By Kendra Atleework
When I first met Amy Wicks, we were mostly upside down.
There was a good reason for this—we’d both enrolled in an aerial silks class, which involves tying yourself in knots and swinging around in the air. (More on that in May’s column.)
Over the months that followed, we continued to take classes together, and I was impressed at how quickly Amy learned to use the fabric. The woman has a way with rope, knots, and cord of all kinds. After all, the Celtic swirls and circles I’d seen on the walls of many Bishop establishments are her handiwork.
Not long ago Amy and I finished a harrowing silks drops class together and ambled over to Black Sheep to chat about the intersections between art and climbing, and how those ingredients mingle to make a great life here in the Eastern Sierra.
It all started with an abandoned climbing rope Amy found in the woods.
Some of us would have carried that rope out and tossed it in a dumpster. More of us would have left it where it lay. But Amy saw a future piece of art. For five years since, she’s been transforming worn-out climbing rope into wall art, dog leashes, jewelry, hot pads, drink koozies, yoga mat holders, bowls, Christmas ornaments, and keychains, to name a few.
The first thing Amy made was a Celtic circle, just like the one you can see on the wall at Black Sheep.
The complexity of Celtic knots and patterns draws her to the form. “I’ve always had an interest in playing around with shapes,” she said. Her portfolio includes an art piece featuring three suspended, multi-dimensional pyramids—all made from climbing rope.
“It’s cool to be able to turn something into art instead of adding it to our landfills,” Amy said. Her work has led her to see the unexpected beauty in what might be trash. Who knew there was so much variety to be found in the aesthetics of rope? Amy assured me that some seem one-of-a-kind. She chats with people at art shows to get ideas for future creations. Her customers have returned, years later, to remark on the ongoing presence her pieces have in their lives.
Amy moved to the Eastern Sierra eleven years ago for the outdoor perks. She knows the landscape where she climbs and backpacks intimately and she tries to take care of it. Beyond picking up somebody’s trash and turning it into treasure, she’s worked seasonally doing Forest Service and Park Service field jobs, including restoration, wildlife, and forestry projects.
“There’s so much to explore that I still haven’t seen,” Amy said of home. “And the Eastern Sierra is a great community to be a part of. It gets better and better the longer you stay.”
Her art has connected her to new friends, and has given her a unique role in the climbing community. “There’s a climbing history here,” Amy said, “and it’s cool to be a link in that legacy.” Her custom pieces are often made from a climber’s beloved but worn-out rope, thus memorializing climbing adventures and love stories between climbers and the rock and mountains that hold them aloft. For a custom project, she’s even woven the ropes of two climbers together. Sometimes the rope she’s using has been slung all over the East Side for fifteen years.
She’s also come to see where climbing and art meet.
“There’s a creative component to climbing,” Amy said. “There’s no wrong way to climb as long as you’re being safe.” There’s intention and care present in each of these tasks. And at the root of both is the pursuit of beauty.
Now, going climbing, Amy thinks of the ropes in terms of art. Her relationship with the tool that keeps her safe on a rock face has become more intimate. “You get to see the inside of the rope, the core. Different colors in the interior of the strands—and you see damage. You see parts of the rope that are normally hidden.”
Whether she’s choosing colors for a pattern or finding her next hold, making art and climbing require a similar dedication, Amy said—a concentration that connects an artist or a climber to the land that provides their inspiration.
What’s next for Amy Wicks? Well, she’d like to do a three-dimensional piece, with wood and welding. You may have placed an order with her at the Mountain Rambler, but this summer she’ll be working with Inyo National Forest, doing wilderness patrol and working on trails. No doubt that trail time will inspire some new designs, Amy said. “It’ll be good to be outside again.”
You won’t find Amy working in a studio—she makes everything on the floor of her living room, which is heaped with rope. In other words, by making a purchase, you contribute to the accessibility of Amy’s furniture. She explained, “the more art I make, the less rope my boyfriend has to deal with!”
“I don’t have a website because the community interaction is what’s most important to me,” Amy said. She’d also be happy take your worn-out rope off your hands. Once you’re done with a rope, you can pass it along to Amy, instead of resigning it to the landfill.
You can find her work all along Main Street in Bishop: at Nuts & Twigs, the Mountain Rambler Brewery, Looney Bean, Black Sheep Coffee Roasters, Sierra Shanti (for yoga mat holders), and sometimes at the Inyo Council for The Arts.
Better yet, meet Amy and take a look at her wares (this Saturday, April 20, from 10am-3pm) in the park, during the Earth Day festivities. Come say hi at her table near the creek, close to Main Street.