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Visual Arts

See and Touch These Bright Fiber Art Installations Opening in Deep Ellum

In honor of International Women’s Day, Texas artists Hannah Busekrus and Sam Lao will showcase their tufted art pieces at Sweet Tooth Hotel and Punch Bowl Social on March 8.
Dallas artist Sam Lao's "Stay Sweet" tufted art piece. Courtesy

On the morning of my interview with Hannah Busekrus, the Austin-based artist nearly wound up stuck inside a Topo Chico bottle after trying to fill it. It didn’t help matters that the bottle is taller than the artist herself and full of stuffing rather than sparkling water. The half-full bottle engulfed Busekrus when she tried to stand up with it, forcing her to jump and lean over a table to free herself. Not one to back down from a challenge, she bought a long dowel from Home Depot to finish stuffing the bottle.

“I think I enjoy the creative problem solving of being an artist more than I enjoy making the art itself,” Busekrus says of her ambitious artwork. “It’s like figuring out how to do it and conquering those questions.”

This mindset helps the multidisciplinary artist create larger-than-life fiber art pieces, such as her upcoming “Sabores Splash” installation at interactive art museum Sweet Tooth Hotel. “Sabores Splash,” which features Busekrus’ towering Topo Chico bottle, is one of two fiber art installations opening in Deep Ellum this weekend to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. Fellow multidisciplinary artist Sam Lao will also see her fiber art installation, “Stay Sweet,” open at Punch Bowl Social in a partner event sponsored by Topo Chico.

Both installations feature a colorful, vibrant, and tactile method called rug tufting, which exploded in popularity on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. Artists use a specialized industrial-style machine called a tufting gun that’s traditionally used to speed up the rug weaving process to make their pieces. The tool allows artists like Busekrus to “go big” with their fiber art, even if it’s still a “laborious” process itself. “It’s hard work. It’s manual labor with a power tool,” Busekrus says, adding that it’s much more difficult than what TikTok or Instagram users might think.

When Busekrus received her first chance to work with Sweet Tooth Hotel for its 2020 installation, “Intangible,” she had only made a few rugs using her tufting gun. She didn’t let that lack of experience stop her from creating an expansive, eye-catching display called “So Cozy.” The piece had two entirely tufted walls and a giant tufted cat and mouse—the latter of which hung from movable marionette strings that attendees could operate. “It was a trial-and-error process, but I’ve learned a lot from it and continue to try and push the boundaries of what I can do,” Busekrus says.

“I think it was like 2 million linear feet of yarn that got donated,” Sweet Tooth Hotel founder and Punch Bowl Social Chief Marketing Officer Jencey Keeton says of the “Intangible” exhibition, describing how the Craft Yarn Council helped curate the female fiber artist-created installation and donated the yarn used in it. 

After visiting “Intangible,” Dallas-based Sam Lao was inspired to order a tufting gun when quarantine began. Lao similarly began working through “a lot of learning curves” when using the tufting gun, especially considering the lack of training resources available online at the time. She eventually found her own opportunity to work with Sweet Tooth Hotel on the wall-sized tufted installation “Stay Sweet.” The piece, which now finds its way to Punch Bowl Social, originally appeared in the entryway of Sweet Tooth Hotel’s past exhibition in Allen. 

In it, Lao used the motif of hands, a recurring theme throughout her work, as inspiration. “The idea is that every action, no matter how simple, is important, and the simplest thing you do is also a step in the next direction,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be something that’s really complex.” The hands also served to welcome guests into the Sweet Tooth Hotel space and encourage them to feel the tufted artwork itself.

Lao says “Stay Sweet” turned out “exactly how I envisioned it.” She’s glad the installation will have a new lease and reach new audiences at Punch Bowl Social. Fiber art “bridges that gap between art and experience” by allowing attendees to get up close and personal with the art, experiencing it both visually and texturally.

The ability to have that close, tactile experience with art resonates with Busekrus, who aims to instill a sense of wonder with her installations and transport attendees outside of their everyday lives. Her piece “Sabores Splash” will include a 360-degree painted mural designed to make it appear as if “you’re in the bottom of a swimming pool.” She says that above the waterline, attendees will see elements like fiber fruits and the massive Topo Chico bottle. “It’s gonna be very bright and bold and vivid,” Busekrus says. The artist has worked day and night to ensure as much, crashing in her studio to have the time to bring all the different elements together.

Both exhibitions will debut with free artist receptions on March 8, featuring meet-and-greets with Busekrus and Lao and the opportunity to purchase shareable appetizers and custom Topo Chico-inspired cocktails. “Sabores Splash” opens first at 5:30 p.m. with the first 50 attendees receiving a free cocktail from Topo Chico and Calirosa Tequila. Busekrus will work on a community mural during the event where she will demo her techniques. Attendees can make their own additions to the mural via a manual technique called punch needle.

“Stay Sweet” will then open at 6:30 p.m. at Punch Bowl Social’s 360 bar and include free cocktails for the first 20 attendees as well. “We love presenting fiber artists, and the community is just so supportive because it’s multi-generational,” Keeton says, describing how families pass down fiber art from generation to generation. And installations like these can serve as inspiration for other aspiring artists.

“I can’t get over that I can inspire people with what I’m doing,” Busekrus says, referring to the joy she felt in learning Lao was inspired to start rug tufting from her work. She hopes “Sabores Splash” serves as another kind of space where attendees are “taken aback and overjoyed” by all the colors and sensory experiences in the installation.


Brett Grega

Brett Grega