THE RESURGENCE OF AN ART FORM
VISITING THE ART GALLERY OF NORTHUMBERLAND
Honestly, I was not sure what I was in for when we decided to go to the Art Gallery of Northumberland to see the current exhibit, Then and Now, Rug Hooking in Canada. I had thought that rug hooking was pretty much a dead art, one of those skills lost to the age of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only is this art form alive and well, but it is flourishing in Northumberland County, and is being beautifully showcased at the Art Gallery of Northumberland. Who knew?
The AGN is a free community art gallery, located in two rooms on the top floor of Victoria Hall in Cobourg. As a charitable organization, the AGN is supported through membership, private donations and the Town of Cobourg. With more than 2300 square feet of adaptable exhibition space, this gallery offers a variety of visual arts exhibits throughout the year. They also offer other educational opportunities that support the visual arts including workshops, films, artist talks, lectures and tours, and public school visits.
Today, in addition to the many visiting exhibits they curate and present, the AGN has amassed a fine collection of more than 800 works of art, including wonderful pieces by local, regional, national and international artists, most of whom are Canadian.
On the day we visited the AGN, we opted to take the stairs instead of the elevator, and climbed to the third floor of Victoria Hall. Entering the gallery through the gift shop, we were immediately immersed in a world of rich, vividly coloured hooked rugs. They hung on all the walls, and were laid out in the centre of the large room.
Rug hooking is the heritage art of taking old scraps of cloth, wool orwhatever textiles are on hand, and hooking them through fabric, often burlap or feed bags, to make a rug. Originally born of necessity by pioneers trying to warm up their icy cold floors in their frigid homes with very few other resources available to them, this skill soon evolved into both an industry, and an art form. Popular from the mid-1800s into the 1940s, rug hooking eventually waned as affordable rugs flooded the market and linoleum flooring became stylish (yes, it’s true- there was a time when linoleum floors were the envy of housewives everywhere!) But recently, rug hooking has had a resurgence, and the exhibit we saw highlighted the skills of some of the many fine artisans working in this medium today.
In the main gallery room, the modern hooked rugs were showcased, highlighting a vast array of subject matter – landscapes and florals, fishing and train culture, maple syrup making, geometric patterns and traditional farm scenes. There is even a rug image depicting a moose standing in a canoe – it doesn’t get much more Canadian than that! These works of art are incredible, employing a variety of materials and techniques, and they often take weeks, months and sometimes years to create. The finished product is a beautiful piece of art that you want to touch as much as you want to look at it. Difficult as it was, we somehow managed to refrain from stroking the art. I am sure the gallery appreciated our efforts.
The modern hooked rugs in the main gallery space were juxtaposed in the smaller gallery room with a display of antique and vintage hooked rugs. These rugs had clearly been used as everyday items, and were worn and weathered, making them all the more interesting. Some of them had sections that were faded by sunlight, others were deteriorated from years of foot traffic. Many rugs depicted wonderful Canadiana themes of maple leaves and beavers (I think a hooked rug depicting a beaver is just what many modern homes are missing nowadays! Perhaps that would be a suitable craft project for me to embark upon next winter….).
Our time spent at the Art Gallery of Northumberland was well-spent and we had a lot of fun.Sara and I were both entertained and educated on a subject neither of us knew much about. And we felt fortunate to be able to see some great work made by true artisans, many of them from the local area. So lucky we are to have a free public art gallery!
Then and Now, Rug Hooking in Canada, runs to April 30th, 2017 at the Art Gallery of Northumberland. While free to the public, donations are gratefully accepted.