Rug show weaves charm and information


Set between two trees shaped in the classic triangle of a child's drawing, the house sits foursquare in the middle of the rug, its peaked roof supporting an enormous bright red chimney -- maybe the only chimney on earth that Santa Claus wouldn't have trouble getting down, pack and all.

This "Cottage with Red Chimney Hooked Rug" is one of the delights of the Baltimore Museum of Art's exhibit of "American Handcrafted Rugs," a show as charming as it is informative. The information comes from curator Anita Jones; the charm comes from these 20 personable rugs, most of them on loan from or given by consultant curator of textiles Dena S. Katzenberg.

Americans have been making rugs at least since the late 18th century; techniques include rag-woven, yarn-sewn, shirring and of course hooked, the most popular method.

Designs are more various, and the show includes a considerable sampling. There's the figural type, such as the two with horses. "Autumn Rug/Hoarse [sic] and Ranch Scene" shows what was likely a family horse in the setting of the family farm, with buildings and landscape. "Hearth Rug" has a somewhat simpler scene with the horse between two pots of flowers. We know what this rug is for because the maker included the words "Hearth Rug" right on the face of it; you wouldn't dare put this rug by the door, and the museum has followed orders and brought in a mantelpiece to put it in front of.

Over the mantelpiece is a rug of another type, one that depicts a real place; this, one of the more impressive examples here, shows Montpelier, the early 19th century home of Israel Smith in Rutland, Vt.

Soon after the Civil War, a tin peddler from Maine named Edward Sands Frost began to produce burlap rug backings with stenciled patterns on them for those who couldn't or didn't want to create their own designs. These became quite successful, though eventually the commercialization of the craft brought it into disfavor.

One can see the good and bad aspects in the "Frost Oriental," a hooked rug made after one of Frost's designs and resembling the pattern of an Oriental rug. It's far more "finished" than most of the other rugs, and far less lively. It's expertly executed, though, by Agnes Gellner Wermuth, a well-known Illinois rug-maker also represented by her "Blue Willow" rug after the well-known china pattern.

Made in 1951, "Blue Willow" is by no means the most recent rug in the show. That distinction goes to "Washerwoman Hooked Rug" of about 1981 by Barbara E. Merry, indicating that rug making is alive and well in America.

'American Handcrafted Rugs'

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets.

When: Wednesdays to Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Dec. 13.

Admission: $4.50; $3.50 seniors and students; $1.50 ages 4-18; free Thursdays.

Call: (410) 396-7100.

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