Interview by Courtney Patterson

Cheryl Capezzuti admits her art is strange and even laughable. She has been sculpting dryer lint into angels, animals, and whimsical creatures for nearly two decades. What started as a challenge in graduate school to make art out of unusual materials grew into The National Lint Project, which has spanned her artistic career.

Capezzuti received one of the earliest Seed Awards for Live from the Laundromat: A Lint Cabaret, and now almost 10 years later she is re-introducing her sculptures to the laundromat through the Sprout Fund’s Connect Your City program. Trey’s Laundromat in Brighton Heights will host Art at the ‘Mat, an installation of flying creatures made out of dryer lint donated by launderers and neighbors around Pittsburgh. The month-long exhibition will kick off with an opening on March 23 from 5 pm to 7 pm at Trey’s Laundromat, 3800 Brighton Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

Capezzuti spoke with The Sprout Fund about The National Lint Project, as well as her other projects that received Seed Awards.

You took almost a decade break from the laundromat exhibitions. What compelled you to bring back the lint sculptures?

From 2001 to 2004, I was constantly doing programming at laundromats; I did installations, and held art classes, performances and movies in that space. When I had a couple kids, I decided to put the project on autopilot for a while. I continued getting lint in the mail about once a month and would send sculptures back, but I stopped all public programming. Now that my children are older, I miss the project.

I pick my kids up at the bus stop across the street from a laundromat that opened in my neighborhood a couple years ago. Trey’s Laundromat feels more like a community center than a laundromat. When I heard about Sprout’s Connect Your City program, I approached the Laundromat owners, and they said they’re up for an exhibition. So now I’m reinventing the project, and I’m excited about this new installation.

Who have you received lint from?

I’ve gotten lint from almost every state, from Japan and countries people have traveled to, and of course lots of local lint. People hear about the project, and every now and then they have an aesthetic moment in the laundry room, and think ‘I’m going to send this lint to that artist.’ And they do. I don’t know most of the people I get lint from.

My deal with the world is that if you send me your lint along with a letter about it, then someday I’ll make you a sculpture and give it back. It’s part of an ongoing exchange. I think the letters are as fascinating as the sculptures themselves.

Are there any memorable lint or laundry-inspired letters you’ve received?

The project really flipped for me when my grandmother passed away in 1999. My mom or my brother took the lint out of her dryer, handed it to me and said, ‘Make a sculpture out of grandma’s lint.’ I made a tiny object and all of a sudden there was meaning and memory in the fibers and dust of her everyday life, more meaning than you would expect. We think of lint as disposable and completely useless. But when you’re holding a fiber of someone’s life that’s gone, you actually have a different experience with the material. To be able to capture all those experiences—funny, weird, gross, beautiful, full of memory, great and disgusting all at once—is what makes the work continue to be engaging to me.

How has this project connected you with different people and communities?

The core of my work as an artist is actually the practice of bringing people together around creative enterprise. There’s a huge population that spends time at laundromats that might not go to a gallery to see my artwork, and there’s lots of people who go to galleries that might not ever go to a laundromat. To create a show that is of interest to people across the board and will mix a crowd of strangers and friends together is something that I find really exciting. If you attend the event, you’ll see the broadest spectrum of human beings you can imagine.

What can people look forward to at the Art at the ‘Mat opening?

The band Slide Worldwide is going to play. They did a laundromat performance more than a decade ago. I’ll probably have some giant puppets out on the sidewalk to grab people’s attention. The owners of Trey’s Laundromat are going to have samples of all the food they offer in their café. It’s not standard laundromat fare—it’s homemade food.

What role has the Sprout Fund played in supporting your work?

The Sprout Fund has played a big role in my life as an artist. They have given money to projects at critical times when it’s the difference between something happening or not. My first grant was for Lint in the Laundromat, which was the beginning of my big public process for the National Lint Project. The second grant I got was for Everyday Art Assignments, which was an online art making challenge to the community to be creative. Artists from all over the city offered different art assignments for people to do. The third project they funded was Puppets for Pittsburgh, which is a giant puppet lending library that I have been running out of my studio for the past six or seven years. That project is on the verge of becoming a larger project that’s being taken up by the Allegheny County Library Association hopefully in the next year. Anybody with a library card will be able to go to a regional library and check out a giant puppet to use for an event, celebration, or anything they choose, so that’s another great example of how Sprout seeded an idea to go for it, and grow it into something larger. We don’t realize how lucky we are to have the Sprout that’s funding ideas for young people to make things happen.