What a privilege I have been offered to study and mount one of the McDonald Sister’s rugs.
Linking up, through a referral from the State Museum archivist, with the owner of two pieces has lead to hearing stories of the original purchase in the late 1960’s directly from the sisters, the “home life” of these textiles in their family rooms for years and for the past two decades tucked away in guest bedrooms in their summer cottage always on the floor. Come to find out the family had relatives who knew these ladies and even photos with mutual people. All of this adds more bits to the articles and stories I have gathered in researching how the handwork was done, by whom and why techniques were used now almost fifty years after the makers have passed on.
New questions arise by looking at the back of this rug. There is an intricate pattern of stitches outlining the motifs. That makes sense, the layers are all attached, stuffed flowers, leaves and stems embroidered with details BUT the threads on the front are colorful and those showing on the back consistently dark? And why are there tiny light blue x’s in thread detailing many large petaled flowers? Those stitches are not seen on the top at all.
In one area the backing fabric has worn and we see a layer of burlap, with the same stitches covering it. Did the ladies make this repair? Did the owner? I do not think so since they have recently had some wear on the front professionally repaired by a West Virginia quilter (good work matching fabrics and threads).
The steps I go through to mount this rug so its life can continue on the wall will be documented in the next few posts. In the mean time, to catch up with who Otha and Blanche McDonald were and the textile work they created, I invite you to visit the series of pages under the tab at ArtWools.com/McDonalds .
Research has been supported by funding through a Tamarack Foundation Fellowship award. Glenville State College research library and the archives at the State Museum in Charleston, WV have supplied me with much of the leads and photographs. Blanche graces the cover of the first issue of Hearth and Fair which has become Goldenseal Magazine.
Recently Emily Hilliard, West Virginia’s Folklorist, visited the studio and I shared my collected knowledge on the McDonalds along with my personal journey with textile crafts. She is the first official folklorist for the state, funded in part through the National Endowment for the Arts and working at the West Virginia Humanities Council.
The most recent pieces I have been working on channel the sisters and the revealing techniques they used. Measuring 11 x 14 each, the same design was first hooked to look like the back of a rug.
The second piece is the front. Each upholstery fabric petal is stuffed with polyester filling, stitched to the linen backing and then embellished with a different embroidery stitch to make each flower unique. I definitely felt the ladies were working alongside and perhaps Otha had some critical comments I brushed off as Blanche may have over the years together.
The third version is a rearranged collage of upholstery fabric, applique’d and embroidered onto a striped sample. The back embroidered with a quote and book title by two environmentalists: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Rachel Carson. This adds to the series “Pillow Talk” I have been creating over the past year.
My studies throughout have been History and the Arts and this project feeds both of these curiosities. I continue to search for more work by Otha and Blanche McDonald. Perhaps you recognize their style and can lead me to a piece, please send a message.
If you are interested in working on any of these handcrafts, I am teaching Rug Hooking, Applique’ and Embroidery at Augusta Heritage Center July 22-27 and would enjoy meeting you and sharing skills.