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Category Archives: History

Talking Knots

By | History, Museums, Textiles | 2 Comments

Textiles are as old as the hills. Textile fiber can be braided, hooked, woven, felted, and used to create in a multitude of ways. But even as far back as the first millennium, in the Andes of South America and during the time of the Incan empire, knotted textiles were the primary counting and communication device. These “talking knots”, or “knot records” were called quipus.

Above, you can see a particularly lovely example of an Incan quipu (pronounced kē-pu), from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru. From Wikipedia: “A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. For the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization.”

Here is another example, this one from about 1300 AD, again from the Larco Museum, of this quite precise and highly portable system:

There are good records of quipus from the first millennium through the 1500s, and ethnographers have unravelled their secrets, by and large. The fibers were either spun and plied thread such as wool or hair from alpaca, llama, guanaco or vicuña, or, more rarely, from cotton. Some of the knots, as well as other features, such as color, are thought to represent non-numeric information, but these secondary elements have not yet been deciphered.

For an explanation of how the counting works, let’s turn to Wikipedia:

“Each cluster of knots is a digit, and there are three main types of knots: simple overhand knots; “long knots”, consisting of an overhand knot with one or more additional turns; and figure-eight knots. A number is represented as a sequence of knot clusters in base 10.”

Here is another quipu (also spelled khipu), again from the Larco Museum in Lima:

The use of quipus as a central part of record-keeping faded out after the Spanish conquest of South America in the 1530s, though the Spanish would sometimes use them to settle local village disputes. But today, they are still used for ceremonies and rituals, and continue to be a powerful symbol of native heritage. Here is another, even more complex example, this time from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, an ethnology museum in Germany:

Similar systems of counting were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians, and there is even a similarity to the bead-counting of wampum, in Native American culture. But quipus were a quite advanced system. The type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal system, like ours, with the largest decimal used being 10,000.

The Quipucamayocs (“quipu-authority”), were the accountants, those who created and deciphered the quipu knots. Quipucamayocs, once trained, could carry out basic arithmetic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They kept track of taxation, the type of labor being performed, maintained a record of economic output, and ran a census that counted everyone from infants to “old blind men over 80”. The system was also used to keep track of the calendar. According to one authority, quipucamayocs could “read” the quipus with their eyes closed.

Does this have to do with rughooking? Well, no. But it is a pretty fascinating and elegant use of textiles as a complex code, and as textile artists, something good for us to know about!

For more pictures of quipus, go to www.museolarco.org and if you would like a more technical explanation of the counting system of knots, look to this article in Wikipedia, or this good general article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Rejoice in your work, and hook on!

Inside and out

By | Design, History | 6 Comments


I’m at Heathrow Airport, ready to fly home. Had a wonderful trip, with other pictures to come. But for now, here is a photo of me (by the fountain) of Appuldurcombe House, built in 1702 by the Worsely family in Godshill, on the Isle of Wight.

It’s considered one of the very finest examples of Baroque architecture – but all is not as it appears at first glance. Take a look at the back exterior of the house:


Yes… sitting on its still perfectly manicured grounds, it has no roof, no windows, no inner walls. It’s an empty shell. The ruined structure was only saved because some present-day architect at the UK Dept. of Interior decided it was just too beautiful to be torn down any further. So it allows you to walk through, and see the structure’s bare bones:


The Worsleys abandoned the property after various hard times – a child who died in infancy, a failed marriage with a public scandal, large debts. Others came along to try it as a hotel (that failed), a boys school (that didn’t last), and a temporary home for monks heading to a new abbey.


Troops were billeted in the house during both world wars, and at the onset of the Second World War the house was taken over by the military. On 7 February 1943, a Nazi Luftwaffe plane that was engaged in a mine-laying mission turned inland and dropped its final mine very close to the house. The resulting hole in the roof was left unrepaired, and the lack of a good roof is the death knell for any building. After the war, much of the remainder of the roof and the interiors were removed and sold off.


There is one section that was not stripped completely, and the roof of that section was rebuilt to preserve what was left of the dining room wing, giving an enticing look at the style of the interior-that-was:


So now, Appuldurcombe House sits – open to the public at no charge – and gives its visitors a rather unique view of an English stately home. Lovely lines, shapes and shadows wherever you look…


Library of Congress Photos

By | History, Making rugs | 2 Comments

image Lob of congress

I’ve been baking, wrapping, and doing a lot of things other than writing blog entries! This may continue for a while longer…But today I will at least post these interesting old photos from the Library of Congress. Above, the photo is captioned “In the home of Steve Dino, Farm Security Administration client in Canterbury, Connecticut. His mother sells hooked rugs to supplement their farm income. Photo by Jack Delano, November, 1940.”

