Shari Elf is a little hard to describe. She doesn't fit into the regular molds the world has set up. It's like she lives on the Island of Misfit Toys but instead of being sad about it like the toys in the old stop-motion Rudolf movie, she feels right at home there. You'll see from this interview that Shari is a rebel. She's let go of any ego and has embraced a life others can't quite grasp. Money has a tight grip on most of the people in the world and it dictates what we do with our lives. Shari has somehow broken free and lives a life she dictates. Everyone has to deal with money but she's no longer a slave to it. Her art is equally hard to put into normal categories and seems to have several overlapping genres. Whether it's painting, music, sculpture, printmaking, or fashion, it's sure to make you smile.
Tell us how art played into your childhood, did you always consider yourself an artist or did that come later?
Did your parents encourage your art?
Yes and no. My mom didn’t like messes so I didn’t get to do any painting or messy art in our house growing up. They didn’t discourage art and my mom sent me to sewing lessons starting at age 10 (which I hated at the time and now am very grateful for). I made elaborate birthday cards and gifts and often was up until 3 am making Christmas gifts for the whole family. When I went away to major in art at Pacific Lutheran University they were fine with me majoring in Art but to this day my dad doesn’t really get my art. He only got excited when comedian Elayne Boosler started buying my art (he likes her comedy because it’s clean). My family loves to laugh and appreciated the humor in my cards and presents.
I have never met anyone with the last name Elf, did someone in your family history change their name to that?
My mom (Pat Elf) has the more magical version of the story of Elf. She said my dad’s great uncle was in the Swedish military and his name was changed to Elf because Elf is 11 in Swedish and because he was 11th graduating in his class. My dad (Roy Elf) says we got the name Elf when that same great-grandfather jumped ship from the Swedish military in the Port of Tacoma, Washington and changed his name to be Elf so he would not be found. This makes me the great-granddaughter of an illegal alien.
You kind of do it all, drawing, painting, printmaking, music, fashion, etc. Is there one that you love the most or do you feel they all play an equal role in your life?
They are pretty equal or complementary. Today I am looking at just putting my full attention, appreciation, and love into whatever I am focused on right now and seeing the love radiating through that creation. Instead of creating for them”, or making something that “will sell” I am in a wonderful flow right now of just creating with joy and appreciation for the place I find myself in right now.
I am grateful for a free studio and store at Art Queen gallery in downtown Joshua Tree, California, where my World Famous Crochet Museum is also located. This free rent is due to the generosity of my ex, Randy Polumbo, who owns the Art Queen complex and Sun Alley Shops next door.
Does one help you get the bills paid more than the rest?
As I focus more on the new paradigm I am wanting to help manifest in our world, I am blessed to not be super concerned anymore about paying the bills. I believe that if we are aligned with our true self and doing the work we came here to do, everything flows perfectly, and this has been happening especially for the past couple of years. I feel so blessed that everything I feel like making and putting in my store ends up in a happy new home and I have money to pay the bills. I have always had to provide my own income to pay the bills but lately I focus on a saying that Jesus said, “Consider the Lilies of the field…they toil not.” They don’t spin either, and if you have heard my song “I’m forcing goodness upon you” I’m actually a spinning pleasure magnet. I believe it is our true nature to have all our needs richly met by allowing it and to stop interfering with what the divine source wants us to have, (we actually could block our good by too much planning, scheming and over-thinking it) I like to under-do it as much as possible lately and let the universe, the unified field we’re all connected to energetically, surprise me with the riches of the universe. (Which is not all about money and things and way more about feeling content and feeling connected to all that is) here’s my new saying “If you build it, Kevin Costner will come!”
How did the World Famous Crochet Museum come about and how did you find such an amazing building?
Ramona Otto, a folks artist friend, brought me 2 crochet poodles back in 1999. She said “here, you should collect these” “really?”, I asked, not having really connected with crochet poodles before this. but I soon found other stray crochet poodles, in complementary colors and the poodle collection grew. I built a shelf, hung it in my bathroom and thought that was it. until I moved to Kansas City, MO with my ex, Stuart, and I kept finding more cute crochet. So I had to build a bigger shelf and moved it to the living room and jokingly called it the Crochet Museum. The building had been on the side of the road in Yucca Valley, a town next to Joshua Tree. I located the owner and she sold it to Randy and we painted it and moved my museum in.
The clothing you create makes me smile, was repurposing used clothing an idea that fell out of the sky or did your fashion sense evolve into that?
Thank you! I have just always found trash, recycling and hand-made things more interesting. An architect friend and then my sister once told me “when you have more money you should buy real, new art supplies”. Clearly, they didn’t get it. I like that used things already have some soul and life energy in them, they’ve been loved and used. And I don’t like the waste and pollution that happens that we all know about with fast fashion and over consuming. I only went to my first thrift store in college, as my family didn’t do that. I visited the dump on Maui with my dad when I was 9 and wanted to jump out of his truck and grab all this stuff, end table, TV, chair. but I just sat there amazed that all that good stuff could be thrown “away”. My dad was probably dropping off perfectly good construction remnants. My design hero William McDonough asks “when you throw something away, where is away?”
