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A Conversation with the Mastermind Behind Christopher Street’s Colorful Trees

FESTIVE BURSTS OF YARN ADORN WEST VILLAGE TREES: Holly Boardman, the owner of Musee Lingerie, is pictured above installingone of her tree blankets in the Village. Photo by Holly Boardman.

By Andrew Buemi

If you’ve walked down Christopher Street in the last several months, you’ve likely come across the trees sheathed in festive bursts of yarn. Since making their debut early this year, Villagers remain intrigued about what the pieces symbolize and who created them. WestView recently caught up with the mastermind behind the project—Holly Boardman, the owner of Musée Lingerie at 119 Christopher Street (between Hudson and Bleecker Streets)—and asked her to shed some light on the project. The following is an edited excerpt from our conversation.

WestView News (WVN): Do these pieces have a name?

 

Holly Boardman (HB): People give them all kinds of names—‘tree koozies’ (like the sleeves that keep your beer cold), ‘tree blankets’—whatever! They’re technically called ‘yarn bombs,’ but I don’t like to use that term given recent events in the world. They’re meant to symbolize a love of texture, color, and fiber—and happiness.

 

WVN: What made you start the project?

 

HB: When I first opened Musée Lingerie (in the middle of 2016), Christopher Street was so dead. It used to be such a creative place here, but it’s kind of gone to sleep with all the merchandising and retail. I wanted to bring art back to the Village.

My aunt, Polly Larkin, is a master of crochet and a fiber artist. She’s done these tree blankets in her local neighborhood of Essex Junction, Vermont, where everybody loves them.

When I saw stores closing on Christopher Street, I wanted to do more to bring happiness, creativity, and color to the street, and it made me think of my Aunt Polly’s tree blankets. I gave her dimensions, we made a road map, and she started making the pieces in January, one square at a time.

Soon, my cousin was also jumping in to help.

 

WVN: What goes into making the tree blankets?

 

HB: It takes about one hour to crochet a single square, and we have over 1,880 squares on our Christopher Street block. That took about 80 days!

 

WVN: What are the reactions you get?

 

HB: I can’t tell you how happy people seem to be—they really embrace them. There are always kids hugging the trees and families taking pictures; Susan Sarandon even stopped by to take pictures!

 

WVN: Tell us about your background prior to opening Musée Lingerie.

 

HB: I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute and have run art centers; I’m a bit of an artist myself. I’m more into set design though—I worked on movie sets for almost 18 years. I used to be a footwear product designer, sold a stationery design line that went national, and have generally worn a lot of hats.

But what’s important to me is supporting the artist community. That’s the whole backbone of my store. It’s not just about selling merchandise—it’s about art. Every six to eight weeks, we have a new art exhibit and new artists coming in. We support many local designers that make their products in New York.

 

WVN: What’s your take on the epidemic of store closings on Christopher, Bleecker, and other areas of the Village?

 

HB: It’s not just a matter of the rent being high. People are just not shopping in the streets as much as they used to (although I think many people still do love retail therapy, which you can’t get with just the click of a button). It’s almost impossible to start a small business these days unless you have a lot of money stored away.

When some of these landlords raise the rent so much, it means they either don’t want to keep the tenant or they don’t understand business. As a small business, once you’re up and running for four to five years, you’re not growing at the pace you were in the first two years—you’re lucky if you’re just maintaining the status quo. If a lot of these businesses had just a small break, they could survive—but it’s so hard.

I’ve always said that if I won the lottery, I’d sponsor 10 small businesses and pay their rent for the first year!

 

WVN: The tree blankets are now outside P.S. 3 on Hudson Street, just below Christopher. What made you choose this location? How are the students and parents liking them?

 

HB: The art class at P.S. 3 has actually been studying urban street art and how art affects urban community life; they started to study the tree blankets. Their art teacher had the class visit and they brought in drawings. We decided to re-allocate some of the tree blankets for Christopher Street towards the big trees in front of P.S. 3 on Hudson Street. I think the reaction has been really positive within the school community.

 

WVN: I hear that experts have confirmed that the tree blankets are doing no harm to the trees. Is that right?

 

HB: Yes. We’ve had experts take a look and confirm that they’re not strangling or biting the bark, so the trees can continue to breathe and grow unharmed.

 

WVN: Do you have plans to expand the project into other areas of the Village?

 

HB: We may start to expand it, but we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. And we want to see how the tree blankets weather pollution and the elements.

We’re really just in this for the community. We want to bring color into the neighborhood and make people happy. It’s not about commercialism—it’s about fun.

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2 thoughts on “A Conversation with the Mastermind Behind Christopher Street’s Colorful Trees

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      Holly – Please remember that trees are living things. I don’t know what tree experts you consulted, but a staff member at Trees New York, which trains volunteers to care for street trees like those on Christopher and Hudson, wrote in response to my question about whether the blankets would harm the trees: “The sweaters are very cute but you’re right trees don’t need sweaters. In the end, the sweaters wont hurt the trees and as long as they take them off after winter is over.”

      Please take them off in March. They can harbor bugs and moisture and will in fact harm the trees. You can do so much more good with all of this talent and time and yarn by making blankets for rescue animals or our neighbors who are cold this winter. Trees are not lampposts that need decorating. Please let them breathe freely.

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