From Farming to Felting: Kiyoshi Mino’s Animals

By Belinda Recio / April 14, 2015

Kiyoshi’s Mino’s animals are needle-felted, simple sculptures born out of his love of nature 

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Sherng-lee Huang

Kiyoshi Mino‘s animals are more diverse than those you would find on your standard farm. He has the kind that he feeds and breeds, and the kind he sculpts from wool.

Mino sculpts his amazingly lifelike animals from coarse wool that has been cleaned and carded. He creates preliminary forms by gathering bits of the wool together in a simple shape, which sometimes includes wire armatures. He then compresses the wool with notched felting needles that interlock the fibers. Mino adds layer after layer of wool to build up his sculptures. He punches down each layer with his needles, to slowly build up the forms. Toward the end, he adds thinner layers of dyed roving—which is soft, fluffy unspun wool fiber—for texture and color, often using the tiniest wisps of wool for details.

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Kiyoshi Mino

The journey that led Mino to needle-felting began with his love of nature. In college, he studied ecology and evolutionary biology, and planned on pursuing a career as a field biologist. But after finishing college, he decided to join the army, and was deployed to Afghanistan. When he finished his military service, he returned to Afghanistan for another year, to do aid work.

Mino’s experience in Afghanistan changed the way he viewed life. Prior to meeting the Afghans and learning about their lives, Mino imagined—based on prevailing Western presumptions—that they would be impoverished and unhappy people. But once he spent time with them, he was struck by the observation that their lifestyle seemed to make them happy. They lived sparse, simple lives by Western standards, but they had everything they needed—a little land, a few animals, and plenty of time to enjoy family and friends.

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Kelty Luber

After returning to the states, Mino married his college sweetheart, Emma Lincoln, and attended graduate school. He earned his degree in environmental economics, intending to pursue a career in international development. But Mino’s time in Afghanistan had left him with questions about the efficacy and ethics of aid work. He was also feeling increasingly envious of the simple life he had witnessed in Afghanistan and realized that he wanted it for himself and his wife. Lincoln worked as a preservation librarian, but had a passionate interest in food production and its impact on the environment and health. She dreamed of having a farm “someday.” Together, Mino and Lincoln came to the conclusion that “someday” could be sooner rather than later, so they abandoned their career paths, and decided to become farmers.

They enrolled in The Farm School in Athol, MA, where they learned how to grow crops and raise livestock. The curriculum included a course focused on adding value to wool. They learned about shearing, spinning, dyeing, wet felting, and needle-felting. Mino made his first needle-felted sculpture—a tiny chicken—which he gave to his wife. From that first sculpture he was hooked.

In 2011, Lincoln and Mino purchased Lucky Duck farm, where they grow Asian vegetables and raise ducks, chickens, sheep, cattle and pigs. They sell meat, eggs and vegetables at farmer’s markets in the summer.

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Kelty Luber

In between tending to his vegetables and animals, Mino continued needle-felting and began to get commissions. He started his own Etsy site, and it wasn’t long before bloggers at marthastewart.com and other online venues were paying attention to his work. In the years since he started needle-felting, Mino has sculpted a wide variety of species. He uses his firsthand knowledge of familiar animals for sculpting domesticated and livestock species, and field guides as references for more exotic species, such as the blue-spotted octopus, Mountain Gorilla, and Nubian Ibex.

When asked what he likes best about being a farmer and artist, he answers that farming and felting provides him with everything he needs: “a little land, a few animals, and plenty of time to enjoy family and friends.”

Mino’s sculptures range in price from $200 to $1,600 with most falling in the $500-$1,000 range. You can find his work online at AHAlife. You can also contact him through his website for custom work: http://www.kiyoshimino.com

Connect with Belinda at @belindarecio

Belinda Recio

Belinda Recio

Belinda Recio is a writer and curator working at the intersections of nature, art, and soul. She has authored books and iOS apps on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from animals to sacred arts. She is the founder of True North Gallery, where she exhibits art that connects people with the natural world. She is also a past recipient of the United States Humane Society’s Award for Innovation in the Study of Animals and Society.
Belinda Recio

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