Amp usher Burnett uses found thread in her weavings

Katie McLean | Staff PhotographerBURNETT

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer


Think of Gina Burnett as the unofficial artist in residence of Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater. Burnett, wrapping up her third season as an Amphitheater usher, has the responsibility of scanning patrons into the Amp for the morning lecture and cleaning up after they leave. She has turned that clean-up process into an art project.

“We collect lost-and-found items, trash, water bottles, anything left behind,” Burnett said. “Then I started finding all these colorful little snippets of thread and yarn. I gathered a jarful, and then I looked at them over the winter and thought, ‘What do you do with these?’ ”

Burnett is used to being resourceful. During the off-season, she works as an aid in a special education classroom in various grade levels at Chautauqua Lake Central School; there, her students dabble in all sorts of crafts. Burnett said she often finds inspiration in the smallest things.

“What amazed me was the people that stitch [in the Amphitheater],” Burnett said, “men, women, everybody. They knit, they crochet, they make little quilts, they do needlepoint and cross-stitch. I see them working away in the morning, so I know those little snippets have a lot of meaning.”

Burnett tried to make the leftover fiber into a scarf by wet felting the small pieces — holding together the fibers with water, such as in the process of creating felt — but she didn’t like the look of the final product. Ultimately, she used a bead loom to weave postage-stamp-sized pieces attached to twigs also found in the Amphitheater.

One morning last week, Burnett found some snippets in a striking red color. It reminded her of a cardinal she often hears singing outside the Amphitheater and inspired her to make a red-themed piece. She also thought of incorporating the gray yarn she found to represent the gray skies the Institution has seen as the season comes to a close.

Burnett lines up her thread by color and uses those colors to create different moods. For example, one piece, titled “Off the Porch,” featured the greens and yellows a friend of hers could see while looking off her porch.

Burnett had two weavings displayed in small shadow boxes at the VACI Open Members Exhibition in the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center. (Today is the exhibition’s last day.) The gallery staff informed Burnett that one of her pieces was purchased by a woman who said she knits in the Amphitheater each morning.

“I think [people] know that if they work with snippets of thread,” Burnett said, “they are probably part of one of my weavings. It’s neat to have a piece of their work that they take home, and it’s their summer memory.”