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Category Archives: Art

Breaking boundaries

By | Art, Contemporary rugmakers, Museums | No Comments

The other day I told you a little about the Textile Museum of Canada, and oddly, enough, through a completely separate search, this morning I ended up on the website of the Textile Museum of Sweden. It’s located in the town of Borås. I found a photo of this work, shown above, online, and just had to track down it’s creator.

The creator of this piece is Faig Ahmed, and the museum’s new exhibit for the summer highlights the work of Ahmed, who is a rugmaker and sculptor from Azerbaijan, in the South Caucasus. Bordered by Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Iran, it is a region where hand-crafted carpets have been made for centuries.

The catalog from the museum show gives more information about this wonderful work:

Entitled Virgin, by Faig Ahmed. This is a hand-woven carpet with a traditional pattern that gradually transforms into a thick red mass. The work continues on a series of signature textile works by Ahmed and reveals unspoken local narratives on male-female gender relations hidden inside the crafts and artisanal practices. More specifically the work draws from the early practice of unmarried girls producing one exquisite textile as part of the treasure she brings into the marriage. In other words suggesting the transition from a girl to a woman.”

I’m not sure I can get the full gist of the cultural symbolism, but the work itself dazzles me. Talk about breaking borders of a traditional craft!

Here is another work of Ahmed’s that is also in the show, and also dazzling:

“”He doesn’t answer questions, he poses them”, says Medeia Ekner, curator at the Textile Museum of Sweden, of the artist, who is known mostly for his unique way of transforming traditional Azerbaijani rugs into contemporary sculptural shapes. His method of deconstructing conventional patterns and symbols and reshaping them into original compositions often results in new, dramatic expressions.”

Yikes! And here I was thinking “breaking barriers” meant something like using extra-bright colors in a primitive design!

The museum’s web page about this exhibit is here.

Images copyrighted ( copyright enforced), and used courtesy of Faig Ahmed Studio. The artist’s own website, featuring other works, can be found here.

Enjoy the day, everyone, and be brave.

An artist using color, and changing.

By | Art, Color, Creativity | 4 Comments

This is one of Henri Matisse’s early works, called Blue Pot and Lemon, painted in 1896. Quite beautiful, and nicely composed, don’t you think? Definitely a still life in the traditional 19th century French tradition.

Now take a look at this next painting by Matisse, painted only nine years later:

This painting, Open Window, was created in 1905, but seems a world away from his earlier work. Here is a description from the curators of the National Gallery of Art, (www.nga.gov) where the painting now resides:

The light-filled scene is vibrant and inviting. Blue-hulled boats float on pink waves below a sky banded with turquoise, pink, and periwinkle. These unnatural colors – Derain (his friend) would later liken them to “sticks of dynamite” — provoked an outrage that year at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

When Open Window was first shown, it shocked the art world so much that they labelled Matisse and his friend André Derain “the fauves” – the wild beasts.

Matisse, in his lifetime (1869 – 1954), emerged as an artist bridging the traditional 19th century French painting, then “Fauvism” (pronounced Fōh-vism), Impressionism, and, with Pablo Picasso, led the emergence of modern art in the 20th century.

His Open Window painting was done at the height of Fauvism. Look at it once more, and just notice the colors.

The museum commentary about it continues:

The fauves liberated color from any requirements other than those posed by the painting itself. “When I put a green,” Matisse would say, “it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.” Art exerted its own reality. Color was a tool of the painter’s artistic intention and expression, uncircumscribed by imitation.”

One might think of the difference between these two paintings as a color explosion. Matisse changed his use of color from its descriptive, representational purpose and allowed it to project a mood and even create structure in the composition.

What does this have to do with rughooking?

There are many rughookers, like me, who would have to struggle to use bright purples and greens to hook a cat, or to use anything but shades of blue for sky, and green for leaves or trees. But this leap is worth taking, or at least experimenting with. Matisse pushed himself to think outside of the lines of formality, and we should too. More pink waves!

One of the most accessible ways of doing this is to use your wools as darks, mediums and lights, regardless of their actual color. Perhaps you have seen hooked portraits where the easily recognizable faces were created in wild colors – bright reds, yellows, greens, violets, oranges – but the likeness of the face comes through because the lights and darks are in the right places. The lights and darks create the face with its highlights and shadows, even though the colors are wild.

