Condiments aren’t typically known for being cuddly. But at one Los Angeles supermarket, any ketchup bottle you encounter—along with all 31,000 grocery products—will likely be delightfully fuzzy.
Fret not, this is no health code violation. This is Sparrow Mart, the fully felted grocery store created by 32-year-old British artist Lucy Sparrow. Sparrow spends most days surrounded by layers of fabric in the “Felt Cave,” her studio located on a secluded farm in the east of England. Here, she tirelessly stitches and paints all of her creations by hand, accompanied by a few sewing assistants, her studio director, and a plethora of true-crime podcasts to keep her going.
Sparrow first became interested in making felt art as a young girl in the hopes of creating toys she couldn’t find in stores. Intent upon making “everything cuddly,” the artist was drawn to the fuzzy fabric because of its versatility. “Felt is an amazing medium because of the color palette,” she says. “You can literally make anything.”
For Sparrow, that’s not an overstatement. In the past five years, she’s outfitted an entire corner store, bodega, and sex shop with thousands of realistic, hand-stitched felt products. Her most recent installment, 8 ‘Till Late, sold everything you’d expect to find in a ‘90s New York bodega, including felted booze, peanut butter, Vagisil, and a collection of self-help books. For the sake of authenticity, a fabric bodega cat perched on the counter by the sausages, presumably on the lookout for any felted rodents.
Now, Sparrow is focused on unveiling her newest, biggest installation. Open throughout August, 2018, at The Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Sparrow Mart will feature felt iterations of every food, drink, and cleaning product imaginable. The supermarket’s shelves will be stocked with everything from bright red bags of Lay’s Flamin’ Hot potato chips to hug-worthy boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese.
It may seem arbitrary to turn food to felt, but Sparrow’s cuddly creations tap into the strong emotions, and often sense of comfort, specific foods can evoke. “Food is really nostalgic, and we all have really strong relationships with our favorite products,” says Sparrow. According to the artist, people often make decisions about what food they buy from a place of emotion.
One food Sparrow feels particularly emotional about? Bananas—particularly her beloved felted version, Basil, who she’s quick to call “the most handsome plantain on the planet.” The artist refers to Basil as her “constant companion,” and has several tattoos in homage to her favored fruit.
Among some of the artist’s favorite products available in the supermarket are Windex (for its “gorgeous pump action handle”) and the meat section. There’s also a wide array of prepared felt foods available, from a stocked sushi bar to smiling Sparrow Mart burgers and fries.
Sparrow advises those visiting the mart to be sure to read the labels. She paints each item by hand, which means both that they are intricate and that there are likely a few, precious misprints. “If they find a product with a spelling mistake on the label, they should buy it. They’re rare, but after 12 hours straight painting in the studio, it’s inevitable!”
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