Contemporary Rug Hooking
Rug hooking is one of the few truly American art forms. Accordingly, it is a medium with a firmly rooted, traditional approach involving the use of primitive designs, flat compositions, and often sentimental subject matter. Innovative new work may acknowledge or pay respect to this tradition, but it must move beyond it to express the personal concerns of the individual artist. This is where the line from folk art to fine art is crossed and where the real fun begins.
It is the crossing of this line that was explored in the exhibit "New Journeys: Contemporary Rug Hooking," on display in the Main Gallery at the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center in Laurel, Maryland, from September 7 through October 26. Curated by Roslyn Logsdon, one of the medium's best-known practitioners, the exhibit featured work by Rae Harrell, Sarah Province, Emily Robertson, Jule Marie Smith, Susan Smidt, and Patty Yoder. Works that embrace tradition, build on tradition, or calmly and assuredly ignore tradition all found representation in this exhibit.
| Jule Marie Smith, Harold and Alice; 3 by 5 feet. For all pieces, narrow woolen strips of material were pulled in loops through a cotton or linen backing.
Jule Marie Smith, in the piece Harold and Alice, employs the straight-ahead pictorial style often found in traditional rug hooking. Yet her use of a wide, complex border that has an impact equal to the composition it surrounds launches the piece into a category of its own.
Sarah Province's dual portrait Sunday Afternoon uses her skills as a fine and subtle colorist and her ability to capture personality through gesture and stance. The composition would stand strong were it executed in oils rather than fiber.
Sarah Province, Sunday Afternoon; 15 by 20 inches.
Susan Smidt, in her lively and complex Divorce Rug, bypasses our expectations of the medium entirely. This cathartic piece combines brash and unexpected color choices with frenetic line-work in an effort to navigate and express powerful emotions about a difficult life experience. After starting her hooking career producing traditional work, Smidt has now firmly entered into the realm of abstract expressionism. The work may not have quite the same speed or immediacy, but it certainly rivals the depth of feeling.
|Susan Smidt, Divorce Rug; 60 by 35 inches.
On exhibit in an adjacent gallery were rug hookings by curator Roslyn Logsdon. The show featured three years of exploration focusing on her interests in people, places, and architecture. These quiet hookings reveal an innovative spirit. Coming to rug hooking after years as a painter and an education in fine arts, Logsdon simply overlooks traditional expectations and approaches each piece as a painting. This is unusual for a rug hooker, yet Logsdon's personal aesthetic is quite traditional in terms of painting. Her interest in the poetry found in life's singular quiet moments, a distinctive landscape, or the power and presence of architecture has antecedents in the work of many 19th-century European painters. Her architectural series in particular, as demonstrated by the piece entitled Montmajour, truly highlights her skill. Working with a limited palette, Logsdon maneuvers composition, light and shadow, and spacial depth so effectively that viewers almost feel they have entered the space she has created, complete with soaring ceilings, grand arches, and mysterious doorways.
Nancy Sausser is an artist and arts administrator living outside Washington, D.C.
Emily Robertson, Chelsea Garden; 54 by 38 inches.
Patty Yoder, F is the Frank and his Friend in the Upper Barn.
Patty Yoder, Jack-A Friend of Frank (detail).
Susah Smidt, Jolemo.
Rae Harrell, Time Brings Change.
Roslyn Logsdon, Montmajour; 29.5 by 20 inches.
Roslyn Logsdon, Cezanne's Studio; 22.5 by 28 inches.
Roslyn Logsdon, Lounging; 18 by 27 inches.