And here is another interesting old photo:

image libof comgress

At least it is big enough to see some of the designs they were hooking in the 1940s. The caption reads, “Hooked rugs and hand weaving are for sale at many stands along the Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts. Photo by John Collier, October, 1941.”

And one more:

image lib of congress

This one is captioned, “Farm worker’s wife making hooked rug in sewing class. A WPA project at the FSA (Farm Security Administration) labor camp in Caldwell, Idaho. Photo by Russell Lee, June, 1941.

The WPA was the Work Projects Administration, which ran from 1935 to 1943, the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. I suspect this rughooker was one of the wives who took up residency in one of the WPA camps while her husband was out on a works project.

So during the depression and the war, rughooking was one of the things that were taught to people in these government-sponsored camps. These must have been difficult days, and we can hope that rughooking brought some sense of accomplishment, as well as a little extra money.

These were the only three photos I found in an online search of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection. It’s online at www.loc.gov/pictures if you’d like to go explore this national archive of historical photos and documents. Hope you enjoy your rughooking, or making Christmas cookies, or whatever this season brings for you!

Archetypes and Images

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design, History, Rug Community | No Comments

image Michelle Micarelli

This wonderful, detailed rug, XVI The Tower, was designed and hooked by Michele Micarelli, as part of a major group hooking project, Exploring the Tarot: 23 Artists Hook the Major Arcana. Presented and organized by Loretta Scena and Michele Micarelli, 23 very fine rughookers each chose one of the major tarot cards to interpret.

The tarot cards have existed since the 1400s (first in Northern Italy) as hand-painted pictogram cards used for card games. The pictures on them have been, through time, interpreted in many ways, but always with variations on the same basic symbols. During the 18th century, tarot started to be used for divination, probably because of the power of the cards’ symbolism.

And in March, 1933, the famous psychotherapist Carl Jung commented at length about the tarot cards, and the powerful achetypal images they present: “They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents.”

Before we look at another of the hooked rugs, let’s think a little about archetypes. Corrine Kenner, writing in The Llewellyn Journal, writes, “An archetype is a primal pattern of thought — inborn, instinctive, and imprinted on every human’s subconscious mind. Carl Jung, the psychotherapist, was the first person to write on the theory of archetypes. He studied dreams, myths, and legends, and concluded that we’re all born with an innate ability to understand archetypes. In fact, he said, we’re all pre-programmed to look for archetypes in our everyday lives, because they serve as a framework for our understanding of the world. Jung’s descriptions of commonly recognized archetypes include the hero, the maiden, and the wise old man. Other archetypes include the mother, which typifies a nurturing, emotional parent; the father, a physical, protective parent; the trickster, or rebel; and the shadow, the hidden, antisocial dark side of human nature.”

So the tarot deck was a wonderful symbol-rich project for a group of talented rughookers to take on, and make their own. Here is III The Empress, designed and hooked by Loretta Scena:


Loretta writes about her design of The Empress: “Once each hooker had their card number, the fun began…Choosing your design. I had a few other designs in mind before I settled on the one I hooked. The Empress is almost always depicted as a woman sitting on cushions with a large flowing dress, insinuating that she is very much pregnant. She is the mother of our earth and all that lives and grows on it. Rather than hook a pregnant woman, I chose to hook the empress as a baby ready to be born. I felt that we can all relate to the nurturing, abundance, and creativity which the empress represents. And as women and mothers, aren’t we all empresses? I think so.

I hope you get a chance to come and see the show. The rugs are truly wonderful as are the artists that hooked them. Some of the other participants include: Stephanie Krauss, Mariah Krauss, Wanda Kerr, Jen Lavoie, Liz Alpert Fay, Jule Marie Smith, Rae Harrell, Lisa Chaloner, Cyndy Duade and Linda Rae Coughlin.”

The exhibit will be on display from Dec. 5 through January 22. And this Saturday, there is a hook-in, in conjunction with the opening. Here are the details:
Exploring the Tarot 23 Artists Hook the Major Arcana.
Presented by Loretta Scena and Michele Micarelli.
All Souls Interfaith Gathering
291 Bostwick Farm Rd.
Shelburne, Vermont 05482

Opening Celebration 4:30-7 pm on December 4th 2015. This exhibit will run through January 22, 2016.

