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Category Archives: History of Art

Off on an adventure

By | Composition, Design, History of Art | 5 Comments

Tonight I am flying to England. I will spend a week at Christ Church (that’s the name of the college) in Oxford. The graceful Tom Quad is pictured above.

And what will I be doing there? Taking a one week class in medieval illuminated manuscripts. I have always loved seeing them, but know very little about them, so figured it would be a good class choice!

This is a page from the Old Testament, created in England in the first half of the 15th century.

I think the class will be a combination of history and art, and that will be fine with me! The word “illuminated” just means decorated and illustrated, and “manuscripts” really does mean “written by hand”. These were made in medieval times, right up until the invention of the printing press. Scribes and monks carefully spent years creating Psalters, books of Hours, copies of the books of the Bible, whole Bibles and even copies of sacred music. Here is a closer look at another manuscript, from 1425:

I am really hoping that I will learn about the different scrolls, vines, leaves and other design figures used. Here is another page of script, which was left uncompleted, so you can see the design at an early stage:

I have packed a small sketchbook and a few drawing pens, just in case I want to try out reproducing some of the simpler elements I see… you never know what something like this will lead to!

Well, I will know more about these manuscripts before the coming week is out, and know absolutely that my time at Christ Church will be magical, and will go by fast!

All these examples are from the collection of the British Library. Stay well, and hook on!

Adventures with a bit of rope…

By | Books, Creativity, History of Art | 5 Comments

Sometimes our creative instincts can catch us by surprise. A friend showed me her copy of this book, The Ashley Book of Knots, by Clifford W. Ashley, and I was enchanted!

But let’s back up a little. It is good to know that Clifford Ashley was a very skilled and famous maritime painter. Here is his work, A Whaleship on the Marine Railway at Fairhaven (ca. 1916):

Wow. I would be able to look at this painting for a long, long time, and still find things to discover. Many of his works were less impressionistic, but full of detail and accuracy, like this illustration from one of his books on the whaling ships at the end of the 19th century:

The carving at the bow of the ship, the basket holding the drill, the chain and ax – all are very precisely rendered. Ashley, born in New Bedford, MA in 1881, went off to sea for several years on a whaling ship, and then came home to study art in Boston. What a change of careers! But actually he used his knowledge and love of the sea throughout his artistic life.

Here is another painting of his, A Clipper Ship at Full Sail, which I thought any rughooker who has done a sailing ship design would appreciate:

That sky! And look at how the colors of his sky are reflected on the sails!

Ashley also spent years learning and collecting the details of knots, along with their uses and detailed instructions, culminating in his book of knots:

This definitive book on knots features his precise illustrations of over 3,600 knots and instructions for making them, with a history of when they appeared, and what functions they serve. And each chapter heading has funny, charming illustrations about each category of knots:

And he did not limit himself to the knots of seamanship. He studied knots used by butchers, steeplejacks, cobblers, electric linesmen, poachers, surgeons, and “elderly ladies who knit”… He includes decorative knots and rope buttons:

…and even the mats that a ship’s cat might curl up on:

I must say that his instructions are a lot more understandable when reading the descriptions that accompany his illustrations. Some knots are beyond confusing, and a few brought back memories of the macrame I did years ago:

And yes, the string game of ”cat’s cradle” we played as kids was included, along with how to tie a tie! And some of the knots are simply beautiful:

Does this have anything to do with rughooking? No, it doesn’t! But I just found this man, his paintings and his big book of knots fascinating, so I thought you might, too.

Hook on!

Amsterdam style!

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Food for thought, History of Art | 2 Comments

I thought you blog readers would get a kick out of this…about 12 rughooking friends got together for the weekend at a great B&B, as we have a few times before. So as we usually do, we stopped at one point to take a group photo. Came out pretty good, and at least everyone’s eyes were open.

