1840 Journal

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Chronicles

The rug's artistic evolution

23 Oct 2018

From a simple functional object to a genuine work of art, the rug has carved out an important niche for itself within our homes. 

Photo credit: Textile Museum of Canada

According to Sarah Quinton, curatorial director of the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, “We have a unique relationship with textiles, whether it's for fashion or for domestic use. Textiles allow us to express our individuality.” In houses, decorative rugs have had this role for a very long time. 

The First Stitches 

Before becoming the decorative objects that we know them as today, rugs were made primarily to cover floors and insulate homes from the cold. In the mid-19th century, rug production took off as the technique for making hook rugs spread through the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, and Ontario. At the time, the rarity of cloth and resources led women to make rugs for themselves by recycling old clothing for fabric, pulling it in loops through a stiff burlap base. Often living in isolated areas, these domestic women developed their own regional techniques and designs.

Photo credit: Foundation of Circles of Farmers of Quebec

“It was a particularly feminine domain,” Sarah explains. “Women first and foremost made functional objects for the home. However, when they had the time, the blankets and the rugs that they made became extremely personal pieces that allowed them to express themselves. It was also a way for them to excel by improving their technique and the level of detail.”

Interweaving Art 

Photo credit: Textile Museum of Canada

Due to technological advances and the emergence of a middle class that had greater means, hooking transformed into a craft during the Industrial Revolution. Rugs became beautiful pieces of art that decorated and embellished home interiors. 

Emily Carr, a painter from the late 19th century, helped popularize the hooking technique. “One of my favourite pieces by Emily is the one with two double-headed eagles,” says Sarah. This piece, currently on display at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, expresses the unique relationship that she had with the indigenous communities. “The study of textile art is a fascinating way to understand the culture of a time period. I think that we all have a drive to decorate our interiors in order to remind us of where we've come from.” 

The Floor as a Fifth Wall 

According to Alec, the artist behind Haut Beau, rugs are both functional and artistic. In tune with his emotions, he draws on his feelings as inspiration for his art. Weaving allows him to play with structures, colours, and shapes in an almost mathematical way in order to create stunning visual effects.

At Watson Soule, artists Janna Watson and Nico Soule make rugs with distinctive, modern prints inspired by Janna’s paintings. While some may think a rug is just an object to walk on, for these artists, it’s a starting point for planning a room. “The walls should reflect what the floor expresses. The rug is a work of art in its own right and sets the tone for the place in which we put it.” 

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