Perhaps this color freedom comes easily to some, but many of us will have to determine to try it, to jump into an experiment, and to “color outside of the lines”. Change is good. Getting outside your comfort zone is good.

And always, doing a small piece, even something 12″ by 12″, is a wonderful way to start that first experiment.

Here is one other work by Matisse, from almost at the end of his career (1945) titled Interior with Egyptian Curtain:

I really don’t have much appreciation for modern art (at least beyond the Impressionists), but I do love this piece. Maybe that is because it is very easy for me to see a hooked rug version of it! It’s in the new exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art (www.mfa.org) called Matisse In The Studio. The show opens April 9 and will run through July 9th.

Hook on, and once in a while, try hooking “outside the lines” with your colors!

A museum full of newly available images

By | Art, History of Art, Museums | 2 Comments


Yes, you are looking at Claude Monet’s Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies (1899), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. And if you want to make a hooked rug version of it, or even create a pattern of it to sell, now you can. This is from the Met’s webpage announcement:

“Renowned for its comprehensive collection of work that captures “5,000 years of art spanning all cultures and time periods,” New York City’s world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently announced that 375,000 of its pieces in the public domain are now available without restrictions.

The new policy, called Open Access, allows individuals to easily access the images and use them for “any purpose, including commercial and noncommercial use, free of charge and without requiring permission from the Museum.” The available works represent a wide range of movements, styles, and mediums, and span iconic paintings by Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh to centuries-old costumes and armor.”

“You can access the unrestricted images through the Met’s website. As you search its collection, all you need to do is check off the “Public Domain Artworks” option under “Show Only.”

Any excuse to take a few hours off from politics is a good idea, these days, and meandering through the “Public Domain” artwork on the museum’s website, imagining how one could use great pieces of art as a rug design, is just good for the soul. Just go to metmuseum.org. Look for the “ART” menu button at the top, then on the left side, choose these filters: “Artworks With Images” and “Public Domain Artworks”, and you are good to go. Well over 375,000 images in every conceivable medium and period of art history will appear before you.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, how about Cupid on a Tiger, drawn in 1652, by Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, Prague 1607–1677 London):

We really don’t see that many “Cupid on a Tiger” rugs, do we? Or maybe this 18th century Bag for Noh Mask (made of silk and twill) will give you an idea for a rug design:

Here is a Design Drawing by Christopher Dresser (British, Glasgow, Scotland 1834–1904) that was done in 1883 for you to consider:

You will find brooches, medieval armor, portraits and pastels, ancient weaving fragments, silverware, sculptures, photographs, watches, netsukes, hieroglyphs, statues and shoebuckles, just to name a few.

Not all, of course, lend themselves directly to a rug design, but look at this jeweled button, from 1775, with a design so traditional in hooked rugs, of flowers in a basket:

Of course, this button was worked in metal, rubies, sapphires and pearls, which adds a little dazzle.

And although all these images are now in the public domain, if you use one directly, I personally think your tag should read “based on a… by (name of artist) from the Metropolitan Museum” just to be fair. And if you are just informed by a particular artwork, I believe the right tagging would be “inspired by…”.

Maybe you could do something with this woodcut print by Hans Hoffman (German) from 1556:

Hans Hoffmann (German, Nuremberg ca. 1545/1550–1591/1592 Prague)
New Modelbüch allen Nägerin u. Sydenstickern, 1556
Woodcut; Overall: 7 5/16 x 5 5/16 in. (18.5 x 13.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930 (30.59.2(1-55))

Through this new release of images into the public domain, you need not just be inspired by a work. You can take it, print it out, make a copy, trace it exactly. But first, of course, you have to look. Hope you go exploring, and find many wonderful things.

With needle and thread

By | Art, Composition, Creativity | One Comment

We’ve been talking a lot about hooked rugs lately (of course!) but today let’s take a look at some very fine needlework. Sarah K. Benning is an American contemporary embroiderer, who lives a rather nomadic life and studio practice (primarily splitting her time between the U.S. and Spain). Above and below, you can see examples of her well-designed and detailed work with needle and thread.

Sarah’s formal training was in fine arts, but she writes that she is a self-taught embroiderer. In fact, she says she discovered her love for embroidery almost by accident, and what began as a hobby has turned into her full-time career. But her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago have their effect – her sense of strong composition and her training in illustration really show in her designs.