Then someone (who clearly read my recent blog entries) suggested we take one more photo, but “Amsterdam style” – meaning only one or two people looking directly at the camera/viewer, and the rest looking at each other, or at least not looking directly out. So we took one more picture – as in the style of the Dutch “golden age” group portraits from the mid-1600s. Here is the group photo, Amsterdam style:

I got an enormous kick out of this. First, that someone thought of it after reading my last blog entry (well done, Lynda!) and second, that it came out as such an interesting group photo – just a little bit different!

So if you are having family get-togethers for Thanksgiving and start taking photos of the group, maybe give this a try and let me know how it goes!

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

One more from Amsterdam…

By | Art, Composition, History of Art, Museums | 3 Comments

I took this photo directly across the street from the Hermitage-Amsterdam Museum – my “one more” museum stop before heading home tomorrow. And here is one more Rembrandt painting I saw. This is Portrait Of A Man Sitting At His Desk, painted in 1631, when Rembrandt was only 25 years old:

This man looks up from his work, as if surprised at our appearance – much like Rembrandt posed the later “Wardens of the Drapers’ Guild” portrait we saw the other day. His mouth is even slightly open in surprise, not typical in a portrait, but otherwise he looks entirely natural. Now look at this close-up I took of his hands, pen and books:


You can’t look at Dutch art without learning about the country’s culture and history. In the 1600s, other European countries were run by monarchs, sovereigns, nobility and the Church establishment. But the Dutch culture was based around trade and the individual, and in the mid-1500s, there was an uprising against the Church, and many religious artworks and statues were destroyed. By 1648, the Dutch rebelled outright against rule by Spain, and separated completely from the Catholic church. No more portraits of cardinals, popes and bishops. The Dutch “Golden Age” put citizen groups in the center focus of their art:

There were group portraits of leading merchants and citizens – militias for the public defense, guilds of tradespeople and craftsmen, and many civic groups that combined the power of running the city in an orderly way, with friendship and what we would call “networking”:

There are a lot of these group portraits, tracing the rise of the merchant class from hardworking “burghers” and traders to a class of incredibly wealthy merchant-nobility as the city prospered. Here is one single room in the museum:

And I was happy to see quite a few women represented:

These women were most often the directors of charity groups, running hospitals, poorhouses, schools. Men would oversee the finances of the institutions, but these women ran the day to day functioning, and had veto power over all decisions.

One other thing I noticed. In these group portraits, many times everyone would be looking out directly at the viewer. Each individual included would contribute to the cost of the portrait. But, in a few group portraits, as in this example, only one or two of the subjects were looking directly at us. Only the man closest to us, in the lower foreground (looking over his shoulder) actually meets our gaze completely:

And the effect of this not only gives him prominence, but it makes us continually look around at the others in the canvas. What’s going on here? Who is that guy looking at, who is this fellow talking to? What is this guy pointing at? It definitely adds movement to the composition. It took me a minute or two to realize what kept my eyes moving around the canvas, and why I kept returning to the guy down in front, who was looking straight at me!

Finally, at the end of this exhibit, there was a whole section of very recent group photographs of today’s prominent citizens of Amsterdam – leaders in industry, law, art, science, trades, medicine, education and cultural groups. The photos are now being made into paintings, as a way to continue the tradition of the classic “Dutch Golden Age” (and the importance of the individual) into the future:

And you notice, in this group photo, only one person is looking directly at us…
Very nicely done, and one more good memory to end a busy week in Amsterdam. Tot ziens!

One by Corot

By | Art, Composition, History of Art | One Comment

We have not looked at much art history lately, so here is a very nice painting I came across yesterday. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot painted this work in 1851, and it was sold last week at Sotheby’s in London. It is titled La Rochelle: L’Abreuvoir (Watering hole) View taken near the Ramparts, with the Tower of the Lantern.

Does this painting have to do with rughooking? Well, let’s just say that if you spend a little time looking at it, you will absorb the evidence of good composition and design.

