It all started with a round of spring cleaning.
Avery Bender, a 35-year-old Gainesville native, was shuffling through her art supplies in January when she came across a trove of unused yarn. A quick Google search later, Bender was down a rabbit hole of fiber art and rug making.
After working on the crafts for close to a year, Bender is featuring her art at The AUK Market, a mixed-vendor marketplace located at Curia on the Drag. The exhibition opened Sept. 10 and will stay up through the beginning of October. All pieces on display are available for purchase.
Bender’s specific expertise lies in two types of rug making: punch needle and gun tufting.
Punch needle, she described, is a more primitive form of rug hooking — a rug-making method that encompasses pulling yarn through a stiff fabric base known as monk’s cloth. Gun tufting, however, requires more advanced equipment. The method follows the same action as punch needle, but uses a machine to do so, making it a much faster process.
Where a punch needle project takes 30 to 60 hours, depending on size, Bender said one made using gun tufting takes 15 to 25 hours.
Bender said she finishes each of her projects with rug glue. Afterward, they can either be placed on the floor as decoration or hung up as a wall display.
But while Bender devotes most of her downtime to art, she also works as an event manager at UF. Before COVID-19 shut everything down, she said hosting events was her main creative outlet. Once the event industry went virtual, she needed something to fill the gap.
Fiber art was the perfect candidate. Unlike more traditional forms of art, like painting, Bender said rug making was a far more manageable craft. It didn’t require too many different materials; she could pick it up and put it down whenever she wanted; and, even more appealing, she could practice it from the comfort of her own couch.
“It’s kind of like a mindless, meditative thing for me, so it’s really nice and keeps my hands busy,” Bender said.
Bender, who draws all her own rug designs, said she finds inspiration in alchemy and the music she listens to. Additionally, Chinese medicine, acupuncture and astrology all weave their way into her work. The pieces displayed at The AUK Market are inspired by the five elements, as well Florida-specific imagery like gators and oranges.
Around the same time that Bender started experimenting in fiber art, she also started posting about it on her Instagram account. The name was inspired by one of Bender’s favorite books growing up: “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster.
“It’s about appreciating being alone and being able to entertain yourself, which is definitely what I’ve been doing all of COVID,” she said.
The past year, however, Bender has slowly been working herself into the Gainesville art scene. She participated in two local pop-up markets in March and May and said she hopes to take part in more this fall. And recently, Bender and a friend moved into a small art studio at Pulp Arts, a space located in East Gainesville.
Through these opportunities and events, Bender met the three owners of The AUK Market, who eventually reached out about setting up her current art feature.
Samantha Salay, one of The AUK Market’s owners, said featuring local artists like Bender is a perfect example of the market’s core purpose.
“The whole mission of The AUK Market is to offer a creative and diverse space for local artists and makers to showcase their products and give them a place to reach the community,” Salay said. “It gives us a chance to showcase small brands that maybe haven't got their feet wet yet.”
Salay said The AUK Market will often introduce a new in-house artist through a feature, offering an initial look at how the artist’s work blends with the market’s patrons. When the market first started in 2018, it had eight brands. Now, it hosts more than 60, with around 40 being local to Gainesville and Florida.
For Bender, resonating with others and connecting with the community is one of the most exciting parts of being featured at The AUK Market.
“It was really important for me to be in a space where you could go in and find other local vendors,” she said. “Knowing that people are going there with the intention of buying something local is really, really nice.”
Contact Veronica Nocera at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vernocera.
Veronica Nocera is a third-year journalism major, history minor and The Avenue editor. She spent two semesters reporting arts and culture for The Alligator and also writes for Rowdy Magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading, journaling or taping random pictures to her wall. Also, she’ll probably be wearing yellow.