© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Eptek Centre guide Bryanna Thompson gets some helpful tips from hooking instructor Linda Marchbank.
The loves of rug hooking and Prince Edward Island have come together in fine mat form in a new exhibit entitled This Is My Island: Hooking What We Love.
On display until October at Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside, the exhibition features 55 original hooked mats by 50 Island artisans.
“It’s become an art. We call it painting with wool,” says rug-hooking instructor Linda Marchbank of Travellers Rest, who has been immersed in this art for the past decade.
The inspiration for the exhibit came from a similar show in Moncton, N.B., which Marchbank saw a few years ago. And so, she approached Eptek staff with a proposal that would showcase P.E.I. talent.
“Local hookers across the Island were invited to submit work that represented P.E.I. to them. They should be inspired, by some part, on the Island or some thing on the Island, and that when they saw that image that really meant P.E.I. to them personally . . . ,” says Paula Kenny, site director at Eptek Art and Culture Centre.
“When you look around the room it’s amazing the variety of the pieces that came in to us . . . . and every one is so different.”
In addition to the P.E.I. theme, another common link was that the dimensions of rugs were to be two feet by three feet, which proved difficult for some.
“For some it’s too big: for fine hookers it was a huge mat. And for people who were used to working with big cuts, that’s too small. So it was a challenge,” Marchbank says.
Although all the artists were working within the same size and theme parameters, all of their quilts are unique.
“A lot of these are done on linen, which is a really stable background, but some of them are done on burlap and that affects how the piece comes out,” Kenny says.
“Also — I didn’t know this before — but there are high hookers and there are low hookers. Some people pull up big loops and some people pull up short loops, and so that changes the appearance.
“And then there’s a primitive style of hooking and there’s a more traditional style. Also, as you go through the exhibit you will notice that some people hook in straight lines, some people hook in swirly patterns, and it really adds an amazing amount of texture.”
Hookers also use different types of fibres, such as yarn or strips of wool, which also change the texture of the piece.
“Ninety-five per cent of them are done with strips of wool, but there’s a difference in the width of the cut of the strip. There are people who like to get a lot of detail and so they use a very narrow cut. And then there are others who are a little looser, more impressionist in their interpretation, and they use a wider cut. It’s quite apparent when you get two different styles side-by-side,” Kenny says.
Other textures come from the addition of other materials, such as pieces of fabric or fluffy bits.
“There are a few mats in here with sheep in the picture, and the sheep are often made with the wool from those very animals — just unspun and fluffy like a sheep,” she adds.
All of the designs in the exhibit are original, with nary a commercial pattern in the lot.
“That’s really unique. A lot of these hookers would never make their own design,” Kenny says.
“They might get something from Linda or they might buy something by order from somewhere that’s already pre-drawn and then they select their colours. But for people to do their own design, that was really a big challenge.”
“They’ve got it in them. We just had to pull it out and give them a venue,” Marchbank adds.
Mixed in with the seasoned rug hookers are newbies to the art; in fact, one rug is actually the first attempt for its maker.
Included in the exhibit are representations from two women — Dorothy Clark of Summerside and Shirley Hennessy of Charlottetown — who, along with others, were at the forefront of the local rejuvenation movement in the 1970s.
Also featured in the exhibit are rugs from the P.E.I. Museum collection and a slideshow of the ongoing rug registry of P.E.I. project that is being undertaken by the Island Matters group.
“People have brought them to them to preserve them. They’re (pre-1980s) vintage mats,” Marchbank says.
There was a rejuvenation in the ’60s and ’70s, Marchbank says of this time-honoured P.E.I. tradition.
“Hooking used to be a poor man’s art or craft because you hooked to cover up cold floors. They’d trade nice hooked mats for linoleum or oilcloth from the (door-to-door) peddlers. And then it became wall-to-wall carpet, you didn’t want mats on the floor. Now it’s an art form.”
There are presently two rug-hooking guilds on P.E.I. that are very active: in Summerside, it’s the Lady Slipper Rug Hookers and in Charlottetown it’s Island Matters, with an umbrella group, the Nova Scotia Rug Hooking Guild.
For people who wish to take more than just memories of the exhibit home, there is a free full colour catalogue that was produced with support from Innovation P.E.I. and Cows Creamery, Prince Edward Island.
The catalogue includes both photos of 55 pieces and brief descriptions of each written by its hooker.
“There’s something for everybody in hooking,” Marchbank says, “and I think that’s why it’s become popular.”
AT A GLANCE
What: This Is My Island: Hooking What We Love is on display at Eptek Centre on the Summerside waterfront throughout the summer. The exhibition features 55 original hooked mats by Island artisans complemented by vintage mats from the P.E.I. Museum collection and projected images of hundreds of privately held hooked mats.
Demonstration Days - Summer Art and Craft Demonstrations are coming up this month: Aug. 21 Margaret McQuaid/Pauline Coady (rug hooking); Aug. 22 Cindy George (rug hooking); Aug. 28 Lise Genova (painting); Aug. 29 Janet Hackett (rug hooking).
On Saturday, Aug. 31, there will be a special one-day workshop with noted rug hooker Michele Micarelli, who is the featured American artist at the new rug-hooking museum in Nova Scotia.
Micarelli will present a pillow-top pattern workshop in the style of artist Gustav Klimt at Eptek Centre in Summerside. The workshop fee is $95 and this includes the pattern on natural hairless linen. Participants can bring materials from their own stash or they can purchase mixed media bags and other wool on site from Micarelli. The workshop is scheduled 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and advance registration is required. This is not a beginner’s class, but all levels of hookers are accepted. Call 888-8373 for more information about materials and to reserve a seat.