Take a look at how Corot created balance in his composition. There is a row of large trees on the left. What balances them out, on the right? How does your eye travel around the canvas, and what leads your eye? And though he painted from an actual (chosen) view of La Rochelle, why do you suppose he placed the figures of the woman and the man on the horse just where he did? Look, too, at the quite limited range of colors he used – virtually no bright colors at all… and that lovely sky! How does he give structure to the sky that enhances the balance of the view below?

I always like to look, when considering a painting, at where all the horizontal lines are, where the verticals and diagonals are, where the curves are.

There is only one master here – Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing.” – Claude Monet, 1897

He is still the strongest, he anticipated everything …” – Edgar Degas, 1883

Corot (1796-1875), a native of Paris, was considered a master of Romantic landscapes, but is credited with being a progenitor of Impressionism. His method of painting en plein air (painting in the outdoors, from the actual scene) drew the interest of much younger artists – Renoir, Monet, Degas and Pissarro, all of whom either experimented with Corot’s technique or called themselves his “pupils.” He anticipated the plein-air innovations of Impressionism.

M. Corot has a remarkable quality that has eluded most of our artists today: he knows how to invent. His point of departure is always nature, but when he arrives at the interpretation of it, he no longer copies, he remembers it”. (Du Camp, 1864)

Several decades later, Impressionism would revolutionize art by taking a similar approach — quick, spontaneous painting done in the out-of-doors; but where the Impressionists used rapidly applied, un-mixed colors to capture light and mood, Corot usually mixed and blended his colors to get his dreamy effects.

Corot studied in France and Italy. In northern Europe, the true reality of the actual landscape was considered most important to capture (the “Northern Realism” school), while in the south and Italy, landscapes were painted in an idealized, more romanticised manner. Corot learned from both schools. His notebooks reveal hundreds of precise renderings of tree trunks, rocks, and plants. He learned how to give buildings and rocks the effect of volume and solidity with proper light and shadow, and would place suitable figures in his scenes to add human context and scale, as in the painting above. He considered his best works his “souvenirs” – small, accurately rendered landscapes, but filtered through his emotional reaction to the scenes – his “memories” of the scenes.

Corot was financially independent, so unlike many painters, he could paint what he wanted. La Rochelle was painted in 1851, and, after initial rejection by the Paris art world, Corot’s reputation was established by then. The 1850s was the period when his style became softer and his colours more restricted. In his later landscapes, he employed a small range of colors, often using soft colored greys and blue-greens, with very few spots of strong color, often confined to the clothing of the human figures. Topographical detail was suppressed in favour of mood and atmosphere, above all in his ‘souvenirs’, small works like La Rochelle (which is only about 13″ x 19″), which he considered his mementos of real landscapes.

This painting was sold at Sotheby’s about two weeks ago (June 6th, sale price unstated) but the pre-sale estimate was £100,000-£200,000 (about $130,000-$190,000). This painting was oil on canvas, actual size: 13¼ in. by 18¾ in.

Towards the end of his life, Corot became an elder of the Parisian artists’ community and would use his influence to gain commissions for other artists. He was well known for his kindness and charitable gifts, with large donations to the poor of Paris, other artists, their widows and families, and support of a day care center in his Parisian neighborhood.

Notes on Corot were compiled from the National Gallery of Art, Sotheby’s, and Wikipedia. To look at all of Corot’s work, and a detailed biography, go to www.jean-baptiste-camille-corot.org.

May all your rugs be just as you like, and balanced. Hook on!

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.

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…

Another one done…

By | Design, History of Art, Making rugs | One Comment


About a year ago, for this blog, I was looking at designs made by the famous Vienna Workshop designers, back around the turn of the century. And I saved one, just because it appealed to me. Here is the design as I found it:


The designer was Ugo Zovetti (Croatian, 1879-1974), and he did this in 1911. I’ve looked at so many design sources and artwork, and having an excuse to spend lots of time meandering through art history is one of the main attractions of doing this blog! But this is the first time I actually saved a historical design and adapted it into a rug.

