Why We Hook the Animals We Love

This is my Welsh Corgi, Tru.  (If you really want to get to know her, she has her own Facebook page here.)  As you can see, she was sunbathing this morning while I was putting the finishing touches on the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers’ Circle subscription service, shipping this week.   As I posted on our Facebook page this morning, I am painfully aware that Tru is now about twelve years old, and that most of my time with her is behind us.   I never thought I could love a dog this fiercely until she came in to our lives, but here I am, pondering a post-Tru world even though as of right now, she is still happy, active, and healthy.

For this reason, I have been thinking lately that I need to gather up all the photos I have of her (there are many!), and also sit quietly with her, make a sketch of her sweet face, and hook it.    Now, I have never hooked an animal in a detailed way, the way I want to hook Tru’s image.   I want to capture the glint in her eye that still exists even though I see the encroaching cloudiness of cataracts.  I want to hook the pretty combination of “red” and white and maybe now a little gray that defines her face.  I want to add the teeny tiny white eyelashes and delicate fur in her ears.  I think this project is going to have to be refined and textural and multimedia, but since I can see it, I know I can make it a reality.

Prior to this I have not hooked many animals.  One of the most popular patterns in the shop is “Tesla’s First Snow,” which, rather than a late-in-life portrait, is a depiction of our big orange tabby, Tesla, as a four month old kitten seeing his first snowfall out the window.  After being initially perplexed, he wanted to “catch” the snowflakes as they cascaded down.   I snapped a picture of the scene and the result was this:

As you can see, this is a very primitive rendering of Tesla.  His back is turned to us so that, frankly, I didn’t need to deal with the detail of his face, although that is still true to the photograph.  This was done in 2012.  I learned to hook in 2011.  I was simply not ready to take on the complexities of Tesla’s face!   (In case anyone is wondering, he is named for Nikola Tesla, the scientist/inventor.  This happens when you have four sons who dig science.)

I also hook animals for Beekman 1802, and it is absolutely true that I love these animals I’m depicting.   I actually met Polka Spot back in 2014 on the day Jen and I first presented our work to Josh and Brent.  They kindly sent us on a farm tour with Megan, who was then their artisan coordinator, and we were thrilled to see the baby goats, Bubby the cat, Onder the dog, and, as they say, “every living thing at Beekman farm.”   Bubby passed away since then, and Polka has also “gone to Paris,” but both of them had distinct personalities.  Polka was one of the most regal animals I’ve ever encountered, and it was clear that she took her watch over the goats seriously.  Bubby was just one giant furball of love, demanding our attention while Onder ran in and out of the barn playfully.  Here is the menagerie I hook for Beekman 1802.

Last year I had a major commission for a customer’s beloved Pharaoh Hound.  The story on that is here, and the result is below.

Why are we willing to put so much time and effort in to these portraits of our favorite pets or animals?  Or, if we aren’t artisans ourselves, willing to commission someone else to create them?   I think it’s about the innocence, unconditional love, and nobility of character we so often find in our pets.  I don’t say that to anthropomorphize animals.  As my biologist/ecologist son, James, likes to remind me, “They don’t think the way we do.”   And, of course, he’s right.  They don’t think the way we do.   In fact, it’s impossible for us, really, to get inside their heads.  They are coming from an entirely different reality, biology, instinct than we are.  And yet…it is so easy to make important connections with them, and they with us.  We want to immortalize them in art because we know – we are so painfully aware – that their lifespans are much shorter than we’d like and that our own lives are so much better with them by our sides.

Sometimes they’re exasperating.  Tesla wants to kill my knitting if I don’t put it up and out of the way.  Tru wants to be directly under my feet if I’m preparing chicken for dinner.   Tesla is incapable of having a hairball in any location except on a carpet.  Tru occasionally gets so excited over visitors she pees at their feet.  Yeah.   And the fur.  It’s everywhere.  No vacuum on this planet is its equal.

Yesterday, my oldest son, Robert, shared this picture of his and his girlfriend’s, Tracy’s, cats peering out their apartment window in much the same way Tesla peered out at his first snow about five or six years ago.   They are Valentine and Playdough, respectively, and both are well under a year old.   Just the beginning of another generation’s connection with animals.

I hope you will share pictures of your animals and also pictures of artwork you’ve done inspired by them.  Feel free to tell their stories and what they mean to you.  I look forward to learning all about them.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Tesla one-upping Tru and snagging the sunny spot.

 

On Goats and Gumption

GoatMilk

I’ve had two recurring themes on the brain this week:  goats and, for lack of a better term, gumption.  Gumption is one of those funny sounding English words that leaves you wondering who first came up with it.  It is described by Merriam Webster as:

1 –  chiefly dialect:  common sense, horse sense

2  – enterprise, initiative

Sometimes events just bring us recurring themes.  For example, that beautiful Ball jar of milk in the top picture is not from a cow.  Nope.  That milk, with the delicious cream on top, is from the goats of a new student and member of our Tuesday group, Terry E., who generously brought it to hooking along with some fantabulous homemade goat milk mozzarella.  The Saturday before, during her hooking lesson, Terry and I had talked about goats and their indefatigable ways.  Terry has way more one on one time with goats than I do, but I’ve spent a little time with them as well.