Hook-in. Saturday December 5, $10 admission, and bring a snack to share!
To Register for the hook-in, email Loretta – lorettascena@verizon.net.

Many thanks to Loretta and Michele, for sharing this preview of the exhibit here, and to all the rughookers who participated – it is going to be an amazing exhibit of hooked rugs! And I believe the exhibit will tour around to various places (I think I heard the Sauder Village show and Green Mountain Guild’s October show mentioned), so even if you can’t make it to northern Vermont, you may be able to see these rugs on their travels.

Arts and Crafts Treasures

By | Art, Creativity, Design, History | 4 Comments

image Wm Morris

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was an English artist, teacher and social critic who was the main influence in the Arts and Crafts style emerging in the late 1890s. Ruskin reacted against the often shoddy products, mass-produced in the factories of the industrial revolution, and considered factory workers to be living a servile life. He advocated returning to goods that were both designed and made by individuals. And his sense of design and beauty turned the arts and crafts movement into a worldwide phenomenon. He predated the start of the Arts and Crafts movement, but his teachings and writings were the main influence on William Morris in England, Gustav Stickley in the United States, and the “Vienna Workshop” (Wiener Workstätte) in Austria. Above, you see Morris’s design for his “Trellis” wallpaper, from 1862.

Ruskin wrote, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.” This might seem almost trite to us, but at the time, when factories were spewing smoke and dividing labor into repetitive, mindless and alienating tasks, with only moneymaking as its goal, it was a rather revolutionary idea. Ruskin wrote, “There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.”

Ruskin’s idea was that every product should be beautifully designed, and made carefully and with lasting quality. And this idea informed the famous arts and crafts workshops throughout America, England and Europe, and affected all the decorative arts – design of houses, furniture, wallpaper, textiles, books, lamps, doorknobs – everything.

The other day I was browsing again on the website of the Austrian Museum of Applied Art. And what do I find there (beyond the ancient Egyptian textiles we saw the other day) but an online collection of 16,000 design drawings from the Vienna Workshop. Oh man, there went the rest of that day, for me.

Here are a few of the sketches and drawings I found there, from the Vienna Workshop stable of designers, led by Josef Hoffman:

image Vienna Workshop
Joseph Hoffman, 1929

image Vienna Workshop
Josef Hoffmann, 1911

image Vienna Workshop
Josepf Hoffmann, 1931 (the MAK is the museum’s mark)

And these two are also by Josef Hoffmann, both from 1918:

image Vienna Workshop


This design was by Dagobert Peche, done in 1920:

image Vienna Workshop

And finally, just to represent the fact that women artists and designers were welcomed and active in the Arts and Crafts movement, this lovely rendering was by Anna Schröder, in 1919:

image Vienna Workshop

It’s worth reading about John Ruskin, who was the founding director of Oxford’s Slade School of Art. Just google him, or start with this excellent wikipedia article, which has links to many of Ruskin’s work: wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ruskin And you can wander through the Vienna Workshop collection of sketches and drawings for, well, for as much time as you have, at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, online here. Just look around. And by the way, “entwurf” means “design”…

And let’s end today with this quotation of John Ruskin, from one of his Slade School lectures on color:
The man who can see all gray, and red, and purples in a peach, will paint the peach rightly round, and rightly altogether. But the man who has only studied its roundness may not see its purples and grays, and if he does not, will never get it to look like a peach; so that great power over color is always a sign of large general art-intellect.

Jute, Burlap, Hessian… and old rugs.

By | Antique rugs, History | 2 Comments

image auction rug Potomac, Co.

This very interesting old rug will be sold on Nov. 19 at the Potomack Company’s online auction of Jewelry and Design. I’ve not seen similar antique hooked rugs, and thought it was pretty interesting. I found myself looking at all the elements of it for a long time. What a great border!

It’s described in the auction catalog as:

PRIMITIVE TRIPTYCH PICTORIAL HOOKED RUG, CIRCA 1800 having a pleasing and balanced design, stitched with wool and cotton on a burlap base, the central section with large vase, flowers and flanked by cornucopias with swags above, the side panels with trees and possibly figures, in a landscape with clouds, all surrounded by two borders, a “penny rug” pattern followed by sawtooth pattern, colors include blues, golds, ivory, pink, red, brown, and green, approx. 4′ x 2’3″. Estimated price: $100-$300.

