At 1:32 in the morning on a Saturday in February 2005, Bernal Heights resident Nina Rosenberg launched her quixotic quest to hang thousands of tiny red sweaters from the locust tree in front of her house — one for each American soldier who's died in the war in Iraq. She was inspired by several things: Central Park's “The Gates” exhibition, a video purporting to show an American hostage (it was actually a 12-inch-tall action figure), and pictures of World War II-era ads encouraging housewives to knit socks and sweaters for troops overseas.
The 27-year-old Rosenberg decided not to knit socks and sweaters for the soldiers, she says, because she didn't know anyone in the war. (And, presumably, because the last thing Middle Eastern troops want are thick socks.) But sweaters that would fit a GI Joe doll? That was the ticket.
The Red Sweaters Installation, as she calls it, wasn't an anti-war action, but rather, as she writes on the project's Web site, www.redsweaters.org, meant to “compel people to listen to the news, ask questions, form opinions, or to simply take a moment to stop and consider the realities of war and how it is affecting their life, even if they are not directly involved.”
She posted a call for the tiny, acrylic sweaters on her site. “Please make sure you are using Red Heart Super Saver Medium Weight yarn, preferably in Cherry Red color, to guarantee that your sweater will hang in the tree,” she wrote. (That's red for blood — duh.)
The sweaters poured in from locations as far away as Ireland and the U.K. She began to hang them, and the media — including blogs, Vogue Knitting, and ABC 7 (KGO) — ate it up. But the attention may have doomed the project: In late June, the city sent Rosenberg a letter noting that her “garland” was illegal, and gave her seven days to take the sweaters down.
“People were complaining about them,” says Rick Pearman, assistant to Fred Abadi, Director of Public Works. “Just like graffiti and litter — they do not belong in the street trees. You need a permit to do that. And, if she were to go to obtain a permit, they would say no. You cannot put sweaters and items like that in a street tree.”
Rosenberg quickly complied: The sweaters came down on July 8. Nonetheless, she considers the project a success, though she's unsure what will happen to the sweaters. “They will probably sit in my garage for years,” she writes in an e-mail, “until someone (not me, because I can't) has the courage to throw them out or finds some other practical use for them.”