Collector's Corner: Hooked Rugs
By Michele Alice
Originating on the eastern coast of Canada and northern New England, the hooked rug, like the quilt, was the child of thrift and necessity. During the 18th century, most textiles were either homespun or imported from England, and few colonists could afford to purchase rugs for their cold floors. A hooked rug cost little beyond the labor involved to recycle leftover pieces of cloth or clothing too worn to wear. And by the 1850s, the introduction of burlap in the form of sacks for transporting staples and feed grains meant that even the rug's backing, or canvas, was "free."
The hooked rug's utilitarian nature did not preclude creative design. Many of the earliest rugs relied on simple geometric patterns that were easy to execute, but as the craft spread, "hookers" experimented with increasingly more interesting designs, like flowers, fauna, and landscapes.
By the late 1800s, the growth of the North American textile industry allowed rug-making to develop into cottage industries: there were many more materials available, at lower prices, and it was now easier than ever to supplement family incomes by making and selling decorative rugs.
Many of these industries developed signature style rugs that are eagerly sought by collectors today. Abanakee Rugs of New Hampshire were inspired by Native American designs. Cheticamp (Nova Scotia) rugs are distinguished by their pastel color palettes. Grenfell rugs and mats often used arctic motifs and were often made in a way that the backs looked almost as finished as the fronts.
By the early part of the 20th century, hooked rugs had lost some of their popularity to linoleum and machine-made carpets, but the Depression witnessed a revival of interest, again, for primarily practical reasons. Since then, individual artisans and collectors have begun to focus on the aesthetic aspects of the craft, an interest that continues to grow to this day.
Because of their utilitarian nature, few early rugs have survived, and many of the best examples reside in folk art or textile museums. Late 19th and early 20th century rugs are much more plentiful and are in great demand in the secondary markets. Specimens that might have originally sold for $5 or $10 can now command prices up to several hundred dollars, depending upon design and condition. And if it's one of the larger, highly desirable Grenfell rugs, it could fetch up to $10,000!
Luckily, many vintage hooked rugs can still be found at yard and estate sales, so if you are interested in learning more about this collectible, check out the resources listed below, and,
Beaconsfield Rug Hooking Guild - link to website - Check out "About Rug Hooking" and the glossary and links pages.
A Few Loops of Hooked Rug History - link to website - Informative exposition by Tracy Jamar on the evolution of hooked rugs.
Grenfell Hooked Mats - link to website - Site offers comprehensive history, gallery, links, more.
Hooked on Rugs Canadian Museum of Civilization - link to website - Online exhibition provides history, discussion of designs, gallery.
North American Hooked Rugs: The Indigenous Folk Art - link to article - Nice piece by Marion Grammer for PriceMiner includes tips on cleaning and storing.
Rugs to Riches: Grenfell Hooked Textiles - link to article - Helaine Fendelman's article for Chubb Collectors delves into Grenfell rugs.
Textile Museum of Canada - link to website - To view over 250 examples, search the collection for "hooked rug."
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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