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Fascinating Rhythm and Geometric Design

Story by Kathleen Harwood and Devin Ryder / Most Photography by Kris McDermet

NOTE:  This article appeared in Rug Hooking Magazine, Sept/October 2022, and is repeated here with permission of the publisher.   Most of the rugs pictured in the magazine are in this Virtual Collection, so they are not repeated here.

 

Once upon a time a naive young hooker took a trip from Pennsylvania to Virginia and met a guy named Duncan. Fifteen years later, a friend of hers became infatuated with Duncan too. This is their story.

At a workshop in Virginia very early in my hooking career I met Eric Sandberg and fell in love with his rug, Duncan. Always a sucker for geometrics and a lover of antique quilts, I knew immediately that I had to hook this rug. Eric was charming and generous, and his rug, with its rhythmic movement and scarlet circles, was irresistible.  I don’t remember how I learned that this was a Pearl McGown pattern, but before too much time had elapsed, I was hooking it in a workshop with Gail Dufresne. Initially I found it challenging, my inexperience causing some frustration. Then I got the hang of hooking the curving outlines, creating the checkerboard pattern, and reinforcing the rhythm of the design with directional hooking. Gail was patient, it got easier, and I enjoyed watching the pattern come to life with alternating orange dots against a hit-or-miss palette. It was a great learning rug and, although the execution is simplistic compared to what I might choose today, I still enjoy it.

Many years and many rugs later my friend and fellow hooker Devin Ryder was telling our Rug Social group in Brattleboro, Vermont, about an unlabeled rug by Lida Skelton Ives (1902-1988), seen in an exhibition at the University of Connecticut. She could not get this rug out of her mind. Logically assuming it to be an original Ives design, she had drawn a copy on linen with plans to hook it. But when she showed us her photograph, it was Duncan! Little wonder it did not occur to her that it was a McGown pattern; it’s atypical of what we associate with Pearl.

Unfortunately, the history of the Duncan design, and even the name, is murky. Its number in the McGown system is 809, telling us that it is from the 1970s and not earlier, as it might appear to be, but no more information is available.

Eric Sandberg told us he felt it was Pearl’s interpretation of a log cabin quilt design, leading him to his choice of a hit-or-miss palette and traditional red for the circles. I have always believed it was based upon a quilt, although I’ve never seen a quilt just like it. In any case, it’s a dynamic, rhythmic, and playful design which lends itself to endless interpretations. Most often, and logically, hooked as a checkerboard, it can also be more graphically complex or wonderfully random; carefully planned or seemingly spontaneous. Its suitability for using leftover wool makes it an appealing choice of pattern.

Duncan’s charisma continues. He seduced several of our fellow hookers: members of Rug Social (Brattleboro, Vermont) and/or the Quabbin Chapter of ATHA (Amherst, Massachusetts), who decided to hook the pattern along with Devin and me. These are the results. We hope to organize an exhibition of them at Sauder Village in 2023. And should you be inspired to hook your own Duncan, the pattern is available from W. Cushing & Co. in the standard 25″ × 37″ size and in custom sizes.

 

 

 

 

I ran into Duncan in the exhibit in Connecticut in 2009, but never learned his name (or how to get in touch with him) since he didn’t have a label. Ten years later I still wanted him in my house, and finally drew a bad version of the pattern in early 2020 from the old photo I had taken at the exhibit.

When I showed my idea to Kathleen, I was shocked to hear this was a Mc-Gown pattern; I immediately called W. Cushing & Co to get a legitimate version on linen (theirs was so much better drawn). Duncan is deceptively simple looking, but it’s quite a challenge. I had more than three-quarters of the rug hooked when I realized I wasn’t happy with my original color plan and pulled out half of my work to change colors. I like my result and I’m still in love with Duncan. There may even be a second Duncan in my future. The possibilities are endless. — Devin Ryder

 

 

Kathleen Harwood has enjoyed a long and rewarding career in the arts. A member of the Celebration Hall of Fame, she began hooking in 2002. She hooks original designs, primarily geometric studies, animals, and message rugs, and is increasingly drawn to abstraction in the textile arts.

Devin Ryder started hooking in 1970, paused for 15 years, restarted, and has never looked back. She writes about her passion textile art, drawing, and meditation at www.drawingfromtheday.com