Barb Uhrig of Newel South Dakota—a founder of the Art In The Barn fleece and fiber festival spun the wool and hand knit this white shawl from the fleece of her Cheviot sheep, Bud, pictured here.
Did you ever put your hand in a “cloud” or walk around a fiber festival and hear the “yarns” spun as you are watching the wheels go round and round? Anyone could have done this the weekend of June 15 to 17, 2012 in the small rural community of Newell, South Dakota: The 2nd Annual Art in the Barn Fleece and Fiber Festival was in full swing!
I have been a close friend of the founder of this event for many years and was amazed walking through Newell Ram Show & Sale Barn at the number of people gathered at the event.
Barb is a committee member of the Newell Ram Show (which sponsors the event) and has worked with the committee members for the past five years to get an event such as this to the community.
Barb is not one of these people who sit for hours in front of a computer. She is a shepherd who enjoys passing along her passion for her love of sheep and fiber. She is an energetic artist who knows that the only way to get something done is to get up and do it. Barb loves her sheep and it is evident by her still shearing with blades (hand shears) and doing the vaccinating herself. I know for a fact that if she has an idea to get something accomplished it will get done.
I asked Barb “how this all came into place.”
“I started the fleece show during the annual Newell Ram Show & Sale (now in their 67th year) about five years ago.
“The mission of the show (held every September) is to bring quality stud rams and registered ewes to the consumers to promote the sheep industry and improve the various sheep breeds. Everyone always just sold wool to the warehouse and that was it.
“Being a western and fiber artist, I couldn’t see why the fleece wasn’t shown also at the Ram Show.
Barb Uhrig’s wool clad needle-felted elf in the South Dakota Sheep Growers Booth.
“After getting the ‘okay,’ I got a fleece show started during the Ram Show and it has been a hit ever since. Producers can show the fleece their rams or ewes produce, with fiber artists like me.
“The fleece show has grown by leaps and bounds.
“The next step I took to the committee was to open the barn up in the spring, by having a Fleece & Fiber Show in June. Since the barn is empty for the year except in June, it was worth a try.
“The days of the huge sheep ranches are going by the wayside and more producers are going to fiber animals to meet the need for quality and different wool. I raise purebred Cheviots and am always getting the laughs for my tiny sheep but being a fiber artist and making Santa Claus art dolls, I know what I like.
“In 2011 was the first Art in the Barn, it was small but generated a lot of interest and I had decided that I had to give it at least five years.
“In January 2012, I was already getting things ready for the next show. The South Dakota Sheep Growers generously donated money to help with premiums for the fleece show. I also use the vendor fees and the entry money for the Fleece and Fiber Show to ‘jackpot’ back to the shows.
“This year the barn was filled to the max with vendors selling everything from raw and processed fiber to wheels and looms!”
Barb has done an amazing job getting the barn organized. This year she added a fiber show, which showcased yarns, woven rugs, garments, and even Santa himself. This display of finished articles was another great idea Barb had, in order to get the public aware of what is available for the use of fiber. Ever since I have known Barb her mind has shown me what it is like to see into the future, realize what is possible if you just do it.
I sat down with Barb to get my facts straight for this article and asked her what is in the future for the two events?
When talking to her about “anything sheep” she just has a twinkle in her eye and you know her passion is her sheep, her art and her love to get people and sheep together.
“There are many things I can see coming to the festival, just as new things are coming to the Ram Show,” Barb commented. “One of the new plans for the Newell Ram Show is the addition of different breeds of registered sheep to the show and sale.” Since this is a registered show the purebred animals and fiber animals will have to come to the festival in June. This is really exciting since a lot of the public hasn’t seen the different kinds of animals used for the gorgeous fiber arts shown.
Heather Gordon’s Nellie Pure Farms, Inc. a new fiber mill in the Rapid City, South Dakota area presented beautiful fibers and yarns of sheep and llamas.
Spinners were scattered through the barn.
Fleece competition judge John Gupman Dettinger, North Dakota inspecting the Cheviot fleece in the breed class.
In addition to raising and shearing her own sheep, Barb Uhrig is also a sculpture and fiber artist. When establishing a new sheep publicity and profit-making event people “in the know” inspire more enthusiasm and incentives to make it all happen.
“We will continue to have the fleece show at both events. We have five covered sheds along with the barn and have plenty of space for a lot of diverse functions during the festival in June.
“We hope to continue to have the sheepdog trials next year like we had at the festival this year. They really brought the people in. Dee Lynn Garman out of Wyoming put on the event and it was held in the rodeo arena next to the Ram Show Building.
“I’d like to find a vendor with sheep or goat dairy products to come in June. Since there’s a ton of parking space the possibilities are endless.”
I asked Barb about the vendors and she was happy to reply, “The vendors this year were great! Several fiber processing vendors were in: Kelly Knispel from Groton, South Dakota brought a wide range of products from wheels and tools to ‘Clouds’ of wool she processes. She’s a great gal to visit with and it’s worth stopping by her shop. She’s also on the committee for the North Country Fiber Fest in September in eastern South Dakota-Watertown.
“Another fiber processor new to the business that I was very impressed with is Linda Atkinson out of Clearmont, Wyoming. She brought her llama fiber, along with some of the most interesting pieces of clothing and household décor. I found her work very interesting as she did a lot of her felting with a power sander and produced some of the most delicate clothing I have ever seen. Some of the other vendors were sheer masters in what they do: Beautiful hand-dyed yarns and roving, felted hats, woven rugs from bailing twine, felted soap and quilted bags.
“The fleece show was a big hit—as it usually is. In September, at the Ram Show our producers are finding out that spinners are going nuts over the colored fleece that they usually had to burn to get rid of. (Since this is big Rambouillet, Columbia, Targhee country out here colored fleece is taboo.) Now I am seeing a lot of colored fleece coming in and even the producers are keeping a small flock of colored sheep.
“This year the winner of the fleece show was a beautiful Jacob fleece from Mary Ann Warns, out of Wyoming. She had shown in September and took the judges comments to heart. These fleeces were remarkably clean. We also had Rambouillet, Cheviot, Cormo and colored fleece to round out the competition.”
Anyone who wants to start a fiber and fleece festival has to have the idea and communicate with others sharing the enthusiasm so it will get done. I know after talking to Barb and strolling for a day through the festival—making sure I didn’t miss anything—that next year will be bigger and better yet! I can hardly wait to sit in on the sheep dog trials, stroll through the sheds looking at all the interesting animals that these gifted people use in their art—and do a lot of visiting.
More info may be found on Barb Uhrig and the Newell, S.D. Art In The Barn Fleece & Fiber Festival and the Newell Ram Sale online at the websites: www.NewellRamSale.com and www.facebook.com/shepardspride/info.♈