‘Rug Hooking’ finds Maine’s place in the craft

Posted March 16, 2009, at 6:39 p.m.

Mildred Cole Peladeau of Readfield has been on a mission to delve into the history of rug hooking in Maine. Her quest has resulted in her book, “Rug Hooking in Maine: 1838-1940.” The book is a scholarly, readable and satisfying account of a craft — some would say, art — still popular after all these years with practitioners and collectors of handmade textiles.

“It was a long time in the making, about five years,” Peladeau, 81, said of researching and writing the book. “I was always interested in rugs. I knew the information I found would not get out there unless I did something. There was all sorts of confusing information out there. I felt I had an obligation to write the book.”

Several things make the book special:

• Peladeau’s scholarship, which shows an intellect focused on a subject she greatly admires and an intent to tell the whole story insofar as it can be ascertained.

• The fact that she tracked down and located rare, little-known, primary documents relating to the history of rug hooking in Maine and includes much of those data in the book, a boon to those of us who might never have the opportunity to find such information on our own.

• The wealth of illustrations and photographs, in color and black-and-white, of rugs hooked in Maine to support the text.

Peladeau, a gifted researcher and former reporter for the Lewiston Sun Journal, points out in the book that the “first published record of the rug-making craft appeared in a Maine newspaper,” giving credence to the idea that the craft was well-established and may have originated in Maine. She includes text from what she describes as “undoubtedly the most important document in the history of American rug making,” a list of exhibitors in the yarn and rug categories of an exhibition and fair sponsored by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association held Sept. 24 to Oct. 6, 1838, in Portland. In that chapter she describes how hooked, hand sewn and shirred rugs differ.

“Rug hooking is a paramount craft for the women of Maine,” Peladeau said. She sees a national trend toward a renewed interest in hooking. “I look on hooked rugs as an art form. It’s fascinating to look at a rug and try to determine what the hooker had in mind.”

From the early mention of rug hooking in Maine, the book moves on to the Waldoboro rug. “Hooked rug artistry has never been more fully developed than in the small town of Waldoboro, Maine,” Peladeau writes. “The resultant rugs [made in Waldoboro] were so revered and coveted by collectors that in a 1930 auction held by the American Art Association at the Anderson Galleries Inc. in New York City a pair of Waldoboro rugs brought a stunning $1,550.”

She addresses the conundrum of the “Acadian rug,” traces the use of the written phrase to the 1920s and makes the case that the term actually referred to Waldoboro rugs.

The history deepens with a chapter on Minnie Light, a Waldoboro rug hooker and designer; with Edward Sands Frost, E.S. Frost and Co., and The American Rug Pattern Co., which sold preprinted rug designs; the Sabatos Industry; the Cranberry Island rugs; the Sea Coast Mission rugs; and artist Marguerite Zorach, one of the key figures in elevating rug hooking from craft to art. The chapters record the evolution and development of Maine hooked rugs.

The book includes a bibliography and index, a boon to future generations who may wish to further the research.

“The research never stops, it still goes on,” said Peladeau, who is still learning new things about Maine hooked rugs. “It’s important at my age to keep an active mind.” She is working toward organizing a rug exhibit, possibly in 2010, to include hooked, hand sewn and shirred rugs, at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.

“Rug Hooking in Maine: 1838-1940” is a must-have for libraries everywhere, those who practice the art and craft of rug hooking, those who aspire to and those who admire or collect hooked rugs.

The book firmly establishes Maine’s leading role in rug hooking history.

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