Woman hooked on old-fashioned craft
Arts: Leighton Art Centre showcases creative rugs exhibit by St. Albert artisan
By: Tammy Rollie
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 11:58 am
The work of a St. Albert artist will have people looking at their grandparents’ rugs a little differently.
Rachelle LeBlanc is what one would call a rug hooker, but rather than hooking pieces of fabric through canvas for people to wipe their feet on the artisan’s colourful rugs hang on the walls for people to feast their eyes on.
LeBlanc’s rugs are artistically displayed at the Leighton Art Centre in an exhibit called Beyond Traditions: Contemporary Rug Hooking.
“It’s not something that is found in galleries,” she said. “There aren’t many out there.”
It began in 2003 when the Montreal fashion designer happened upon some hooked rugs in antique shops and decided it might make for an interesting hobby.
Decades ago people used a bent nail and potato sack to create these low-budget items. LeBlanc took a similar inexpensive approach and used her mother-in-law’s old latch hook and leftover fabric from work.
“I just taught myself with that hook,” she said, adding she still uses it today.
LeBlanc said hooking fabric one loop at a time became a way of relieving stress.
“Work was always very busy and when you do something that takes you many hours to do it slows you down,” she said.
Coming up with ideas for the rugs was simple. LeBlanc, who painted as a hobby, re-created her paintings using fabric and after three years she had her first solo show in a small museum in New Brunswick in 2006.
Two years later, LeBlanc was hooked on the craft and decided to abandon fashion and make a career out of rugs.
“I thought there has to be some kind of normal life somewhere,” she said, adding the demands of being a parent, career woman and wife of a husband who traveled for work was becoming too much.
LeBlanc moved to Edmonton with her family to get away from the temptations of the fashion industry and into an arts culture more accepting of untraditional concepts.
With a new environment and a slower pace, LeBlanc set to work.
She begins each rug with a sketch, which she makes into a watercolour, and then projects the image onto the canvas to create a pattern.
“I usually start off with an idea and look for pictures in family albums to see if there is a person I can use,” she said. “If not I recreate with people I know.”
LeBlanc collects her wool fabrics based on colours she needs, dying pieces that don’t match and begins hooking with one square foot requiring five square feet of wool.
“It takes a tremendous amount of time,” she said, adding one rug can take a manner of weeks or months to make.
Unlike many rug hookers, LeBlanc doesn’t use a frame.
“I like the movement that not having a frame creates in my work,” she said. “If you compare my work with many others there is a difference. I think it has a lot of flow lines.”
Once complete, LeBlanc showcases her creation in exhibitions and thus far she has received great feedback from viewers.
“They say that there is something about it that moves them,” she said. “When you say rug hooking they didn’t expect anything like that.”
LeBlanc said there are also a number of collectors who are interested in her work.
“The people that do collect them are fierce collectors,” she said. “It’s becoming more popular as a collected artwork.”
Leighton Art Centre’s manager of programs, exhibitions and museum Stephanie Doll said she is excited to bring hooked rugs into the gallery to showcase the diversity of Alberta artists.
“She’s revolutionized the way most people have done rug hooking in the past,” she said of LeBlanc. “She was told in Quebec, ‘We don’t want to show rags’ but here we just seem to be a little more open to showing arts and crafts in this sort of environment.”
Doll said what has captured her with LeBlanc’s work is the colours.
“It’s the colours that blow your mind,” she said. “Skin tones next to yellow and peaches and pinks. It’s really interesting to see how she uses colour.”
Doll said she expects the unique hooked rugs to draw a lot of attention during the next few weeks.
“I think people are going to be really surprised that you can do that with rug hooking,” she said. “It’s a really cool opportunity to see a craft in this sort of a format. What she’s been telling us is a rug doesn’t have to be on the floor.”
An opening reception and opportunity to meet Rachelle LeBlanc takes place on March 16 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Beyond Traditions: Contemporary Rug Hooking will be on display until April 20.