, knitting was a project that I could do in my small space, and became my primary craft at home. I learned about this amazing artist in Australia called Jacqui Fink. She creates huge installation pieces and blankets with Tops from Australian merino sheep. For some reason, I was totally transfixed. I had to give it a try.

“Chris, my partner, and I were brainstorming about how big I could actually knit, and he created 4-foot wooden needles for me,” she continues. “It seemed completely laughable at the time, but I accepted the challenge and went for it. It was an absolute nightmare at first. I knocked over so many things. My downstairs neighbors banged on the ceiling on several occasions when I dropped them. It must have sounded like a tree falling.”

“It took me forever to figure out how I could actually use something that was about five times bigger than anything I’d ever seen before,” says the artist, laughing. “Lo and behold, I got the right leverage and was cranking out blankets like crazy. Eventually I found that I was living in a cave of woolen creations and figured I should probably try and sell some of it. Granted, the cave is still very much a part of my life, much to Chris’ chagrin.”

“I find knitting to be very therapeutic,” Lisella says. “I have a hard time just sitting at home relaxing. Knitting allows me to be busy, but also meditate, watch a movie, or spend time with my roommates. I put so much importance on creation as a hobby. It allows you to set goals without stress or judgment.”

“It gives me something to look forward to at night and a way to unwind,” she says. “Growing up, I went to a lot of dance class—that type of full-body meditative practice was really helpful to clear my mind. Oddly enough, this physical craft has provided me with the same outlet. Additionally, it has put me in contact with so many interesting artists all over the world. This crazy giant knitting has been so fulfilling that I had to share my passion as a business. I get so much joy from this work that I just had to make it available to others.”

When they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is certainly true in this case. LeeAnn’s business, Happy Camper, is the perfect blend of her city and country roots—best described as urban chic, yet as comforting as a loved one’s hug. One look, and it is understandable why she is often stopped by commuters asking where she acquired her scarf. And who wouldn’t want to be wrapped in one of her wooly blankets?

“I love that Happy Camper is based in Queens,” Lisella says. “I try to incorporate Queens into my photography and identity as much as possible. The experience of my knits is that they’re a part of this cozy urban dichotomy. Many times when we go out to shoot photos for the shop, I learn more about my neighborhood and its beauty. I couldn’t think of shooting anywhere else. I love being a part of the growing art community in Astoria, and would really love to help it continue even more. I think that every community could use a giant knitting lady, so here I am. But I also think that there could be so many more craft artisans in Astoria, or that we could all create a community together. I dream of having a business where Queens craftsmen—and crafts ladies—are able showcase and sell their work, teach classes and have a space to create. Both Chris and I are working toward creating a community space where artists can showcase, work and gather together.”

Interested in seeing more? Check out her beautiful work.

HappyCamperStuff.etsy.com

Instagram: @happycamperlee

More from Around New York