Her works are quite small:

And her sense of humor comes through, too, as in this piece:

Sarah wrote that each piece begins as an illustration, and then she treats her thread as if it were ink or paint, meticulously bringing her drawn design to life. She frequently forgoes traditional embroidery stitches in favor of bold shapes and playful patterns. And because drawing is at the heart of each work, she keeps a sketchbook of ideas, composition thumbnails, plant details and textile diagrams to work from.

And don’t you love how she uses interior rugs to add depth and pattern to her plant scenes? See, we are right back to talking about rugs again! OK, here is one more of Sarah’s pieces for you:

Many thanks to Sarah, whose works are all her own and protected by copyright, for giving me permission to show them here. You can see many more of her designs on her website at www.sarahkbenning.com.

Angels we have heard on high…

By | Art, Food for thought | 10 Comments

img_5143 Abbott Thayer

As we near the celebration of this most Christian holiday, Christmas, I thought we could look at a few beautiful paintings of angels. The word “angel” comes from the Latin “angelus”, meaning messenger.

We are all familiar with the words of the angel who appeared before the shepherds in the field with their flock:

And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people, for there is born to you…

But angels also appear in the writings of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, in Judaism, in Islam, in the Baháí and Sikh faiths – always spiritual beings intermediate between God and humans.

I have always loved this verse from Hebrews, learned as a child:

Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. —Hebrews 13:2

The lovely painting above, by Abbott Handerson Thayer (American, 1849 – 1921), is A Winged Figure, from The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art.

Thayer spent years of his childhood and most of his later life in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. And beyond his many landscape paintings of his beloved Mount Monadnock, he did many paintings of angels. Here is his 1887 work, Angel, now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum:

img_5144 Abbott Thayer

And of Thayer’s many paintings of angels, here is my all-time favorite, painted in 1920-21, and now in the collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass. It is titled Monadnock Angel, and she spreads her hands as if blessing the lovely New Hampshire winter landscape, and Mount Monadnock itself:

img_5145 Abbott Thayer

When looking online at the beautiful Christmas hooked rugs to be seen – designs of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, decorated trees, shining stars and snowflakes, woodland animals – there are surprisingly few of angels. Maybe I have just missed them.

Angels have been, in art and sculpture, most often depicted as male humans. The Thayer angels are young women, and are so straightforward, with a direct, kindly gaze. All of Thayer’s angels communicate a sense of deep security and peace.

And as we approach another Christmas, security and peace, in your life and creative work, is my Christmas wish for you.

Good friends

By | Art, Creativity, Making rugs | 8 Comments

img_5119 Edwin Holgate

This week was busy for me in the best way – on three days I met three different friends for visits. There was a lot of driving involved, but these are people I have known for 12 years, 45 years and 53 years respectively. And because of the distances involved, they are people who I don’t see nearly often enough, so each visit is a special one.

And soon after I returned from one of the visits, I came across this lovely painting by Edwin Holgate (1892-1977). It is titled Two Friends Hooking. Perfect!

Holgate was a prominent Canadian artist, Edwin Holgate was a draftsman, portraitist, landscape and figure painter, printmaker, book illustrator, muralist, war artist, and educator. The National Gallery of Canada notes, “As a central figure in the development of modern art in Canada, Holgate forged his own path balancing traditional and modern stylistic approaches.” He often is referred to as the 8th of Montreal’s “Group of Seven”. If you would like to read more about him, you can read the rest of the National Gallery’s profile about him here.

And as I look back at the year, so many of my strongest memories are of sitting with good friends, hooking, talking, comparing, laughing, and sometimes, like the two women in this painting, quietly hooking together.

So as we come to the end of one year and look forward to the next, let’s remember (and get in touch with) good friends, near and far!

In the spirit…

By | Art, Color, Composition | 6 Comments


Here we are in December, so let’s go visit a few museums, looking for Wise Men, and for the spirit of the season.

First, a stop at the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Here, above, is a panel from the V&A collection, Adoration of the Magi, made in Faenza, Italy, circa 1490-1500.

This is quite a small piece (about 24″ x 16″, and about 6″ deep) and I think it attracted me because there was something “rughooking-primitive” about the portrayal, and of course because of the deep, rich colors used. And the perspective of the figures, sheltering in the grotto (cave), with the landscape above, made it an intriguing composition.