One thing I know about goats is that they are born with that bouncy, LOOK AT MEEE, nothing is impossible nature.   When Jen and I went out to Sharon Springs, NY a little over a year ago to present our hooked wares to Beekman 1802 (something that in itself took all the gumption we could muster), Josh and Brent were incredibly kind to send us with their right hand woman, Megan, to see Farmer John’s new baby goats at the Beekman farm.  The instant we walked in to the barn the babies were clamoring to see who was there, what was going on, and how they could be part of the action.  They were so sweet, so affectionate, and so off the charts charming that Jen and I left there vowing to have goats some day.  Will this ever happen?  I can’t speak for Jen, but as the empty nest imminently approaches for me, I’m thinking that after 25 years of raising kids, I may not want to dive in to raising “kids.”  Terry’s goat milk is great.  I may not need to add goats to the big flock of chickens already living in my barn.

I’ve been hooking a lot of goats since we joined the Beekman 1802 Rural Artist Collective.  I’ve been hooking Faintly, a goat born on the Beekman Farm several years ago…

Faintly

And I’ve been hooking Baby Goat (in fact, I shipped another one today), because well, it’s spring and baby goats happen…

BabyGoatFront

And I’ve been hooking Grown Up Goat, because you’ve got to have those to make baby goats, right?

GrownUpGoat

We even have a goat design in our Etsy shop, independent of Beekman 1802, called Goat Go Round.

GoatGoRound2

We clearly have a thing for goats.

But where does gumption come in?

Well, goats have gumption.  Try telling a goat it can’t do something or go somewhere.  Try telling a goat not to love on you while you’re trying to get something else done in its presence.  Try telling a goat not to eat something…you know, anything not nailed down and sometimes things that are nailed down.

That’s gumption.

I’ve been seeing a lot of gumption this week, along with all things goat.  The aforementioned Terry, as a new student, is tackling one of our most challenging designs, A Murder Among the Magnolias.  When she left here on Tuesday she had the first crow finished absolutely beautifully.  If you aren’t familiar with this pattern, this is Jen’s completed version of it:

I’ve also been part of a business coaching group on Facebook listening to the stories of other fledgling women entrepreneurs as they navigate their way to their true callings, and sharing our own.  Inspiring and loaded with gumption.

An artist friend of mine told me this afternoon about how gumption and listening to his inner voice landed him a significant sale, but then this man’s entire existence is about gumption…and faith.

And then the newest issue of Rug Hooking Magazine landed in my mailbox.  There’s an article in there for hookers who want to design their own patterns, but believe they can not draw.  The article promotes using stencils to create rug designs for the drawing challenged, and I confess, this is not a bad idea.  Stencils are fun and easy and produce pretty rugs, especially when combined in interesting and unique ways.  But…I never accept it when a student tells me she can’t draw.  I just don’t.  Stencils may be a good confidence builder and learning tool, but at some point you’ve got to just fearlessly grab an art pencil, a LARGE eraser (I’ve got a big eraser here and I’m not afraid to use it!), a metric ton of gumption, and start drawing.  Yes, yes, you can.

Recently Jen got up the gumption to start sketching out her own patterns.  Heretofore she had successfully partnered with our go-to realistic style artist, Dan Rosenburg (who is still doing custom patterns for the Maine hookers when I know the style requested is more his than mine), and together they created some absolute marvels, including A Murder Among the Magnolias, 1796 House, Southern Elegy, Victorian Rose & Bluebird, and our WWII and Atomic Age patterns.  (To see all of our patterns, please go to our shop section, “Patterns.”) What she is coming up with all on her own now is absolutely fabulous, and I can’t wait until we can get them up in the shop for all of you to see, and to hook.  You will not be disappointed.  Rather, you will be enchanted.

One of the questions in the business coaching group I’m part of this week was, “What fear or limiting belief is holding you back from something you really want to do?”  Or, in the context of this blog post, “Where do you need to apply gumption and simply do whatever it is you really want?”

Maybe you really believe you can’t draw and therefore can’t create a pattern that’s really, really you.

Maybe you think you can’t hook in 3s and 4s or do fine shading.  Or conversely, maybe you think you can’t hook primitive.

Maybe you think you can’t break out of a style box you’ve been in for a lot of years now. (If this is the case, see the inspiring articles in this issue of Rug Hooking Magazine on steampunk, portraiture in bright colors, and more.)

Maybe you think you can’t make a career or business out of something that’s an absolute passion for you.

Maybe you think no one would be interested in your craft if you set out to teach it, or maybe you think you don’t know enough to teach it.  Try it out on an 8 year old.  Having taught a few children now, I can assure you that there’s a future for this craft if we all apply gumption and spread it around.

Two weeks from today I will teach my first class at the Squam Art Workshops.  Am I nervous?  Absolutely.  But I have the love of our craft to steady me.  The attendees this year were so very interested in rug hooking that my class was one of the first to sell out.  That’s not about me; they don’t know me yet.  That’s about our craft, this craft which was born of gumption (remember? enterprise, initiative, horse sense?) as a way to decorate and cover cold New England and Canadian Maritime floors.  Our foremothers and forefathers in the craft used what they had, which turned out to be burlap sacks, repurposed wool clothing, and lots and lots of gumption, to start a heritage we still enjoy today every time we pick up our hooks.

And, I’ll bet they had a goat, or two, or ten.

Let’s be like them, and like their goats!  Let’s apply our gumption to our craft and to our lives.  Let’s try new things, believe in ourselves, and make beautiful rugs along the way.

Happy goats, happy gumption, and happy hooking!  – Beth