Making Art Matter in a Material World

BY Ashley N. Littles

In the quiet hours of lockdown, amidst the universal pause, an idea was sparked in the mind of Jon-Paul Wheatley. It began quite simply—with a makeshift, ping-pong-sized ball, a humble beginning, yet the seed of something entrancing was planted. “I just tried to make a ball one day. It was very bad,” Jon-Paul recalls. But in the folds of trials and errors, the essence of creation emerged in the form of experimental futbols, a blend of art and tradition.He meticulously orchestrates materials and themes interwoven with fabrics in his 12 Pentagons universe, where imagination vitalizes textiles.

Jon-Paul, the architect of this creativity, crafts narratives through the richness and textures of varied materials, transforming textiles into artistic soccer balls that eclipse their ordinary, scrappy origins.

His approach is explorative. He dives into the essence of each theme, allowing it to guide the material and design. It’s more than a ball—it’s a narrative captured in the spherical harmony of design and material.

“Each stitch, each panel is a tribute to diverse cultures and stories, a spherical tapestry that celebrates the richness of the world’s heritage.”

One of the projects that stands out is the ‘Global Ball’. An extraordinary creation that houses elements from each continent, making it a unique artifact. Each stitch, each panel is a tribute to diverse cultures and stories, a spherical tapestry that celebrates the richness of the world’s heritage. The ball doesn’t just embody materials; it’s filled with a material from each continent encapsulating stories of varied geographies and their unique tales.

It’s more than a soccer ball—it’s an odyssey woven into the fabric of a singular creation.

As fate would have it, Jon-Paul reached out to Shinola out of sheer love for the brand and the “rootedness in the spirit of Detroit” he admires. This alignment of visions birthed a collaboration, an intersection of traditions and tales—and an invitation.

Jon-Paul and his wife traveled to Detroit and explored the material cupboards of the Shinola factory, searching for leather remnants to craft a custom soccer ball.

“Each panel uses a different part of this leather used in Shinola products over the past ten years,” he shared, reflecting on the rugged appeal and rich history embodied in the ball.

The resultant soccer ball, a symphony of diverse leathers and colors, exudes a charm reflective of Detroit’s steadfast spirit. “I really admire how Shinola embraced Detroit in everything they do, showing real pride and commitment to the city. I live in St. Louis, and see many similarities between our cities, both having an underdog spirit. I hope to incorporate the spirit of St. Louis into my brand, 12 Pentagons, in the same way.”

Wheatley’s budding ball company, 12 Pentagons, is more than a brand; it’s an ongoing exploration, a public Research & Development lab where creativity meets sport, unfolding through snippets of trial, error, and triumph on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. It’s where traditional textiles are reborn through inventive themes and where collaborations like that with Shinola manifest as vibrant, tactile tales of places and their unwavering spirits.

His appreciation for craftsmanship extends to other Shinola creations as well.
Wheatley strategically uses a Runwell desk clock as an essential element in his time-lapse videos.

“Sometimes it’s not obvious how much time goes into a craft. The clock in the videos illustrates this passage of time and the effort involved in each piece,” Wheatley underscores.

His admiration also unfolds for Shinola’s accessories, like the Scrabble board, finding solace in the fact that “someone’s making products like that.”

Leaning into imagination and creativity is vital in a world overwhelmed by routine and obligations. It allows us to move beyond merely living to work, fostering a richer life where rewards come through innovation, rediscovered joy, and reimagined tales.

In Wheatley’s world where the resilience of materials meets the realm of imaginative creativity, he continues to weave stories, exploring the limitless horizons of design, tradition, and artistic expression.

He encourages us to do the same.

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