Don't walk on the art

Exhibit: A Howard County Center for the Arts show highlights the time-consuming, creative craft of hooked-rug making.

Howard County

Howard Live

September 09, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Visitors to the Howard County Center for the Arts' hooked-rug exhibit do not need to bother looking at the floor.

The creations are hung on the gallery walls like paintings, displaying a variety of styles -- from geometric patterns to detailed portraits and landscapes -- that show rug hooking can be as expressive as working in other media.

"You can get very realistic with them or you can get very abstract with them," said Marie Sugar, an artist from Ellicott City.

Her work and rugs by seven others appear in the show Rags to Riches: Eight Contemporary Rug Hooking Artists, on display at the center until Oct. 15. A reception will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Hooked rugs are made by pulling loops of fabric through a backing -- usually linen or burlap -- using a small metal hook. The tight spacing holds the loops in place, with no need for knots or stitches.

The rugs became popular in the mid-19th century in New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, said John Flournoy, the exhibit's curator. Hand-hooked rugs were produced out of necessity, using scraps of clothing or other recycled material to make coverings for bare floors.

Today, rug hooking is a popular hobby that invites personal expression. Rug hookers can buy patterns, but many -- including the artists in the Howard County show -- make their own designs.

Flournoy, of Millsboro, Del., said that when he discovered rug hooking 10 years ago, "every other fiber art I'd been involved in was set aside. I think [rug hooking] is more free."

He and Sugar are joined in the show by Washington-area artists Bernice Howell, Sally G. D'Albora, Roslyn Logsdon, Sarah Province and Abby Vakay. The eighth participant, Marilyn Bottjer, is from East Chester, N.Y.

Wide strips of cloth make a more primitive style of rug, with simple designs that more closely echo the rugs made in the 19th century. Thin strips, as small as 2/32 of an inch, can be used to make more realistic pictures with shading and details.

The Rags to Riches exhibit includes scenes of houses on a summer day, racehorses charging for the finish line and a group of people gathered in front of an airplane.

"Traditional rug hooking is with wool," Flournoy said. "But now we have rug hookers who do unusual materials."

Pieces in the show incorporate lace, yarn, angora, cotton, metallic thread and other ma- terials.

One piece, by Vakay of Alexandria, Va., has tags and pockets from denim jeans sewn on the rug as part of a picture of three boys sitting on a fence. A rubber frog peeks out of one of the pockets.

Branching out from all-wool "adds another dimension," Flournoy said. "It's becoming a little more common."

Despite the artistic approach many rug hookers are taking, it has been "a lot of work" to earn the respect of museums and art patrons, said Priscilla Sharp, vice president of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists.

"We've worked hard to bring it into an art form," said Sharp, who lives in Fredonia, Wis. Her organization has grown to 3,300 members in the United States and other countries. And, she said, there have been more exhibits in recent years, including shows at the American Folk Art Museum in New York and galleries in some large cities.

Sugar said she started making rugs for her floors seven years ago after she picked up a magazine on rug hooking. But, she said, her dog and cat made them difficult to keep clean, so she switched to making rugs to hang on the walls.

She took classes with Rosalyn Logsdon, who teaches in Laurel and who has several detailed, realistic scenes in the Howard County show. But, Sugar said, she enjoyed making what she calls more primitive patterns, including simple flowers, cat shapes and patterns that use wide loops of wool.

A former painter who teaches rug hooking in Silver Spring and at the arts center, Sugar said the artistic drive may be similar to other forms, but "a hooked rug can take a long time. You are filling up every hole of the backing."

She said she does not like to sell her rugs, and she knows other artists who feel the same way. Buyers are not willing to pay a price that reflects the months of work that can go into a hooked rug, she said.

Also, she said, "most of them are very personal. [Artists] get very involved in that piece."

"Rags to Riches" is on display at Howard County Center for the Arts' Gallery I, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Admission is free. Information: 410-313-2787, or

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