It is described as “modelled in high relief in a recessed frame, and painted in blue, orange, manganese purple and copper green. The three kings are on the left, while on the right is St. Joseph and the seated Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus on her lap. The figures are depicted in a grotto, and above it, a landscape with a tree. Techniques: Tin-glazed earthenware painted with rich colors.”

Just to give you a better look at the depth of the relief, here is a sideways view of the panel:


After that colorful version, let’s stop at the Rejksmuseum in Amsterdam to look at an engraving of Adoration of the Magi, by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius, a century later (about 1598-1600):


Interesting because it is unfinished, yes, but also because it is so personal – the focus here is not the entire manger scene with a small crowd of people and animals, but the emotions on four faces, as they gaze upon the still-missing Christ child by candlelight.

And when you look at the fine lines of an engraving, you can see so clearly how the lines and crosshatching create dark, medium and light areas, and how the direction of the lines and curves create the folds in the clothing, the shape of the fingers, the curls in the hair. Here is a close-up for you:


And here is one more, and very different, Adoration of the Magi, by Pieter Brueghel II, (Dutch, 1590-1638), also from the Rejksmuseum:


Now this is almost the opposite of the Goltzius etching – here the entire town is portrayed, and the nativity scene is almost completely hidden in the bottom left corner. And the more I looked at this, the more I liked this odd composition – for as this holiest of events was happening, only a few were aware of it at all, and the majority of people were going about their daily business, completely unaware. There may have been Wise Men bearing gifts, but in no version of the Christian Nativity story were there a lot of them.

You can browse through collections at both these museums quite easily. The V&A is online here and the English-language site of the Rejksmuseum is online here.

The run-up to Christmas can be rushed, but we only are given a set number of Christmases in our lives, so do your best to make all of your preparations – whether making cookies, hooking an ornament, buying gifts, or finishing the tree – mindful and joyful.

A woman sewing…

By | Art, Composition, Design | 5 Comments

image William Merritt Chase

We haven’t visited a museum lately, so let’s take a look at a painting from the Metropolitan. This is For The Little One, an 1896 oil by William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). Long-time readers of this blog know I love paintings of women doing some kind of hand crafts, and this is an excellent example.

A woman sits, and stitches an article of baby clothing. As in most of these women-at-work portraits, she is sitting by a window, and its daylight illuminates the scene, and shows off the artist’s ability to capture the lights and shadows.

The woman is completely absorbed in her work.

Now let’s take a quick look at the composition of Chase’s painting. Composition, if you remember, refers to how the elements of the picture are arranged within the work, creating (hopefully) balance, harmony, tension or even mood.

First, go back to the painting, and look at where the light is brightest, and where the shadows are darkest. Then take a look at the distribution of various colors. Notice where the bits of orange are, and where slight tints of orange can be seen. How about his use of blue? And where are the brightest whites?

Even if you think Chase did not rearrange anything in the interior for his composition, he still decided the exact angle of view in his portrait. If he’d positioned himself several feet to the left or right, all the lines and angles would be different.

Here is my version of marking out the strongest lines and angles in the painting:


I know this is rough, but it is my way of looking at “the bones” of a painting – trying to see more of how the horizontal lines are balanced by the verticals and diagonals. Notice how the woman, sitting, forms a rough triangle shape.

When we look more closely at any very good piece of art, we strengthen our “looking muscles”, and this will help when we are planning out our own work.

I had this post mostly written, when I discovered that there will be a major exhibit of William Merritt Chase’s work at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, from October 9, 2016 – January 16, 2017. Look on the MFA website at www.mfa.org for details. A very good reason for getting yourself down to Boston, if you can. For The Little One is in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, online at www.metmuseum.org.

With needle and thread

By | Art, Color, Composition | 2 Comments

image Naomi Renoif

As we enjoy the last days of summer, I have a yearning to go see the sea. Instead (at least for today) I am appreciating the textile seascapes of Naomi Renouf. Naomi creates textile art that captures the land and seascapes of Jersey, a large island in the English Channel where she lives. Above is her work St. Ouen’s Sunset.

I admire Naomi’s use of color to bring her scenes to life. There is something intense, yet believably realistic in her work.

