Monkeying around

When Patrice Belz told her husband she wanted a sock monkey for Christmas, he knew he was in for more than a trip to the mall.

He could probably have found one of those soft, felt-faced dolls at a local store, or ordered one online. But part of the gift was a promise that Paul Belz would sit down next to his wife at a table filled with old socks and buttons and sew his way to her happiness. Then he would have to take her to lunch.


The Belzes joined about 200 others yesterday at the American Visionary Art Museum for Sock Monkey Saturday, which for the second year in a row has been held on the Saturday before Christmas Eve.

Just like last year, the crowd was so large that it quickly outgrew the large room at the Jim Rouse Visionary Center and spilled out into the next room. When that room filled up, new arrivals began stuffing their socks and pressing on their button eyes in the hallway.


The Belzes, who live in Timonium and have an insurance business, snagged a spot near a long, narrow table filled with craft supplies. Paul made a sensible navy-blue monkey, while Patrice's looked as if it were ready for Mardi Gras - it wore a brown argyle pattern, had a feather in its hair and was wrapped in big wooden beads.

"They are just adorable, and I am just a crafty person," Patrice Belz said. "I thought the kids would come with us, but they had no interest. The sock monkeys kind of scared them."

Organizer Maggie Muth, the museum's education coordinator, thinks she understands the appeal of the sock monkey this time of year. They are easy to make, and they can become excellent holiday gifts. And at a time when families are tired of running to the mall and spending more money, the sock monkey extravaganza is free. Plus, instead of the usual overplayed "Jingle Bell Rock," Muth had the stereo tuned to Madonna.

"When we started it last year, it was kind of a lark, but it was packed again this year," Muth said. "Every monkey develops a really interesting personality, and that personality has a lot to do with the maker."

Muth's sock monkey was striped, with pins stuck in it and the word "irritable" sewn in the side.

Other monkeys wore capes or crowns. Some were striped, some argyle, some polka dot and some psychedelic.

The museum provided the stuffing and the accessories. All that was required were two socks, and any old socks would do. But many people went out and bought new socks anyway because, well, you would not want to make a Christmas gift with dad's old smelly tube socks.

Jordan James, 9, rejected her grandmother's offer of pompom socks and asked to go to the store to find some brightly colored thin ones - even though her grandmother, a retired art teacher, assured her that pompom socks would work just fine. Jordan, who was thinking about naming her monkey "Junior," wanted to make something that reflected her personality - she put glasses on the monkey because she used to wear them.


Asked what she would do with Junior, Jordan said: "I want to play with it and push it on a swing."

Artist Rachel Brotemarkle found herself sitting with a group of sock monkey novices. The 31-year-old Bolton Hill resident served as a consultant, suggesting decorations and showing the others how to sew on the accessories.

Her table mates were taking the art of monkey-making seriously. Melissa Sugar of Mount Washington spent hours at Target hunting for the perfect sock and calling her sister, Stacey, to consult about colors and style.

"We do not skimp," Stacey Sugar said. "These socks are no joke."

Brotemarkle, who is about to begin chemotherapy for cancer, said she came because she thought making the monkeys would make her feel better.

"I wanted to have fun before I started my cancer treatment, and sock monkeys sounded like just the thing to do," she said. "Stuff like this is really therapeutic. It is fun, and I am good at it."