Maine, a Guide down East

By Workers of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Maine | Go to book overview

HANDICRAFTS

CRAFTS in early Maine were very similar to those in Massachusetts. The things people made with their hands were necessities, but that they were necessities did not prevent them from being beautiful also; often, indeed, the discipline of necessity made for beauty. The objects produced have some of the chief characteristics of their creators -- simplicity, sturdiness, practicability, spiced with unpredictable quirks of Yankee ingenuity. The outside influences upon Maine craftsmanship, though slight, included English, greatly simplified; French through Canada, in floral motifs for rugs and embroidery; and Oriental, from objects brought home by ships in the China trade. There are stenciled trays that bear two Oriental figures with parakeets on their hands, surrounded by familiar New England flower and leaf motifs. The articles women made for their homes with needle, loom, and hook are full of artistry, and represent a large proportion of the early craftwork of Maine.

The old New England art of making hooked rugs originated in Maine and Nova Scotia. The earliest and best rugs represent truly native craftsmanship, for the designs were original and the material was of wool from home-raised sheep, carded and spun at home, and dyed with home-made colors. Designs were inspired by familiar objects. The most beautiful were floral and wreath patterns, probably partly French in origin, free and intricate in design, with large cabbage roses, small harebells, daisies, goldenrod, and other native flowers surrounded and entwined by large scroll-like leaf motifs, on a white or nearly white ground. The finest of these reveal as much esthetic sense, beauty of design, and mastery of craft as a piece of glazed terra cotta or a stained- glass window. Pictorial rugs were common, though not so fine; a cat curled on a hearth, landscapes quite lacking in perspective, marine patterns with ships, compasses, shells, and anchors -- these are a few of the subjects used. There were also many geometric patterns.

The very earliest rugs were made on hand-loomed linen, but this was soon superseded by burlap or sacking. The design was sketched on the background material in free-hand. When stamped patterns were put on the market in the nineteenth century, much of the beauty of design disappeared. Many early rugs were hooked, not only of wool yarns and

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