Provenance: From the collection of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It startled me when I read the date, “circa 1800”, since I thought the rule of thumb in the antique world was that burlap was not really available in the US until around 1850. And of course even then it was repurposed from grain and feed sacks to make rugs. I found a nice (brief) history of burlap here from a company, NYP Corp., that still provides burlap, mostly for sandbags.

image burlap

Burlap (called hessian in England) is made from the jute plant from India. But English traders had only become aware of it in the 1790s, and seeing the rope it was used to make in India, started shipping jute plants home. By the 1830s, it was discovered how to spin this tough material into a yarn that could then be woven. Dundee, Scotland produced most of it. NYP Corp.’s history states, “Dundee housed five jute mills by 1869, containing 950 looms. By 1910, a stunning growth of jute processing had occurred, and mills skyrocketed to 38, operating 30,685 looms. Over one billion yards of cloth were produced that year, transforming into more than 450 million burlap bags.”

Burlap was so tough and useful, it spread around the world pretty quickly, but a date of 1800 for a rug made on burlap seemed awfully early to me. On the other hand, I have to believe that the National Trust for Historic Preservation did a lot more research than I have. Or maybe it was made by an inventive Scottish millworker’s wife in her Dundee parlor.

By the way, nobody knows the origin of the word “burlap”, not even the Oxford English Dictionary. And the mighty jute plant is still only grown in India. And though we rughookers tend to use longer lasting (and softer) linen for our backings, jute is going through another major development, with new techniques to make it into ecologically smart clothing and other products without that hairy, scratchy feel we associate with most burlap. And of course it is still used worldwide for feedsacks and sandbags.

The antique rug photo shown above is used courtesy of Potomack Company, online at www.potomackcompany.com. The rug is Lot #1247, and the online auction starts at 10 am on Nov. 19th.

Eric Sloane, steward of our past

By | Art, History, Museums | One Comment

image eric sloane

This is a longer than usual post for me, but I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it without leaving out good stuff! And though mostly about a figure of American art history, it does connect to hooked rugs, (well, a little bit), so bear with me!

Eric Sloane, whose Stone Barn painting we looked at the other day, was such an interesting character. His life took many turns, led by his changing interests. He grew up in New York City, and he got work making signs and selling print advertising, even painting murals at Coney Island amusement park. He got quite a few jobs out at Roosevelt Field airport, painting lettering and artwork on planes.

He fell in love with planes, and soon started to paint airplanes in flight with great detail, and sold a lot of these to the pilots at the airfield. The Army Air Corps hired him to write and illustrate several publications for them. Planes and clouds… And gradually in his paintings, the planes got smaller and the clouds more prominent. He reached a point where the cloudscapes covered the entire canvases.

image eric sloane cloudscape

Some pilot asked him who was ever going to buy a painting that was “just all clouds” … but one of his largest cloudscapes was displayed at the Roosevelt Field Inn (at “an exorbitant price”, Sloane said), and it was purchased by aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

His interests took another turn. Clouds got Sloane interested in weather, and for a while he studied meteorology at MIT, and created several working models of weather phenomena that became permanent exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History. But soon he was advertising in Yankee Magazine for old farmer’s almanacs and weather journals. The farmers’ lore of weather was just more interesting to him than the math involved in meteorology.

Another turn in his road – Sloane became deeply fascinated by the life and knowledge of farmers before the vast changes of the industrial revolution – he saw they knew about farming, animals and crops, but also about wood, weather, the seasons, stars. He saw that their tools – most often hand-made – were aesthetically pleasing as well as useful.

image eric sloane roching chair2

He became more and more interested in collecting farm tools and implements, and in what early American farm families were able to produce with them – covered bridges, spindle beds, ropes, barns, quilts, candles, clothing, harnesses for their livestock, blanket chests.

Sloane became an avid student of early American farm life – resourceful, utilitarian, grounded in common sense – and he wrote many books on the arts and methods of American farmers – as well as becoming a collector of their farming tools and antiques.

He developed a “philosophy of awareness”. His growing knowledge of the 18th century way of life on American farms convinced him that they had developed a strong sense of personal awareness that came from “doing for oneself”. Time and labor were highly valued, and materials invested wisely. Sloane saw that compared to life in the 20th century, family and community bonds were recognised as essential. Both independence and cooperation were necessary.

