A Small Artistic Side Trip

My Grandmother was hooker. My father displayed the evidence with some pride. I am sorry that she died when I was so young, because I know I would have enjoyed watching her work. The first picture shows her sitting at her frame working on a long runner in 1948, before I was born. The second picture shows the portion of the rug she had completed.

Angeline McGavin
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Angeline with a "work in progress" 1948
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Angeline's runner

All of us should have such fond memories of our grandmothers. I remember telling my parents that we did not visit my father's parents nearly enough and spent way too much time visiting hers, not that I did not like one set of grandparents, just that we did not get to see enough of the other, which became an early lesson in life's inequities that came to a bad end. Whenever we visited Angeline and Arthur, it was like stepping into a different reality. Before you could get in the house, you had to go through my grandfather's rose garden and beautifully manicured lawn. I am quite sure that his green thumb gene was spliced into his system in an early “mad doctor” experiment because it died with him. I know my father tried several times to grow the multicolored eye candy that dominated Arthur's yard, but all that he managed was some scraggly thorn bushes that propagated Japanese beetles. Once inside, the house was alive with Angeline's activities. Before you could look at the rugs, you were greeted by the flock of parakeets in cages all over the house. She had breeding pairs of birds that allowed her to keep the house full and still give parakeets as gifts or to sell them on occasion. Grandmother was always as busy as her birds and her kitchen was one of those places that always said, “Welcome, there is something good to eat.” Isn't that the way you are supposed to remember your grandmother's house? Sure works for me.

Back to her hooking. All of her rugs are wool that she gathered by collecting old suits, a much easier task before synthetic fabrics replaced wool in clothing design. The cloth was then boiled to removed the dyes and get it ready for rug making. Some of the cloth had to go outside to permit the Sun to bleach even more of the color to create consistent whites. Then the cloth went back into a hot bath with a new color for whatever design she had in mind. Once her fabric met her color requirements, she began the process of cutting the cloth into strips. We are less sure of what tools she used to cut the fabric into strips. We know that some of it was hand cut with scissors and believe that she also had a hand cranked cutter that would cut multiple strips of fabric at the same time. It is also less clear what method she used to pull each tuft of fabric into place, but the pictures we have seen suggest that she preferred working from the top of the piece with a hook.

Every time anyone sees her work, one of the first questions concerns the origin of her designs. Apparently, she would find small designs of flowers or birds or geometric patterns that she liked and copy them, repeating patterns into a complete rug. The finished product was a result of her own creativity and a pattern as a place to begin.

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A flower that is repeated in her designs

Angeline loved her hobby, but loved sharing it even more. She hooked a rug as a wedding gift for my parents and had started to do small pieces as each of her grandchildren greeted the world. When she was killed in a car accident, she had only completed 3 for our family, with still 3 more of us that had yet to be born. Growing up on Peary Street, her handwork was a completely normal part of life with rugs to walk on, a chair to sit on and framed pieces on the walls. I don't believe that my father gave much thought to preserving them until after both of his parents had died before his 42nd birthday. Not long after that, one of Angeline's rugs became a wall hanging. Today, that rug is hanging on my wall in Texas and that is the reason that this story is part of the lessons learned from Peary Street.

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Now hanging near Austin, Texas

There was a list of rugs passed around to the seven siblings while we were emptying Peary Street after mother died so that we could indicate which pieces we had in interest in taking from the house. When the list made a second trip around with names added and conflicts noted, I was stunned to see that no one had expressed an interest in Angeline's handwork. Maybe all of us felt the same way that I did and thought that others might have a more legitimate claim to some of the rugs or furniture, and trying to be more polite than honest, just did not put them on the list. For what ever reason, there were no names next to these pieces of art. My email to the group was quick and clear. I wanted all of Angeline's art work to stay in the family and wanted all pieces that no else wanted. Like so many of the emails I sent to my family during this difficult time, I got no response. A couple days later, the oldest sister sent a short note agreeing that we would not let Angeline's work go into an estate sale.

I am glad to say that all three of my sisters got some pieces from my father's collection of his mother's work. I am glad to say that I have a rug and a framed cardinal on the wall. Here is the most interesting part. My two youngest brothers had no interest in the hooked rugs Angeline made, but neither of them ever met three of their four grandparents as they died before my brothers were born. If they had heard the stories of Angeline and her rugs and birds and cooking, maybe they would have found an interest in them. The difference in storytelling they knew compared to the stories the rest of us treasured was too great for them to overcome. I am sorry to say that they never met this wonderful lady and never got to know her even as little as I did. I am sorry that they do not have stories to repeat and hang on the wall as treasures of stories well told. Things that we treasure carry stories with them that create our sense of their value. In my family, without stories of shared experience, my younger brothers have no stories that allow their imagination to supply value beyond gold.

Some more examples of Angeline's amazing skill hooking.

Dated 1947
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This rug lived in Peary Street for many years.

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And one last rug, the finished one seen above.

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The final piece is a chair upholstered with Angeline McGavin's art.

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