Felt Inspired Design
The action of reusing, recycling, and repurposing has been with us through centuries across many cultures until the throwaway concept came to us in the post-WWII era. Today we are struggling to reestablish the concept of discovering new ways to improve and enjoy items that are left over or worn out. The action of repurposing leftover material, in the form of hat felt, is taken to a new level in the work of felt sculpture artists Brad and Sundie Ruppert.
Brad and Sundie were born and raised in Iowa and based their felt sculpture business out of Des Moines. The couple claimed different influences on their artistic awareness growing up. Brad was influenced by a family friend, an elementary art teacher who provided workshops to area children during the summers. Sundie, on the other hand, remembers a time when she wanted to be a sign painter because she was so fascinated by the billboards scattered along the highways of the mid-western landscapes. Ultimately, their paths converged in a common place to study design. They attended Iowa State University, College of Design, Brad completed his BFA in 1987, and Sundie finished right behind him in 1988.
Their careers remained in design with the Meredith Corporation as Art and Creative Directors specializing in gardening with Better Homes and Gardens magazine, Home Garden magazine, and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Creative Resources. They pioneered the concept, in e-commerce, of including a link to the website in print catalogs and companion printed material. In 2000, Brad and Sundie left the corporate world behind to devote their attention to being full-time artists. The decision ultimately led to building a home in 2007 that included an attached studio and a large barn where Brad cuts all the wood for their felt sculptural pieces.
"Viewers are first drawn in by an optical illusion with the eyes. Upon closer inspection, they touch the soft felt of the image and realize it's not a painting; it's something entirely different."
Brad and Sundie are pros in the design world and have a keen eye for detail. Their body of work gives new life to one of the oldest textiles in use today, fur felt, more precisely, the remnants trimmed from the brims of felt hats. They have created a process of cutting, bending, and layering the various felt pieces over carved wood, creating an almost life-like image of their subject matter. Sundie explains, “We try to bring out the soul of the animal that shines through bright eyes, soft fur, and sleek feathers.” Brad muses, “Viewers are first drawn in by an optical illusion with the eyes. Upon closer inspection, they touch the soft felt of the image and realize it's not a painting; it's something entirely different." When asked where they get their inspiration, the answer is "Everywhere! Although the texture is the thing that interests us the most."They find smashed cans in parking lots, the sides of buildings, fungi growing out of trees, the way the wind moves sand.” All material is inspiration.
The couple's creative innovations are part of private and public collections across the country, including the Epic Systems Corporation in Wisconsin. They have received multiple awards in juried art shows listed on their website and enjoy the continued patronage of their collectors. When asked what their goals were for the future, Brad responded, "To continue to thrive and grow our business through the Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art." Brad and Sundie have traveled 30 thousand miles yearly for the last 30 years doing weekend street shows and invited exhibit engagements. They are excited to discover that their hatmaker's felt sculptures can dampen sound in public and residential spaces, and they are just beginning to learn about the calming properties of their art form for people on the autism spectrum. Undoubtedly, artists Brad and Sundie Ruppert are pioneers in repurposed fabrics and materials. They are members of Fiber Art Now and Artists INC. Des Moines, Iowa and recipients of the Inaugural Fellow 2021.