Everything was done with an eye towards permanence – from a blanket chest made for a daughter to the stone walls circling the farm’s fields, to (yes,) a hand-made rug for a wedding. Sloane once said, “Unfortunately, the only recognized relics of yesterday’s farmers are obsolete curiosities when the greatest relic, their philosophy of living, is seldom considered.

A good book about Sloane and his philosophy of awareness is titled Aware – A Retrospective of the Life and Work of Eric Sloane, by James W. Mauch. It sounds fascinating. And there is an entire museum, the Sloane-Stanley Museum in Kent, CT, that features the studio and vast antique collections of Eric Sloane. The Bennington (VT) Center for the Arts also has a fine collection of his paintings of covered bridges:

image eric sloane covered bridge

In his own lifetime, his many paintings found international acclaim, and he was elected to the American Academy of Design. He wrote over 40 books, about everything from the weather and covered bridges, to bells, stone walls and folklore, and the unique culture and function of the ubiquitous New England country store:

image sloane cracker barrell

So it’s not surprising that so many of his paintings involved New England farm scenes and landscapes. Here is his painting, Untitled – Red Barn and Hunter:

image eric sloane red barn and snow

We are left with much more than just Eric Sloane’s paintings and books. He was a steward of our past. It may well be that his attention to the beauty and craftsmanship of old barns and New England covered bridges, farm tools, stone walls, quilts and handmade rugs made people begin to realize they were worth saving, and is one reason that so many of them survive today.

Photos of the top Sloane painting, Sloane’s cloudscape and covered bridge paintings are courtesy of the Bennington Center for the Arts, online here.
The Sloane rocking chair illustration is from his book, “Once Upon a Time – The Way America Was”. The Sloane-Stanley Museum is online here. The Mauch book on Sloane, Aware – A Retrospective, is available here, along with good biographical notes. And his painting Untitled – Red Barn and Hunter is part of the collection at the Addison Gallery of American Art, in Andover, MA and online here. And Sloane’s books, including The Cracker Barrel is available on amazon.com.

Two treasured, historic rugs

By | Antique rugs, History | 4 Comments

image Pat's Lefort rug1

Seldom have I got an email about rughooking that was so surprising and exciting. And if I had not gone on the rughookers’ bus tour of Nova Scotia last month, I would not have fully appreciated what I was seeing.

I got an email from a nice woman, Pat, who lives in northern Massachusetts. Her grandmother had lived on Cape Breton, up in northern Nova Scotia for many years. And in the 1940s, her grandmother bought two rugs from a woman up in Cheticamp, Elizabeth Lefort. They’ve been in the family, and treasured, ever since.

Elizabeth Lefort! You can scroll back to my Sept. 23rd blog entry about Lefort, (or look here) but let’s just say here that the headline I wrote that day was “Cheticamp’s – and Canada’s – most famous rughooker”. Her rugs were displayed at the White House, the Vatican, and in Buckingham Palace. She was made a member of the Order of Canada. In the Cheticamp tradition, she used a tiny little hook, and very thin (two-ply) yarn for her rugs.

Above you see the larger of the two rugs, 33.5″ x 27.75″. Pat also sent photos of the back sides of the rugs, and I had to enlarge them quite a bit to be sure which was the front and which was the back – the hooking is that fine and precise. See for yourself – here is a photo of the back of the rug:

image Pat's Lefort rug1 back

And here is a photo of a detail of that rug that Pat was kind enough to take at my request:

image Pat's lefort rug1 detail

Pat wrote saying the other rug, smaller of the two, was also much more elaborate and sophisticated, and I have to agree. Here it is:

image Pat,s lefort rug2

Pat wrote, “This rug is an absolute work of art – truly shows Elizabeth’s “art in wool” for which she is famous. Note that the clarity of the picture in reverse on the back side. Also note the use of light, which is really hard to imagine doing in wool!

Here is the reverse side of the rug:

image Pat's lefort rug2 reverse

The quality of the light and the moonlight really do make this rug an historic treasure. And after seeing many of Lefort’s rugs at the Cheticamp museum, Les Trois Pignons, I think I could have told instantly that these rugs were hooked by Lefort, though I am no expert!

Here are details of the second rug:

image Pat's lefort rug2 detail

image Pat's lefort rug2 detail

image Pat's lefort rug2 detail

How wonderful that these rugs have been treasured by the family for so long. Pat wanted advice about getting a valuation on these rugs, especially by someone familiar with Lefort and her role in Cheticamp’s textile history. I have asked a friend, a trusted antique dealer, to check around for someone knowledgeable in this specialty. And since she’d already tried Les Trois Pignons Museum which didn’t have much advise for her, I also suggested Pat get in touch with the Textile Museum of Canada.

