I just discovered a new book about rughooking, and a little-known part of our craft’s history. And I am just astonished by it!
The book is Sadie’s Winter Dream: Fishermen’s Wives & Maine Sea Coast Mission Hooked Rugs, 1923–1938, by Judith Burger-Gossart, and published by Maine Authors Publishing.
Judith, of Salsbury Cove, Maine, loves hooked rugs. She heard about the rugs of the Maine Sea Coast Mission, which is a century-old mission organization serving isolated coastal and island Maine communities. And then she heard that the Sea Coast Mission had boxes and boxes of old rugs in its possession. Above, top, you see one of them, Sailboat and Hills of Mt. Desert Island.
The more intrigued Judith got, the more she looked, and the more information about the rugs and their history she found. At each step along the way, she found key people to guide her to more of the story of these rugs, from a retired archivist of the Mission, to a chance meeting with a grandson of one of the rughookers.
When I wrote to Judith, she replied, “I did not start out to write a book, I just became so curious about the fishermen’s wives; the more I discovered the more I wanted to know. It has been a labor of love.”
The publisher describes the book thus:
“Sadie’s Winter Dream recounts the early years of the mission and the work of the audacious Alice M. Peasley, who developed a hooked rug program so fishermen’s wives could make money. Even more importantly, she opened their eyes to beauty and creativity; their self-esteem improved and they found new joy in life.”
Between 1923 and 1938, the women produced about 650 rugs under the auspices of the Maine Sea Coast Mission. And unlike similar mission programs at Chéticamp in Nova Scotia or the Grenfell Mission in Newfoundland, Peasley encouraged her Maine rughookers to use their imagination, and design their own rugs, in their own styles.
“I never thought I would live to see the day when I could do something that somebody would really want and value,” one woman said at the time.
Here is a photo of one of the rughookers of the Mission:
This photo is of Henriette Ames of Matinicus, with two fishermen. As a way of making a living, Ames made hooked rugs, and also oilcloth clothing for fishermen (depicted in this photo), and bait bags. She never married. Judith writes, “Her hooked rug of her home on Matinicus radiates the domestic tranquility she so admired”:
Judith writes, “No one else in the Mission Hooked Rug Program made rugs the way Ames did. She used wide strips of wool that give her rugs a soft impressionistic style, as opposed to the clean, clear lines of a delineated image.”
And here is a photo of Sadie Lunt of Frenchboro, another rughooker of the Maine Sea Coast Mission:
This is one of Sadie’s rugs, Still Life, Tropical Marine:
Judith writes, “It is amazingly beautiful and sensitively done. Every time I see her photo, I am struck by the contrast between the reality of her hardscrabble life and her ability to produce such an amazing hooked rug. Despite poverty, isolation, and a difficult life, her eyes were opened to beauty by Alice Peasley and she produced this wonderful rug.”
How many times have I looked at antique rugs, and wondered who made them, and what kind of lives they led, and how they started hooking rugs? I’ll tell you: as many times as I’ve seen anonymous, unlabelled, antique rugs, whether lovely or plain. Judith’s book is a story of discovery of one community of rughookers, about both their lives and history, and their wonderful rugs. It’s enough to make me want to cry.
I’ve ordered my copy of Sadie’s Winter Dream and can’t wait ’til it arrives. You can find Judith’s own webpage at www.judithburger-gossart.com. She’s on Facebook, too. And the Maine Authors Publishing website, with more information on the book and ordering information is here.
Judith took all the photos herself; some of them are her photos of archival photos. The photo of Sadie Lunt of Frenchboro, is an archival photo from the Maine Sea Coast Mission. The photo of Henriette Ames and two fishermen is from the Matinicus Island Historical Society. All are copyrighted and so protected. They are used here with the author’s kind permission.
Many thanks to Judith, mostly for writing the story of these women and their rugs, but also for being so generous with sharing information on her book and this chapter in the history of our craft with us here.