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ARCHBOLD — Floor covering muffles sound, stifles cold air, cushions the foot. It withstands heavy traffic, and muddy paws, sets off furniture, complements walls.
But the hundreds of rugs displayed earlier this month at Sauder Village in Archbold have a loftier calling: More likely to grace walls than floors, they span the nebulous space between craft and art, their designs ranging from florals, kaleidoscopics, and geometrics to riffs on folk tradition, portrayals of individuals and lives, Native American patterns, and animals.
It was the 18th annual Rug Hooking Exhibition, a four-day palooza that’s among the largest and best attended such events in the country, drawing 5,000 people. Most rugs were designed and fabricated by women using wool they’re likely to have dyed themselves.
Hooking a rug requires a 12-to-18-inch strip of wool that can be as thin as angel-hair or as wide as fettuccini pasta. Using a crochet-type hook with a small wooden handle, the maker pulls the strip through a piece of woven linen. And like quilting, rug hooking began as a craft of poverty, for which women used scraps of material to make something functional, often using burlap grain and feed bags for the backing.
By the early 20th century, it had become a craft and by mid-century was further refined, as were the other fiber arts (quilting, weaving, felting, knitting), the best of the work based on technique, design, materials, and embellishment. “A rose, for example, might have eight different shades of red in it,” said Debra H. Smith, editor of Rug Hooking magazine.
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In the late 1920s women in the United States and Great Britain dropped their used silk and nylon stockings in boxes at churches, which, when full, were shipped to Labrador and Newfoundland. There, women needing work dyed and hooked them into wall hangings with local scenes — reindeer, polar bears, schooners, and sled dog teams. Called Grenfell rugs, they were sold in New York City until about 1940.
A famous hooker is the late Patty Yoder, who grew up in Akron and eventually moved to Vermont. Over nine years she created The Alphabet of Sheep, each letter featuring a sheep and telling a story. The 26-piece collection is owned by the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. At Sauder were intriguing pieces by Ms. Yoder’s mentor, Esther Knipe, who keyed her designs off Impressionists Matisse, Cezanne, and Picasso.
Many of the participants in Rug Hooking magazine’s annual Celebration contest are at Sauder each year. Debbie Sauder David, executive director of Sauder Village, selects a Sauder winner. This year’s is an exquisitely colored landscape in the style of a Tiffany stained-glass window and measuring 36-by-38 inches.
The 2015 Rug Hooking Exhibition will be Aug. 12-15. Information online here.
Contact Tahree Lane at email@example.com or 419-724-6075.