Vandal destroys Sacramento artist's reminder to ‘stay human’

Yarn-bombed tree outside of Pieces Pizza became public focal point following St. Patrick Day’s murder of young man

One March morning in 2013, Jackie Hardre approached her work near the corner of 21st and Capitol with a heavy heart.

She'd walked this route plenty of times over the course of two decades since opening Pieces Pizza By the Slice, but this morning was different. On her way into work that day, she heard the news about a young man, Josiah Humphreys, who'd been beaten to death on the streets of Midtown the night before, just a few blocks away. A self-professed “hippy-dippy,” Hardre wondered, to nobody in particular, how human beings could treat one another this way.

That's when she saw it. She'd been “yarn-bombed.”

A form of street art similar to graffiti, yarn-bomb artists use crocheted or knitted yarns instead of spray paint or chalk to decorate public objects.

That March 18, Hardre gazed upon the tree outside of Pieces, which had been “bombed” by the local artist known as Rebel Th’redz. What struck her were not only the intricacies of the knitted and woven colors, but the message, written in bold, white letters: “Stay Human.”

Simple, timely, the tree became a public focal point, with people of all ages stopping to pose next to it. Bird houses, punk rock buttons, even masking tape flowers, created by another local street artist, found their way onto the tree over the following three years, making it a local shrine of sorts.

“That message,” says Hardre, “was so important. It was a daily reminder that we're all in this together. We're all human, and all we've got is each other.”

Unfortunately, not everyone got the message.

According to Hardre, a customer took exception to the art one evening this September for no apparent reason. Belligerently, he explained to everyone who'd listen that the tree was public space and therefore, as a member of the public, it was his right to take it down. “It was bad,” Hardre says. “Especially since the artist was there.”

The artist, Rebel Th'redz, stood up for her art and a verbal skirmish ensued. Over the next three weeks, the animosity between the two built, with the man often taking a pair of scissors from his pocket and waving them in front of RT's face, threatening to chop up her art.

In the early morning of September 21, the man made good on his threat. Taking scissors to the art, he cut wherever he could reach. The police were called, but they were too late.

“We all lost something,” Hardre says over the rush of lunchtime customers in the background. “Every time I walk out and don't see it, the tree looks naked.” She pauses. “But a tree is beautiful with or without it.”

As for the vandal, he hasn't been charged. (SN&R is withholding his name.) According to Hardre, he pops his head in every once in awhile, only to be promptly thrown out. “I don't think he's working with a full deck,” she says.

Rebel Th'redz isn't sure if she'll replace the piece. She says anyone who's interested in contributing to a new Stay Human yarn-bomb tree can contact her via email, at Hardre's spoken with her about doing a new piece, but she's hesitant. That original, according to the artist, who declined to reveal her real name, took over 500 hours to complete. RT has yarn-bombed from Sacramento to New York, but Sacramento, she says, is not “art friendly.”

“I've put my art all over the country, and for some reason,” she explains by email, “the people of Sacramento just tear it down.”