In late 2015, rughooker Kris Burnett was contemplating her retirement after 20 years as a librarian at the Howe Library in Hanover, NH. She got the idea to do some hooked wallhangings using the look of vintage postage stamps as a unifying design element. Above, you see her rug Hats Off to Howe, based on a 2010 Netherlands circus poster, and adapted to be a self-portrait.
But the first “stamp” wallhanging she did was this lovely piece, Golden Stag, of a large Czech dancing stag, based on a 1963 Czech folk image stamp (used with permission):
Kris writes, ”This first piece inspired me to consider making a small folk stamp wallhanging as a gift for each of my friends at Howe Library, a remembrance of our years together.”
As you will see, Kris’s rugs, with all their fine detail, are impeccably crafted. She makes it look so easy to get all that fine lettering (in a foreign language, yet) looking perfect! And the composition of her designs is so good that you don’t even notice it – each rug just looks naturally balanced.
Here is The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, an adaptation of a Bulgarian postage stamp from 1964, based on one of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, which I especially loved:
So she started planning. About thirty rugs, with the hope to be finished in three years time, to coincide with her retirement date in August, 2018. Yes, she did worry about the stamina it would take to produce more than thirty individualized rugs for her co-workers, but she did it. What a wonderful undertaking! Kris’s exhibit of these rugs is now on display at the Howe Library in Hanover (through October 3rd), and if you are at all close by, it’s well worth your time to go see these 35 rugs before they each go to their new homes with Kris’s workmate friends.
This rug is called Pot of Flowers, based on a 1963 Czechoslovakian postage stamp:
The thoughtfulness that Kris put in to finding an image that would speak to each separate coworker is obvious. She wrote to her co-workers, “From the wealth of stories we have shared over the years, an idea emerged that somehow spoke to each of you. Some of the designs are rooted in old stamps, folk tales, matchbook covers, posters, program covers, or medieval manuscripts…Some just formed in my imagination.”
As I looked at the variety of rugs Kris made for her friends, I couldn’t help wondering about each individual she had made this particular rug for. The collection of rugs really did seem like a collection of friends, of stories shared over the years. It is not for us, the viewers, to know the full story of each rug, but I could tell that each will be very meaningful to the person Kris has gifted it to. Here is Mixed Breed:
And I found the unifying theme of postage stamps really wonderful. It allowed Kris a wide latitude of images and art traditions – from Pennsylvania Fraktur designs and Pacific Northwest folk images to a tropical scene on St. Croix and a Russian Ballet program cover – while keeping a consistency that ties all the images together. This rug is White Tiger, based on a Vietnamese postage stamp:
When I walked into the library, I went up to the librarian who was at the front desk, and asked directions to the exhibit of Kris’s rugs. The friendly man gave me clear directions, and when I mentioned I was a rughooker, he was interested, and smiled at me. But when I asked, “And did Kris make a rug for you?”, his face absolutely lit up. It was wonderful to see his reaction! He told me a little about the rug Kris made for him, the significance of the tree, the prayer flags hanging on it, the stone wall, the mountains. Here is “his” rug, titled Sacred Places, and adapted from a postage stamp from the Republic of Korea:
Kris writes, “This project fired my creative life for three years… This show is a tribute to the good friends and colleagues with whom I have worked for 20 years. Just as sharing our stories over the years has given me great pleasure, so too has creating these little pieces.”
Kris, I am so inspired by the creative vitality of your rugs, and so happy that they are – for the next six weeks – on display all together! And mostly I am moved by the wellspring of friendships that must have sustained you through making each of these pieces as your gifts of thanks!
The Howe Library website is here, with hours and directions. Try to get there before October 3rd! All images are used with the permission of Kris Burnett, and many thanks to her for letting me show them here!