Kyra Richter’s entry in the 2024 Michiana Annual Art Competition (MAAC) weaves together three incongruous subjects: needle felting, churros, and love. The resulting sculpture of a ram head, titled “This Love of Mine,” was awarded Best of Show in the 2024 MAAC in the Box exhibit at the Box Factory for the Arts.

Kyra, of Stevensville, said she was “flabbergasted” by the good news, which came with a $1,500 prize sponsored by Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council. “It was very validating.”

She created the prize-winning ram using a process called needle felting, which involves poking long, thin needles into wool to create shapes and designs. The wool she used comes from Navajo-Churros—a rare breed of sheep in New Mexico that was once close to extinction due to wars waged on the Navajo nation in the late 1800s.

“It’s a way to support the breeders of the churros. Cohabitating with our environment is very important to me,” Kyra said. It’s a sentiment she brings to her day job as an environmental specialist at Cook Nuclear Power Plant.

Kyra visited vintage shops to find many of the other materials, such as 100-year-old embroidery thread, old sequins, and gold beads. It was while she was vintage shopping that she saw taxidermy forms and got the idea for her fabric sculptures: animal heads that resemble those mounted on hunters’ walls. “But you’re not killing the animal to create it,” she noted. In addition to the ram, her wool deer head, “The White Queen,” was also selected for the juried MAAC exhibit. They hang side-by-side at the Box Factory.

The ram was a personal project with a bit of “magical thinking,” Kyra said. On its neck she embroidered a rabbit and a raven, symbolizing herself and the person she loves connected by colorful threads, or veins. “They are the heart of that ram,” she said. “This is an expression of that love of mine.”

Kyra’s current art interests include pottery and nicho boxes, three-dimensional display boxes resembling small, colorful altars. She will teach a class on how to make Mexican Nicho at the Krasl Art Center this summer. Follow her art projects on Instagram at @kyrarichter.

The MAAC in the Box exhibit runs through July 7 at the Box Factory for the Arts. See all entries and vote for the People’s Choice Award at www.gogophotocontest.com/maac.