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Getting Out of the Loop
Brookfield Craft Center
Innovations in Hooking
March 22 - May 3, 2009
Hooked rugs, thought to be an indigenous American art form, likely originating in New England in the 18th-century, utilized worn clothing and other fabric scraps to warm the floors of drafty rural dwellings. The technique involved cutting the fabric into strips and hooking them with a simple bent metal tool into a backing such as burlap, to create a series of loops. Today, many artists are showing interest in this traditional form-always appealing for its texture-and using it for expressive purposes. Liz Alpert Fay, an artist currently immersed in this medium and an instructor at the Brookfield Craft Center, has organized this show of 13 artists, citing as the criterion for selection, innovation in design, execution or concept.
A number of the artists take the two-dimensional pictorial format of what is often seen as a folk medium in sophisticated directions. In Contrasts, Alice Rudell's choice of black-and-white and her combining of the "texture and fluidity of paint with the tactile, repetitiveness of hooking" create an urban aura. In her hangings, Lara Magruder adds silk to the wool and felting, and stitchery to hooking for rich surface texture and pattern. Recycling comes into play in, among others, Constance Old's Sampler: White with Buttons, which incorporates paper, plastic ribbon, bottle caps and other household items into an abstract composition, and Fay's Just for Fun, in which she uses balloons, alongside other materials for fringe-like effects. In Summer Dream Tea, Missy Stevens embellishes a delicate hanging of a hooked pitcher with antique beads.
The sculptural works in the show are an even greater challenge to the hooking tradition in not being rugs at all. Inspired by topiary, Everblue by Mary Jane Andreozzi is a shaped, spiraling tree rendered surreally in brilliant blues rather than green. Nature stylized is also the subject of Fay's Tree Skirt; Moss and Lichen Series #1, a cartoonish rendering of a tree stump set on a "skirt" of variegated moss. The vessel is represented by Beth Kempf's resplendent Flowers Galore and Molly Colegrove's colorful Jester Bowl, out of handspun yarns and ribbons. Both Marilyn Bottjer's Four Seasons on the North Fork, hooked scenic foldout postcards and their hooked box, and Leave and Stay, by Linda Rae Coughlin (who also created Pinned, Pearled and Out of the Box), two pieces with feminist messages staged in a recycled suitcase, flirt with cuteness-a danger in hooked work-but avoid it through wit and masterly execution.
"Rug hooking can be compared to where the art quilt movement was about 20 years ago," says Fay. Whether hooked rugs have the potential for mass appeal enjoyed for several decades now by the quilt remains to be seen. But such works as these, clearly not meant for the floor, may well inspire others to find an expressive vehicle in a once-humble art.