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Instructor Profile: Elise Kyllo, Felting

Posted on April 17, 2017
by Erin Swenson-Klatt

Elise Kyllo, a long time felting instructor here at North House, heard about the school before it was started. While hiking with timber framing instructor and founder Tom Healy, she heard about plans for a new school on the North Shore. “He was really excited about this new place, which would celebrate experiencing the outdoors, adventure, and building... That would have been more than 20 years ago... I had never taught felting before, but I knew I wanted to teach there.”

A South Minneapolis artist who worked in printmaking, ceramics, and painting, Elise started felting because it allowed her to make her paintings into 3-D sculptures. She had guided trips up the Gunflint Trail and worked with kids education programs, and North House fit her interest in experiential learning and teaching outside of traditional classrooms. “North House was why I came back,” Elise says. Our fledgling school drew her back to Cook County as a way to interact with education, art, and a place she cared about. “It was totally unlike me,” she comments, on her proposal to teach at North House. “I was not a confident teacher, but at North House there was room to develop my skills.”

Elise’s felting is instantly recognizable, with sweet or scary faces, quirky forms, bright colors, and lots of inspiration from nature. Although her interest in felting originated from her art, she says North House drove her to focus on felting practical objects. Now her objects marry the art and the craft aspect of felting. “The teaching has motivated me to develop my skills, and it has kept me interested. I probably wouldn’t be felting anymore if I wasn’t teaching.”

Elise loves teaching here at North House because it allows her to develop skills, but also because of the relationships and community campus facilitates. “I love connecting with students, offering them a retreat from their lives and the world, giving them a chance to be playful and try something new. And I learn so much from the other instructors. North House is really good at creating and supporting that community.” Elise describes her fellow instructors as “amazing role models, with such dedication to craft.” She especially appreciates North House’s regular Instructor Retreats, where she says the community building among the instructors really happens.

After dividing her life for many years between the North Shore and South Minneapolis, Elise has spent the last couple years building a house a few miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais. On a cold January day, the space is warm and sun-filled, light reflecting off of Lake Superior far below. “North House is why I live here, far away from my community and world. Grand Marais would feel too small without North House. But the people that it attracts have a grounded-ness. North House grounds Grand Marais in the genuine, the real, the meaningful.”

Looking to the future, Elise expresses a wish for North House to “retain its charm, to not get too big... and to remain a place apart, a slower pace, where we can come to be at a different speed. At North House you can still see the Old World peeking through, and experience a world full of handmade things. So many people live in a world that is untouched, without things of beauty, full of plastic... North House is where I see the implementation of craft as a lifestyle. I’ve always tried to live simply, but North House normalizes that.”