You’ve lived in many drastically different places, how did you come to live in Joshua Tree California?
In 1999 on a camping trip with a friend and her church group from Santa Monica. I ended up driving down the little dirt roads, looking at real estate for sale, when I stumbled upon my little cabin in Morongo Valley. It was love at first sight. The owner even financed the cabin for me, as it had been on the market for 3 years for $21,500.
Do you still open your studio one night a week for others to come create art?
I would but we are not formally meeting anymore. We do have a weekly artist support group every Tuesday at 5 pm. I used to have my group “Art Not Walmart” meet every Tuesday before the art support group, where we’d make art and sell it in my gallery based on selling it for $10 an hour for their wages. Instead of working at a soul-killing job like Walmart, I asked, why not make your art instead and sell it based on $10 an hour and raise your prices as the demand increases. That was my simple formula for selling my art and wanted to pass it along. I started selling my art based on what I was already making in my sewing business, $20 an hour. I’ve given myself raises over the years and for the past 10 or more years I’ve been basing my art on $100 an hour. And I’m fast so there are still good deals.
I've noticed you seem to reach out to the outcasts or the people that tend to be invisible to the rest of the world, what influences your kindness? Do you have a spiritual side?
Not just a side dish, it’s the main course. As for outcasts, that comes from an embedded emotional signature from childhood of feeling left out, outcast. So I feel good making sure others are welcomed. I’m often the welcoming committee. But because of integrating those emotional signatures (via work I do based on Michael Brown’s book The Presence Process) I now no longer have to save the world to feel whole or complete or “enough”. I’m feeling integrated and whole and content just being present to what life puts in front of me. And kindness circles back around. Again, I’m building the kind of world I want to live in.
I’ve also noticed some pretty famous people have bought your art, who would you say was your most famous customer?
Bunny (the crochet alligator). After all, she is the curator of the World Famous Crochet Museum, as seen in airports all over the world right now.
How do you find some of the unique materials you use in your art?
I find them on walks, at thrift stores, yard sales, swap meets, from friends, eBay, desert scavenging.
Two of my favorite songs from you seem like they could be true stories, are “Seamstress" and "Ron's Appliance" true stories?
Thank you! And yes, they are true stories. I wrote the Seamstress as an actual offering to the universe, saying, I am done with this sewing business, thank you, I’m ready to be more creative and I think I can sell my art and do well at the flea markets of Los Angeles. Within 2 months of writing that song, I had finished up the last of my sewing clients orders and I was becoming the artist of my dreams, selling my art a the flea markets of Los Angeles. The 2nd venture out had me selling art for the set designers of the movie Independence Day. If you look closely at the beginning of the movie, to Will Smith’s girlfriend’s house, you can see my art all over in her walls.
Ron’s Appliance was inspired by a call from a wrong number who insisted I was Ron’s Appliance. Her phone call actually woke me up late one morning and I immediately wrote a poem about it, enjoying her insistence that I WAS Ron’s Appliance and she was not wrong, I was wrong. Soon after I sat down and turned many of my poems into songs, many which are on both of my albums, I’m Forcing Goodness Upon You (2001) and The Kittens (2014)
Do you have any big projects or upcoming plans you’re willing to talk about?
I’m so happy to have no big projects upcoming! Just doing more of becoming right sized and doing the work that’s in my heart. More and more I want to be available to the moment and who and what appears in that moment and do the indicated thing. I’m excited to be interviewed by Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura for All Things Considered in a couple weeks and that will air this summer if all goes well. And I’m also excited to go to the UK for the first time this summer to a festival in Cornwall, Port Eliot, that I’ve been wanting to go to ever since Susie Bubble blogged about it. Also, I’ve been riding my electric bike, a Sondors, to work at Art Queen once a week. It’s a 20 minute drive by car and 1 hour electric bike ride. It’s an amazing feeling to be free from needing a box with wheels to get to work. I smell the desert plants all along the way and enjoy the desert wind in my short pink hair.
If money and time were no object, what would you do?
Let us unravel the old paradigm thought that money is so important. It is not, especially as we see how we are all connected and we can learn to share and trust and live like the lilies of the field and not toil so much. Shari Elf likes to quote herself saying, “if everyone worked just 3 hours a day, everything would get done” the rest of that time can be spent learning, living, relaxing and recreation with families and community and building the kind of world we really want to live in. Let us step off the hamster wheels of an old way of life and step barefoot onto the earth and connect with nature and all her many gifts she wants to share.
Thanks for taking to time to let us get to know you a little better, where can we find your work?
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