Left: Laurette Deveau with a rug made by Marie Poirier 40 years ago. Photograph: Daniel Aucoin
Right: Betty Ann Cormier with a rug made by the world-renowned rug hooker, Elizabeth LeFort. Photograph: Daniel Aucoin
September 21, 2022
-by Rosie Aucoin-Grace
It is not without merit that Chéticamp and area is known to many as the Rug Hooking Capital of the World. A beautiful and unique art that takes us back to centuries ago when our ancestors perfected this work and, thankfully, it has been passed on from generation to generation.
The Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia was originally started to promote rug hooking in our province, but today it has grown to include New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Their goal is to support sharing, inspiration, and dialogue. Any rug hooker can become a member of the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia. Currently, the guild has over 700 members who represent every province in Canada, as well as members in Bermuda, Japan, Scotland, and the United States. The Guild was formed in 1979, with the first Rug Hooking School held at Church Point in 1980. It was later incorporated in 1997 in Nova Scotia. Even more than an association, the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia represents a community of engaged members from beginners to life-long contributors to the art form.
Rug hooker of Chéticamp, Betty Ann Cormier is quite passionate about the art of rug hooking and has embarked on a new venture. “I became a member of the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia and there were various aspects of the association seeking volunteers. The one that really appealed to me was the Heritage Rug Registry Project. It dawned on me that it would be difficult for someone from the exterior to arrive in Chéticamp and try to unearth and collect all the information on the beautiful rugs that we have here in our Acadian communities. Without hesitation, I knew this project was for me and I joined in as a volunteer.”
“It is just by chance that I came upon this special project, but it is dear to my heart. I was but a young child when I learned the art of rug hooking. I remember many afternoons spent with Aunt Bella LeFort, showing me how to hook rugs. When I was about 18 years old, she offered me her boutique business; but at the time, I was not interested and now I deeply regret that decision,” says Cormier. She added, “I guess it has always been a part of me. Le Tapis Hooké seems to call to me as it was such a part of my family. It is how we paid some of our expenses. I remember one summer, my sister Ginette and I sold pieces to purchase a television and another time, a bicycle that we shared. So many stories that bring me back to the frame and hooked rugs.”
Cormier continued, “When I retired and moved back home four years ago, I realized quickly that there are many women and men who hooked rugs that were never recognized or even acknowledged for their work. You see, people were not always proud to be rug hookers. In the past, for many, it probably meant that you needed that extra income. It is truly an art and there is such a social aspect/study to do behind this. Our rug hookers created beautiful rugs and their wisdom, knowledge, and their incredible talent is immeasurable!”
“Just to clarify, this project aims to register and catalogue rugs that were made 25 years ago or older. Once all the information will be collected and recorded, it will be shared publicly on their website,” says Cormier. She continued, “You may ask why it is so important to register these rugs. Well, we only have to look at the few photographs we have in the publication L’histoire des tapis hookés de Chéticamp (The History of Chéticamp Hooked Rugs and their artisans). You see incredible rugs of all sizes, even the unimaginable 36 x 18 feet creations. It’s so important to document and see the magnificent works that have been created by men and women in Chéticamp and area who may live here or elsewhere. Many of their stories have not been recorded, some of these people are no longer with us or their memory fails them. I have launched an invitation to all artisans of hooked rugs to participate in this project, in recognizing their beautiful art.”
Cormier added, “Just think, the rugs are going to be catalogued, like a library which will be available on the internet that people can see and learn who made rug and other details pertaining to its history.”
“To date, things are going well with my search. I have been involved in this project since June with the women from Halifax, but I was not available to start the process here until September 1st. I reached out to people on Facebook and other media. I will be using other methods to connect with rug hookers in the future as many people are not on social media,” says Cormier.
“The first session, in about three hours, we had 21 rugs registered. It was so exciting and interesting to meet with these artists and hear their stories,” expressed Cormier. “I am giving myself all winter to do this project. Nobody needs to rush. We need to give people the time to come forward and register their rugs.”
Cormier explained the process, “We want people to know we are not trying to buy the rugs or take them away from them. This is certainly not the case. We are looking for all sorts of hooked rug products, coasters, chair covers, wall hangings, large rugs, etc. Those made with wool, braided, breillons rugs, and so forth. If someone has a piece with a Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia registered number on the back, well I think it can only add value to their rug because it is recorded somewhere.”
She continued, “When the rug hookers arrive with their pieces, there are two forms to be filled out. They are not difficult, and I am more than willing to assist them. One is a permission form for me to pass on their information to the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia in order for them to share publicly. The second form pertains the historical data of the rug. Questions such as: Who hooked the rug, patterns? Which year it was made, the size, the form? Who designed the piece and if there is a story attached to the rug? It is important that people come to see me with their work so I can document/collect as much information as possible. I finish up with a photo of the front and the back of the piece with the ticket of the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia. This will all be catalogued afterwards.”
Cormier spoke about the volume of work, “We predict that we will have many rugs to catalogue including those in the museum at Les Trois Pignons. We know there many rugs in households by artisans that are deceased, and we hope their family or friends will bring their rugs forward and let us record these beautiful pieces of work. They were all part of the industry and are not all mentioned in any books or documented, here is their chance. Whether it be your mother or father, grandparents or great-grandparents, it is important to give tribute to their unique artistry.”
“It is so interesting to see that with each rug has its own story. I feel like we are unveiling buried treasures,” says Cormier. With a chuckle, she spoke of a story that came up recently. “I knew Gerard and Annie Rose Deveau very well but this is a story that Gerard had never shared with me. Apparently, back in the day, the male rug hookers would walk around with a hook in their pocket. This is how Gerard would meet girlfriends. He would know where the women were working on a large rug and drop in to offer a helping hand. This is how he met Annie Rose. Imagine! Love these types of stories and so much more. Of course, no information or stories are shared without permission.”
“I met with people who have rugs with much sentiment attached. They were made for an anniversary or other special occasions. We have rugs from Chéticamp that are in homes throughout the country. Those who are away and have these pieces in their homes do not need to be here. We have found a way to make contact by email. We want to register as many pieces as possible and we do not want distance to be an obstacle,” explained Cormier.
For those who wish to participate in this amazing project, you may contact Betty Ann Cormier by calling 902-224-2008, via Facebook or simply by reaching out to her if you meet up in the community. The next session to register rugs will be on October 1st at Les Trois Pignons.
(Some of this information was derived from a recent interview between CKJM Radio host Daniel Aucoin and Betty Ann Cormier – with permission.)
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