For the past 17 years, Sam Barsky has knit sweaters that depict places he's seen around the world, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Stonehenge, Jerusalem's Western Wall — even a field of electrical pylons.
But what's made Barsky an internet phenomenon, with well over a million hits on various websites, are photos of the knitter himself posing in front of a scene, wearing his matching sweater.
With more than 100 handmade sweaters under his belt, the 42-year-old says the only limitation he has is the one-months' time it takes to make one.
"This is what I enjoy doing, I like creating. I like replicating what I see in life, and what I anticipate seeing."
And that's just where he finds his artistic inspiration.
"Pretty much any kind of iconic landmark or natural scene — anything, possibly — it could be in my dreams," Barsky says.
As for the electrical pylon sweater, "I see them all the time, in all my routine travels around the local area," he says. "They're everywhere, so pretty much anything that crosses my eyes is a potential sweater and the pylons are no exception."
For his next project, he's setting his sights on a Groundhog Day sweater — featuring a groundhog on it, of course.
Another ambitious knitting feat of his? Faces — he's working on a Martin Luther King sweater, just in time for the civil rights leader's birthday.
Now that his art's virality has garnered him new fame, Barsky says, "I'm flooded with requests — so many I can't even see all of them."
But he's not quite up to fulfilling those requests, sticking to his own artistic direction that got him the attention in the first place.
"I've thought about it before, but I've realized early on, a long time ago, that it's not practical for me to be a human sweater mill."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Sam Barsky of Pikesville, Md., has turned sweaters into a statement. For the past 17 years, he's knit sweaters that show places that he's seen around the world, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Stonehenge and Jerusalem's Wailing Wall or a field of electrical pylons. But what's made Mr. Barsky an internet phenomenon with well over a million hits on various websites are photos of the knitter, the artist himself, posed in front of a scene wearing the sweater that he's knitted. Sam Barsky joins us now from member station WYPR in Baltimore. Thanks so much for being with us.
SAM BARSKY: Hi.
SIMON: Why do you do this?
BARSKY: This is what I enjoy doing. I like creating. I like replicating what I see in life and what I anticipate seeing.
SIMON: I'm told you've done a 103 sweaters.
BARSKY: Yes. That's correct.
SIMON: That's a lot of wool, a lot of stitches, isn't it?
BARSKY: Yes, probably millions by now.
SIMON: Do you know what you're going to knit next?
BARSKY: Yes because Groundhog Day is coming up in early February, I'm thinking of making a sweater with a groundhog on it.
SIMON: Oh, that sounds adorable. You must get requests at this point. You've become pretty famous.
BARSKY: Yes. I'm flooded with requests, so many I can't even see all of them.
SIMON: Yeah. Do you ever fulfill any?
BARSKY: I've thought about it before, but I've realized early on a long time ago that it's not practical for me to be a human sweater mill.
SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah. All right. I understand that. Well, what are some of your favorite sweaters, sweater scenes?
BARSKY: I can't say which one is my number one favorite, but some of the ones that are getting attention a lot are, like, Times Square. The Tower Bridge of London is very popular. I've done Venice, I've done Niagara Falls, just to name a few. I did one with tigers on it, and I wore it while holding a real live tiger in Thailand one time.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh. A lot of people must ask you about the electrical pylons sweater.
BARSKY: Yes. And as a matter of fact, it's the one I'm wearing right now.
SIMON: All right. Well, maybe we can get a picture of it and we can post it on our website if that's all right with you.
BARSKY: Yeah. That's fine.
SIMON: What was your artistic inspiration for that? A lot of people would see a field of electrical pylons and think we ought to put a sweater over that.
BARSKY: Yes. I see them all the time in all my routine travels around the local area. They're everywhere. So pretty much anything that crosses my eyes is a potential sweater, and the pylons are no exception.
SIMON: Yeah. Is there a sweater of your dreams you'd like to do you just haven't gotten to yet?
BARSKY: Pretty much any kind of iconic landmark or natural scene. It's like anything possibly - could be in my dreams. The only limitation I have is that it takes a month to make one.
SIMON: Do you ever put people's faces on a sweater, of friends maybe?
BARSKY: Doing a face of a specific person is not something I've ever attempted to do before. It's one of the things I'm working hard on figuring out how to do now as I'm working on a Martin Luther King Day sweater. I'm having a picture of the I Have A Dream speech with a picture of Dr. King standing in front of the crowd.
SIMON: Well, that sounds like a very ambitious piece of art, Mr. Barsky. It really does.
SIMON: Well, Mr. Barsky, you've given a lot of people pleasure. Thank you very much for your art work and letting people see it.
BARSKY: Yes, it's my pleasure. It's my goal to share it with the world.
SIMON: Sam Barsky talking about his sweaters. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.