Volunteer group works to save province's hooked rugs

Volunteer group works to save province's hooked rugs

A group of volunteers are working to save a part of New Brunswick's history by cataloguing as many traditional rug hooked mats as possible.

Judy Morison is an administrator of the New Brunswick Mat Registry, a group she formed in 2009. Morison heard too many stories about rug hooked mats disappearing forever.

People would tell her, "I remember mats when I was growing up but they were in my grandmother's house and they were thrown out when she went to the nursing home or they are at the cottage, but we've kind of forgotten about them."

Every rug tells a story

Morison has archived rugs made as early as the late 19th century. While some were used as floor mats and may not be considered valuable to everyone, Morison says each handmade rug tells a story.  

The rugs were usually made of used clothing, cut up, then looped through a backing, often made of old feed bags. The designs vary from a solid pattern to a scene that depicts a glimpse into the rug–maker's life.

"Maybe the dog chewed that one, but it still has the story behind the art, the person, how they lived, and the things that went into the mat."

A slow start

When Morison first started the project, posters were put up and she thought people would  be as enthusiastic as she was about saving rugs.

"We did not have one call."

"We went back to the drawing board and started speaking to people personally, 'Do you have an old mat, we'd love to see it.'"

Since then, the group has archived more than 400 rugs from across the province.

She said the group's work not only keeps records of the rugs and their makers, sometimes it also makes the current rug owners appreciate their artifacts a bit more.

"They come to the door and after they go through the process and see how carefully we treat it, they carry it out far more carefully than they carried it in," she said.

The group interviews the rug's owner and record any stories about the maker and the mat.

A specialist looks at the backing to see what materials it is made of and if it was hand dyed, then a museum quality photograph is taken, and finally a tag with a number identifying the mat in the data base is sewed on the back. Then the rug can go back to its home.

Jeanne–Mance Cormier, curator at the Acadian Museum at the University of Moncton, said the project is not only interesting it's also valuable historically.

"As they do their project they kind of do it the museum way, so for us as researchers it's going to be a really important documentation."

Morison said the group is always looking for more handmade traditional rug hooked mats, 25 years and older. 

She said the next part of the plan is to log all the photos and information into the database.

One day, she hopes it will be available online to the public.