Naomi writes, “I often use a technique which involves layering small pieces of fabric with organza on a calico or canvas background and machine stitching into the layers. I also use techniques such as appliqué and burning or cutting back through the surface to expose the layers beneath. Whilst all of my work is free machine embroidered, I do also include hand embroidery in some pieces.

Here is another of Naomi’s seascapes, this one called “Islands“:

image Naomi Renouf

Sitting here, landlocked, I can feel the salty spray coming off those breakers!

Several years ago I developed a technique which enables me to produce work which looks similar to the hand-made paper I have made in the past. The background is made of fabric instead of paper. This is painted in the same way as the hand-made paper and then fabric and other media, including beads and found objects are applied using machine and hand embroidery.”

Here is her piece, which I really love, titled Grouville Bay:


Naomi writes, “My seascapes and landscapes reflect my love for the natural environment. The light, the time of year, the time of day and the weather all create their individual impression on the landscape and I find constant inspiration in these changes. I look at my surroundings letting ideas develop in my head. In my mind the colours intensify and the shapes become more abstract as I recreate my experiences of these moments in time. Through my textiles I want others to see the joy I have found in observing the world around me.”

Here is one of Naomi’s landscapes, called Vista, Harewood House:


About her work process, Naomi writes a description of her method that reminds me very much of rughooking:

Once I get started on a piece it progresses partly from my observations and feelings about a place and partly from the random things that happen as part of the process. The mixture of the random and the controlled elements mean that there is always a problem-solving aspect to producing a finished piece, which I find interesting. I like the spontaneity of working in this way as there is rarely a totally predictable outcome.

Ok, let’s look at one more of Naomi’s works. The piece is called Bellozanne Abbey In Spring:


And finally, this quote, from England’s Embroiderers’ Guild (of which Naomi is a member) that seems as true to me about a row of hooked loops as embroidered stitches:

“As the thread travels across the surface, stitches create paths which can direct the viewer’s eye, create a focal point, draw or deflect attention from a particular element and create a texture that is at once visual and physical.”

All Naomi’s works are copyrighted, and so protected, and used here with her kind permission. And you will find more of her lovely work on her website at http://www.naomirenouf.co.uk/index.htm. Thanks, Naomi!

Victorian designs

By | Art, History of Art | 4 Comments


One more blog entry from my trip to England…
I went to Osborne House, which was Queen Victoria’s family home and estate on the Isle of Wight. What better place to look at Victorian design? Of course, the place was vast, and every single shelf, corridor, cupboard and table were jam-packed with beautiful objects. Victorians were not into singling out one item to have on display here, one single other one there. Every inch of space was crowded with beautiful objects. Above, is a silver brooch made for Victoria in India (which she also ruled over). One small three-inch object in a very big home:

Here are a few other objects that gave me pause. The entryway was guarded by a boar and a dog (mastiff, I think):


The long hallways had dozens of large sculptures – and this one was my favorite:

Everywhere you looked, there were things of lovely design, all crowded in together. Here are the tops of two small tables, both inset with designs created from chips of minerals and semi-precious stone:



And of course the ceramic tile floors had me buzzing with ideas for rugs and rug borders:



Dizzying! Here is a little doll bed (about 7″ long), again made from semi-precious stones. It was one of dozens of lovely things in a single cabinet:


There were no hooked rugs. One rug, though, in the dining room, was pretty impressive, though, and the ribbon and rose detail had good hooked-rug possibilities:



And there were lovely designs just carved into the wall decorations, too:



All a bit overwhelming! So I went to a window, thinking I would just take a momentary break from design overload:


Right. I could have gone through this palatial house again the next day, and the day after that, and could have taken just as many photos of completely different things, and then come back the next day and noticed still more. And yet, I got the strong impression that Victoria and Albert and their nine children lived relaxed and happy (though clearly exalted and priviledged) lives at Osbourne House. The kids ran around in the hallways, played dress-up, swam in the sea, were taught to grow vegetables and cook, took care of their own animals.

For me, it’s back to real life, but the designs of Osborne House will stay with me, and at some point, might well be reborn in a rug design, or a dozen. And maybe in these photos there is an idea for you – for a border, an arc of a nice swirl, or… who knows? I’ve never yet seen a hooked rug of a boar…