Just as a quick recap, the Vienna Workshop was the European center for the Arts and Crafts movement (often called the Craftsman school of design in the US), and it was a production community of visual artists who believed in the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), a coordinated environment in which everything down to the last detail was consciously designed as an integral part of the whole project. So designers there worked on architecture, fabric, furniture, ceramics, leather goods, enamel, jewelry, postcards. The “Wiener Werkstätte” even had a millinery department. It lasted as a design center until the depression in the 1930s.

I believe Zovetti mostly worked on fabric design and paper goods. Here is another piece by him – a very attractive repeating pattern done in 1910:

Wonderful! But, yikes, the one I picked to adapt was hard enough! I did enjoy seeing the birds design come to life. And to get the detailed effect in the birds, I did a lot of the beading stitch (starting two strands of wool on the same line, and alternating loops of the two colors). A slow process at first, but I definitely gained speed as I went along. Some of the designs in the leaves were too “wormy” for me, so I simplified them to a more basic leaf-vein look. And I confess I sort of color-planned it as I went along.

In two days I leave for a few weeks in England! So blog posts may happen from there, but they might not be as rug-oriented as usual. I am planning, though, to visit the wonderful Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, so it’s likely I will have something to talk about, don’t you think?

Enjoy your hooking, and wherever you are, keep an eye out for good design!

28 minutes

By | Art, Color, History of Art | One Comment

image Childe Hassam

This wonderful painting is Celia Thaxter’s Garden, painted in 1890, by Childe Hassam. That’s pronounced “Child HASSam”, for those of you (like me) who want to know how to say it right.

And of course, Celia’s garden was on the New Hampshire island of Appledore, one of the Isles of Shoals. Hassam spent more than 30 summers travelling out to the Isles of Shoals to paint, and Appledore became quite a famous artists’ colony. And I just signed up for a rughooking retreat this coming Sept. on Star Island, another of NH’s beloved Isles, six miles off the NH coast! Whee!

This is a good painting to look at while letting the right side of your brain interrogate the left side. Do you like it? How do the main lines (“the bones”) balance each other? Where are the darkest and lightest areas, and the most colorful? Remember the “rule of thirds”, using a tic tac toe grid to consider compositions? Where do the “thirds” fall on this painting? And intuitively, what emotions come to you from this painting?

But the real point of this entry is to send you all a link to a film made by the North Carolina PBS station about Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals. It’s 28 minutes long and I’m posting it at the beginning of a weekend, hoping you will have time to enjoy it soon. It’s about this great American painter, about impressionism, marine biology, American art history, putting together an art exhibit, about sunrises and moonrises, and yes, about the Isles of Shoals.

So maybe while I am out walking my dog you can settle down with another cup of coffee and watch it – it is well worth your time. Here is the link:

And many thanks to my friend Dev for sending it to me. The painting above is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (www.metmuseum.org) and if you want to know more about the hooking retreat on Star Island in September, go to www.starisland.org or contact Pam Bartlett at The Woolen Pear, online at www.redhorserugs.com.

And enjoy this beautiful spring weekend!

A new rug and a great article

By | Color, History of Art, Making rugs | 3 Comments


Two quick things to show you today. First, this is the rug I just finished. It was designed as a teaching piece by Cyndy Duade, of Springfield, NH, for the class in wide-cut crewel hooking for our NH ATHA group, White Mountain Woolen Magic. I used a #6 cut, but others used #8 cuts. Cyndy dyed a lot of wool for all the people who signed up for the class, and the design was lovely to work on.

For me, the most interesting part was using the dip-dyed wool for the center of the top flower. I just had never used a dip-dyed wool before, and it was so cool to watch the color transition hook itself in!

And for the interesting article, this piece, titled The Harvard Library That Protects The World’s Rarest Colors appeared recently on fastcodesign.com, written by Diana Budds.


The article is about the rare colors in the vault of Harvard’s storied pigment library, which include beetle extracts, poisonous metals, and human mummies. A fascinating look into the history of color pigment history, and only about a five minute read:


Photo of glass pigment containers courtesy of Jenny Stenger, © President and Fellows of Harvard College