Exhibit showcases art of rug-hooking

Duane Hicks

What’s sometimes called “art for the floor” is now adorning the walls of the main floor galley at the Fort Frances Museum.
The new exhibit, entitled “Artistry of Hooked Rugs” and featuring works on loan from rug-hooking enthusiasts in Rainy River District and across Ontario, marks the first of its kind in Northwestern Ontario.
It also marks the first curated by a local expert—Debbie Ballard.
Ballard, who also is a member of museum’s advisory board, said the idea for the exhibit was seeded at a meeting in which the board was discussing how the museum has very limited funds to bring in travelling exhibits from elsewhere in the province.
“It’s very expensive to ship them,” she noted. “So there was some discussion about if we had any local people with collections or areas of expertise we could tap into to put together exhibits.
“After that meeting, I thought, ‘I have expertise, I have a hobby, I can do a rug-hooking one,’” Ballard remarked.
Her starting point was a wealth of rug-hooking materials she has collected over the years, including those which she inherited from her grandmother when she no longer was not able to hook.
“I have every book ever written; I have every Pearl McGown newsletter from 1949,” said Ballard.
“I have stuff,” she smiled.
“We also have people in Fort Frances who hook, as well as a group in Emo who have been hooking for longer than I’ve been here,” Ballard added.
“So I thought we’d have a good source of mats here.
“And then I prevailed upon a few people in the hooking world to lend their pieces to us for a few months or a year so that we could have an exhibit, and quite possibly other museums in the area,” she continued.
“Kenora and Dryden might be interested in having it, too.”
Ballard said she was thrilled with the response from her fellow “hookers.”
“I’d say people were very generous,” she remarked. “In the group that I would normally hook with, just about everybody gave me something.
“And other people I knew—and even people I didn’t know—in the rug-hooking world gave me pieces,” noted Ballard.
In fact, she could have gotten more pieces from afar than she did. But the more pieces she has, the more money it will cost to ship them back to their rightful owners.
The exhibit offers a good look at the many types of hooking being done today.
“That’s the beauty of rug-hooking,” enthused Ballard. “No matter what your personal style or taste, rug-hooking lends itself to that.
“It’s part craft, part art, and you’re doing whatever you like.
“If you’re into the original styles of back in the day when farm wives would rip up old clothes and pull them through with a bent nail, if you like that ‘primitive’ style which is very much en vogue right now, you can hook in that manner,” she said.
“Or if you prefer more abstract, you can hook in that manner.”
Styles reflected in the exhibit range from commercial patterns and primitive pieces to adaptations and original pieces of art, including a few heritage pieces.
The exhibit also includes the history of rug-hooking in Canada, as well as examples of rug-hooking patterns, tools, and dyes to provide insight into the process.
Museum curator Sherry George said the high quality of “Artistry of Hooked Rugs” is evident as soon you walk in the door.
“I don’t have a lot of expertise with [rug-hooking] but as an amateur, the work that goes into the pieces is astounding,” she marvelled.
The use of colour ranges from earth tones to much more vivid hues, making for spectacular viewing, added George, noting the number of hours spent hooking the rugs truly shows.
“You can see they’re labours of love,” she remarked.
The exhibit runs through to December in the main floor gallery.
It also will tie into the Friends of the Museum’s annual wine-and-cheese gala, which is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Such exhibits tend to evolve over time and Ballard said if someone out there has a vintage rug-hooking piece, it’s not too late and she would be happy to include it in the exhibit.
Contact the museum at 274-7891 or via e-mail at sgeorge@fort-frances.com, or drop by.
George, meanwhile, said she is looking forward to having more exhibits curated by a local expert down the road.
“Having a guest curator lends some expertise from our community to our exhibits,” she reasoned.
“It’s kind of nice if we do something like this to have someone who has the background to set it up and gather information, and use their extensive contacts for an exhibit of this type,” George added.
“And, of course, it lets me concentrate on a few others things. That’s kind of nice for me.”
Looking ahead, George said one idea for a guest-curated exhibit is bush planes, which “are a huge part of our history.”
“If it doesn’t pan out for next year, we definitely will be doing it one year,” she pledged.
“Having somebody who’s been in the field would help us out a lot.”
Ballard said even if someone does not want to take on the responsibility of curating a whole exhibit, they’re welcome to just give a guest lecture on collecting certain items or an area of expertise, such as trapping or the history of boats on the Rainy River.
If you have an idea for a future exhibit or want to give a talk, contact the museum.