But meanwhile, we get to see these two rugs by Elizabeth Lefort, which have not been seen beyond Pat’s family since the day the were purchased from Lefort – about 75 years. Thank you so much, Pat, for giving your kind permission to show them on this blog!

These photographs of the rugs are copyrighted, and so protected. They are used here with written permission. And because these are such special rugs, I would ask each of you blog readers to overcome temptation and not copy, paste, pin or share them without Pat’s written permission. It’s a great way to show our appreciation for her letting me show them to you. If you want to show them to a friend, send the blog link. Fair enough? Thanks, all. And a final word: Wow!

Creativity and Transformation

By | Color, Creativity, History, Lettering | No Comments

image 9/11 museum

The transforming power of art and remembrance…

I went to the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum this week, and above you see an art installation there that was both moving and powerful. Two artists worked on separate elements of the installation, on quite a monumental scale.

The lettering, No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time, is a quotation from Book IX of The Aeneid, by ancient Roman poet Virgil, and is meant to suggest the transformative power of remembrance. The piece was created by New Mexico artist Tom Joyce, (American, b. 1956) who forged each letter out of steel recovered from the 9/11 debris field at Ground Zero.

The museum’s information plaque added, “Originally trained as a blacksmith, Joyce was invited to harness the transformative process that occurs when iron is touched with fire. He took wounded remnant steel – made of iron and carbon – and forged it, by heating and folding, into letters of hope and beauty. The result reminds us that Virgil’s words are not just a statement, they are a promise.”

And the backdrop for these words is another art piece, called Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. It’s by Spencer Finch (American, b. 1962). The installation is made up of 2,983 individual watercolor paintings to commemorate each of the individuals who were killed on 9/11. Every square is a unique shade of blue, “combining to form a panoramic mosaic of color.”

The commentary on the piece continues, “Finch’s work centers on the idea of memory. What one person perceives as blue might not be the same as what another person sees. Yet our memories, just like our perception of color, share a common reference.”

Here is a close-up:

image 9/11 museum

Going through the Museum was such a sobering experience, but the scale of destruction and loss seem, for me, to have been partly redeemed by so much selfless courage and bravery, and so many stories of individual help and kindness in the aftermath of that terrible day.

Any transformation implies a dramatic change in material form or appearance. In art, like these works at the museum or in our own rugs, it can be a transformation of energy or meaning, as well. Deep pain into strength, loss into new energy… it is all tied up to our ability to be creative, and to use our experience in our own work, as these two artists did.

Cheticamp’s, and Canada’s, most famous rughooker

By | Antique rugs, History, Museums | One Comment

image Eliz. Lefort

Elizabeth Lefort was born in 1914, and lived her whole life in Cheticamp, though her rugs traveled the world. She was quite shy, and learned to hook at a very early age. I loved this painted potrait of her, with the round rug in the background forming a halo effect. One of her early pieces was done for her sister – a cottage garden scene worked in 28 shades of brown:

image Eliz Lefort

She was a prolific hooker, and was once timed at pulling 55 loops per minute – that’s 3,300 loops per hour. Yet she did intricate and precise designs, from landscapes, florals, birds and animals. This is her rug Woodland Scene, and in person, I felt like if I touched those timbers, I could get splinters:

image Eliz Lefort

Her attention to detail and shading made her excel at reproducing photos, and she created an amazing series of portraits. She presented Eisenhower with his hooked portrait at The White House in 1957 and went on to do portraits of Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII, Jackie Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, so her art has also graced the Vatican and Buckingham Palace.

image Eliz Lefort


In later years she hooked one rug with all the American presidents, another with prime ministers of Canada, large portrayals of Canadian history, and Biblical scenes featuring hundreds of carefully hooked figures. I loved seeing the care with which she hooked each individual face. This is a detail of just a few inches of a rug that was probably 6 feet by 8 feet:

image Eliz Lefort

And here is the rug she designed for Canada’s Centennial, which is just unbelievable in person:

Elizabeth Lefort, Cheticamp’s master rughooker, was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Moncton in 1975, and made a member of The Order of Canada in 1987. There is a wonderful museum in Cheticamp, Les Trois Pignons, that features Elizabeth’s story and many of her rugs that show her great sense of design and mastery of her craft. It was an inspiring place to visit.