In a couple of months, Donegan Elementary School will be overrun by monsters. Monsters made of felt that is, created by third-graders under the guidance of Mallory Zondag during her residency program at the school in January. Zondag is a Lehigh Valley native who got her start in art, specifically textiles, attending summer camps at the Banana Factory and learning from local artists. Now a graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, Zondag hopes to pass on her “love for, and the awesomeness of, fiber arts” to children and adults in the area. She works with area schools, runs classes at ArtsQuest, and teaches at the same summer camps she attended as a child.
“The first thing I remember wanting to be is an artist,” she explains. By age 10 or 11 she had begun to venture into fibers, which would become her passion, first trying knitting, then clothing design and weaving. She taught herself how to work with textiles and then continued to learn about painting and other techniques from local artist Donna Haney, her school art teachers, and programs like the Banana Factory summer camps. Inspired by designers like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, Zondag went to Pratt Institute intending to become a fashion designer.
When Zondag began her studies at Pratt, she found that learning new techniques for working with textiles was what really caught her interest. As a result, Zondag transitioned into fiber arts tapestry weavings, particularly those inspired by nature. “I see things in nature and have to capture them . . . in a tactile way,” Zondag says. She describes the ocean, forest, and moments like rain falling through tree leaves as “sources of pure joy” and channels that feeling into her fiber art.
As an arts educator, Zondag works to show others how fibers can be a fun and inspiring form of expression, especially because it’s something many of them have never heard of before. At Donegan, this starts with students making monsters while Zondag and art teacher Tiffany Anderson encourage thinking about artistic creativity and genius coming from a muse rather than the self. This mindset “takes some of the pressure off” Zondag explains, an important point as some students feel a lot of stress around the idea of creating art.
But Donegan isn’t the only school that has “felt” the impact of one of Zondag’s programs. At Forks Elementary in Easton, students have been working collaboratively to create a large felt wall hanging that will be displayed permanently in the school. They will not only learn technical skills like wet felting, but also contribute to a common project and share a sense of pride for creating something that hangs in the school for all to see. Zondag teaches similar programs at Marvine, Fountain Hill, and Holy Infancy schools, in addition to more involved lessons at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts and ArtsQuest.
The richness of the Lehigh Valley arts community has played a significant role in Zondag’s decision to stay in the area instead of going back to New York after graduating from Pratt. In Bethlehem, Zondag has found support and a variety of opportunities for her own art as well as like-minded art educators. Commenting on the local community, Zondag observes there is a “great push for arts education through Artsquest, even for schools that don’t have an [existing] arts education program.” Zondag is a big part of that push, giving others the chance to discover a passion for art just as she did.