Jonah Larson: Young fiber artist unites communities with hope and healing in accidental hobby
“When I came back, I was just expecting to find a jumble of yarn and a big mess. Instead, there was this beautiful dish cloth, which we still have in the kitchen today.” – Jennifer Larson
The Wisconsin public rarely hears about a child prodigy who lives in the state, which is how the global crochet community knows 11-year-old Jonah Larson from La Crosse. His birth story and adoption have been well publicized around the world, and how he accidentally discovered crocheting is the stuff of legends.
“So when I was five years old, one day we came home from a pizza restaurant and our aunt was there. She gave us a bag of crafts to look through, because she was just cleaning out her basement. My mom gave it to me, and I looked inside of it and found a metallic object. I asked my mom about it and she explained to me that it was a crochet hook. But, she did’t know how to use it. She looked on her iPad and we found a tutorial for crocheting, then she left me alone with the iPad. Just me, the crochet hook, and some yarn. When she came back to check on me, she found my first dish cloth.” – Jonah Larson
On April 6, Jonah and the Larson family visited Yarn Junkie and Gifts on 12527 W. Hampton Avenue to join a special crochet circle, where he taught the group how to make one of his “identity-inspired dish cloths.” Jonah has built a sizable social media following, with tens of thousands of subscribers between his Instagram account and Youtube channel. The news media routinely presents him to a wider audience of millions as a handicraft virtuoso and overall wunderkind. He is instantly likable and beloved across languages, cultures, and countries, where fans and supporters celebrate his life and dedication to fiber art.
Jonah can crochet literally anything and a worldwide audience follows his every stitch. His age, skills, and sheer speed have created a lighting rod of interest that has helped to revitalize a fading art form. Going viral on social media has allowed Jonah to connect with new friends and opportunities to make a difference by giving back, especially in the part of Ethiopia where he was adopted from. The exposure has highlighted his abilities, achievements, remarkable kindness, and generosity as an example for other youth. It is easy for people to forget that Jonah is an 11-year-old child, who still likes his stuffed animals.
As an example of his incredibly giving nature, Jonah started a GoFundMe project to help the people of his birthplace. “Help Expand Jonah’s Hands To Ethiopia” has raised over $15,000 so far. He partnered with Middleton-based Roots Ethiopia, a non-profit organization with a location in the tiny place where he was born.
“Roots Ethiopia gives aid to the same village where I am from. They support the people in that community, by helping kids go to school and supplying them with basic items. They also help women keep their families together by learning new trades,” said Jonah. “They help with orphan care too, and that’s really close to my heart since I was an orphan once. So, that is why I am helping and I’m coordinating with Roots Ethiopia.”
The nonprofit was fortunate to receive several of Jonah’s most prized crochet pieces, some of the very first fiber projects he ever produced when he was just five years old. He donated them to be sold in Roots Ethiopia’s online store so that profits could support their programs.
“There are other kids just like me living in the country in which I was born. Today, I want to hand children in Ethiopia the same chance I had to unlock their own passion and potential. The talent and love that came from that gift can now spread across the globe, and back to the beautiful country I love so much,” Jonah wrote in a GoFundMe post.
Jonah has not been back to Ethiopia since he was adopted. 75% of the donations to this GoFundMe campaign will go directly to Roots Ethiopia, and 25% will help him make the return trip. His big dream is to spread his love of crocheting there in person. He also wants to see for himself what his hands and the hearts of his supporters helped to change. And his family will travel with him, offering their comfort and support as he processes the experience.
Jonah is also collaborating with his mother on their first book, to be released by KWiL Publishing in late July. The hardcover photographic book Hello, Crochet Friends! Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy will cover his love of creativity with yarn, his altruistic passions, personal stories about using crocheting to overcome his struggles, with a combination of stories from other fiber artists of color. It will be both an autobiography and celebration of crochet.