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Superior artist aims at rugs, tufted sculptures

“It’s a machine gun that shoots yarn," Heidi Blunt said of a tufting gun she uses. "… This thing is kind of violent."

Woman uses a tufting gun to make a carpet art.
Twin Ports artist Heidi Blunt uses a tufting gun to create a carpet in the shape of bananas in her studio space in the Duluth Armory on Dec. 5.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Heidi Blunt angles the barrels of her tufting gun at 90 degrees. The machine uses both hands: one takes aim, the other feeds the yarn.

With a high-pitched whirring, the gun’s tip punctures framed cloth, bleeding waves of yellow and mustard. Basketed skeins rotate and unravel slowly, as two single strands travel from source to canvas.

And, a hand of bananas rapidly comes to life.

A tufting gun is used to make a carpet.
Heidi Blunt uses the tufting gun to create her latest art piece. The tip punches through the back of the carpet cloth, pushes yarn through, and then a tiny pair of scissors snips the yarn and pulls back. Blunt described it as "a machine gun that shoots yarn."
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s a machine gun that shoots yarn. … This thing is kind of violent,” Blunt said, reflecting on her instrument.

The Superior visual artist , whose work has exhibited at Duluth’s Prove Gallery and 315 gallery, and has been featured on regional album covers, T-shirts and the Homegrown field guide, has a new calling: rug-making.

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Blunt caught onto this craft in 2021, when she saw it on social media and was attracted to “using yarn like paint.”

She bought “mountains of yarn” and a $300 tufting gun, and in February, her work will be displayed at Principia College, in Elsah, Illinois.

To start a rug, Blunt stretches primary cloth onto carpet tack attached to a frame. If your knuckles hit the edges, you’ll definitely start bleeding, she said, describing her first couple weeks.

The tufting gun is pretty heavy and fast, so you’re going to feel it in your wrists after an hour or two. After the image is set, Blunt shaves down areas with dog clippers to add dimension or to even out spots.

Multiple pieces of carpet art are put up on a wall.
Much of Heidi Blunt's tufted rugs hang on a wall in her studio, with the troll being her "masterpiece."
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

She demonstrated, maneuvering around a circular milk logo, as tiny cuts of yarn stuck to each other, creating fluffs of delicate confetti.

When a rug is done, Blunt trims away unused cloth and seals her work with carpet adhesive, which she can get at Menards.

A trimmer shaves pieces off of tufted rug.
Heidi Blunt trims the surface of her milk carton carpet piece to smooth it out and also provide a subtle three-dimensional feel.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

But the primary cloth is tough to come by, and with the price of that and the amount of yarn she needs, this is not a cheap or easy craft to begin.

Blunt couldn’t find her tufting gun state-side, so she snagged one from a South Korean manufacturer. It needs to be oiled and cleaned often, and it looks like if you dropped it once, it’d fall apart, so she doesn’t let anyone else hold it.

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In her Duluth studio sat a pink spray-painted Cabbage Patch doll. Neon fake money, a tiny kitchen replica, artificial cans of pears, an orange granny square, and plastic bin after bin of yarn.

A neon-green wall bore her collection of rugs depicting a Furby, troll doll and an old cassette tape. There’s also a rug featuring hairy ankles, a disfigured leg, and sprinkled throughout the studio — oil-painted soft sculptures depicting folks’ bellies, rolls and double chins.

Woman holds piece of artwork.
Artist Heidi Blunt holds one of her previous "blubby sculptures" in her studio Monday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

Blunt’s art reminds us of childhood, play and retro popular culture, and her pieces, specifically on larger bodies, offer a unique perspective that isn't always shown in our current society with its focus on ideal body types and traditional definitions of beauty and thinness, said Prøve Gallery director and collective member Jamie Ratliff.

Jamie Ratliff.jpg
Jamie Ratliff

“Heidi's work tackles important topics like body positivity and fat liberation, but her aesthetic is very approachable and accessible,” Ratliff added.

While practicing line drawing, Blunt considered how bodies were being represented in these spaces. “I thought about my own experience as a fat person and making more work about the fat body,” Blunt recalled. This inspired her 2018-19 works, and for her upcoming exhibit, she’ll dig a little deeper.

She’s now considering ideas of beauty and private bathroom rituals taken under the guise of self-care. You’re not hairy enough or you're too hairy; you’re too oily or you’re not oily enough, she explained.

Multiple pieces of artwork.
An assortment of Heidi Blunt's pieces of "blubby" artwork can be seen all over her art studio.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

During the News Tribune visit, Blunt had begun her first 3-D rug piece, which depicts a full-sized sink with debris around the drain, water droplets and a toothbrush on the rim. Next, she’ll add an accompanying tufted rug sculpture of a trash can, bathroom tiles and “in the mirror, me shaving my beard off, ’cause let’s just face it: Women shave their faces every day, too,” she said.

Blunt is continually experimenting with new mediums and tools, deepening her work conceptually and physically. With every new approach, she seems to be world-building, which provides an important continued prismatic lens of introspection and reflection for her audience, said Duluth visual artist Sarah Brokke Erickson .

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Sarah Brokke.
Contributed / Sarah Brokke

“While many artists in our region focus their work on the landscape, which is undoubtedly beautiful and understandable, art can also speak to the spectrum of our lived experiences and identities — our internal landscape," she said.

“Heidi's work explores both the internal and the external, it is playful and serious, and through her inquiry, creates spaces for folks to investigate what it means to fully embody themselves,” Brokke Erickson continued. “Art can be a vessel for us to not only see others' experiences, but through that process, see ourselves more deeply.”

Woman makes a carpet in the shape of bananas.
Heidi Blunt works on her latest tufted rug, a bundle of bananas, in her studio space Monday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
Woman shaves pieces off of tufted rug.
Heidi Blunt uses a trimmer to smooth the surface of one of her tufted rugs Monday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

More about Heidi

MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE
"I’ve been out on that trail. I know what the hills are like, I know what the conditions are like. ... I have so much respect for them," Mallory Cummings of Duluth said.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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