Saturday, August 09, 2008

Hooked on Rugs' exhibit lays groundwork for American art & includes Grenfell mats

Hooked on Rugs' exhibit lays groundwork for American art

Friday, August 08, 2008
By Jennifer Kaulius
The Express-Times

A new exhibit opening Sunday at the Allentown Art Museum doesn't showcase ancient scripts or colorful canvases of oils. Instead, the headliner art once relegated to the floor and stepped upon takes high priority. "Hooked on Rugs: An American Art" features one of the few folk art forms indigenous to North America.

Along the coasts of Maine and Canada, the art of hooked rugs began as a method of warmth and functionality in the late 18th century. These beginnings led to the beds of rural Americans in the northeast, providing warmth and comfort in an otherwise less-than-wealthy setting.

Rural women were given their first opportunity to express artistic urges and create their own designs to decorate their homes. Though fancy women's magazines were slow to pick up a craft that was not practiced by the town women, soon noted home magazines began to feature these countryside rugs.

Hooked rugs were fashioned from a traditional linen base fabric with long strips of yarn looped up through the fabric bay. The end result of rug hooking is long, straight, narrow lines of loops on one side and flat fabric underneath.


Hooked rugs were made from recycled fabrics. Even old underwear and clothing items were being dyed and reused to string through burlap in the rug-making process.

While the art of rug hooking started in the early 1830s, the practice was publicized and made popular among rural women by Edward Sands Frost, a local peddler. When his wife asked for a hooked rug design she could use, Frost began designing patterns and stencils to print on burlap.
Known as the first rug designer, Frost sold the designs from 1864 to 1875, enabling the movement of women creating masterpieces.

"Sometimes he used metal for stamps and stencils and hand-colored the patterns, almost like a paint-by-number for his customers," Atkins says. Frost's designs were later published.

Another well-known group of rug designs came from Dr. Wilfred Grenfell. Aboard a British hospital ship, Grenfell visited northern coastal Canada, notably Labrador, in 1892. There he noticed the poor conditions and started his mission to help the locals.

"Grenfell encouraged cottage industries in which women could make money, and their pieces became known as Grenfell rugs," Atkins says. He encouraged women to incorporate local images, such as the area's wildlife and landscapes.

Read the rest of this article here.


Wilfred Grenfell also left a legacy in written words. The unabridged audio edition of his true adventure tale Adrift on an Ice Pan narrated by Chris Brookes, Janis Spence and Jay Roberts is available from Rattling Books.