A couple of weeks ago, Cynthia Fowler of Emmanuel College contacted me. She is an Associate Professor who specializes in early American art, particularly Modernist Craft production in the early twentieth century. She had noticed my blog and my growing interest in rug hooking in the 1920s so she sent me an article that she just published called "Hooking Magic: Transforming Women's Handicraft into Art" (pages 227-244 in Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Texiles, 1750-1950; edited by Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin; Burlington: Ashgate 2009).
I am learning so much from Professor Fowler's work. She wrote her dissertation on Marguerite Zorach, whom she also discusses in this article. Zorach was a modern artist who worked in a number of mediums including paint and hooking, although her large-scale embroideries are what she is most known for. The scanned picture is one of her hooked rugs called Eden (taken from p. 230 of Fowler's article). She hooked it in 1917. Zorach said in an interview in 1957 that she became interested in hooked rugs as a textile art medium when she was on a trip in New Hampshire with her husband, sculptor William Zorach. She met a woman hooking a rug from scraps of old clothing. Zorach said, "It was the first time I'd ever seen one, and I was fascinated. I remember this little old lady took us into her parlor and showed us the rugs. She'd look at them and say, 'Now, I remember the day Susie wore that dress.'...They all had memories for her" (quoted by Fowler, p. 230).
She only hooked a half a dozen rugs, but they make up part of her total body of artistic work, and reveal "her commitment to the handmade and to craft production as a legitimate form of artistic expression," Fowler explains (p. 231).
She was influenced by Cubism and fauvist colors, although her rug Eden is not as experimental as her paintings. But when the rug was exhibited in 1923, it was called "futuristic" and "ultra-modern" because it was radical when compared with the rugs that were being produced during this time period (Fowler, p. 231). The rugs I have been viewing in the books and catalogues from this period are nothing like Eden. They are your colonial american rugs, imitative florals, orientals, and primitives.
So Zorach intrigues me. She appears to be among the first to hook a rug that challenged the traditional craft, who saw in it a medium to express herself as a modern artist.