The rug hooker of Lords Cove

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Anne Kirby takes wool from her own sheep and makes art that’s in high demand

This time of the year the Kirby house in Lords Cove on the Burin Peninsula is similar to Santa’s Workshop. It’s pure hustle and bustle with Anne Kirby staying up until the wee hours of the morning doing her best to finish all the hooked mats she has on order.

Anne Kirby at work on a hooked rug in her Lords Cove home. On the wall behind her, a photo of singer Anne Murray, holding one of Kirby’s rugs  which Murray bought after a show at a Nova Scotia museum. — Photo by Allan Stoodley/Special to The Telegram

There’s the one her sister needs to take to Ottawa with her for a family member for Christmas. Then last year there was the very personalized “A Kitchen Party” mat she hooked for a lady which had a likeness of the woman’s father on it, as he had passed away just a few weeks before Christmas. She didn’t finish that mat until Dec. 17.

All year long Kirby is busy. She already has orders for seven of her mats to do after the Christmas rush is over.

It can take her up to a week to finish one of the large masterpieces. During the fall she’s gearing up to participate in some of the Christmas fairs around the province.

Her standard-size mats with local traditional themes measure 24 by 36 inches but she does some smaller ones if requested. Also this year, in addition to her regular hooked mats, she has found there is a big demand for much smaller pieces that people want for Christmas tree Decorations —”Willie, the Mummer”, “Lisa, Willie’s partner, as he needed one,” sheep hangers made from the Kirby’s local sheep’s fleece, snowmen, maps of Newfoundland, salt box houses, Newfoundland dogs, the Newfoundland flag and yes, even split salt fish.

“People who are living away from home appreciate those little hangers and I have been rushing to get them done because a lot of them are sent to the mainland,” Kirby explained.

The art of mat hooking, or rug hooking goes back at least three generations in the Lords Cove Kirby family.

Tom, Anne’s husband, says his grandmother hooked mats out of necessity because their house had bare wooden floors and only a wood or coal stove providing heat.

In the winters, the floors were so cold that the mats would be piled up to help provide some warmth.

Tom’s mother kept up the mat hooking tradition, but she began to experiment with using patterns and designs and then she, in turn, taught Anne the art.

Over the past 10 years or so Anne has taken the craft of mat hooking to new heights. She now has dozens of her own personalized designs based on the traditional outport way of life.

Four of her more popular designs include “Women Spreading Salt Fish”; “Spring Cleaning” — hanging quilts on a line; “When Cod Was King,” showing Tom’s father arriving with a skiff load of fish; and the “Mummers.”

One of her creations, “Tsunami” was purchased by the City of St. John’s while The Rooms has “Women Spreading Fish To Dry” on display.

Some of the mats ordered by her customers are still spread on the floor, but only as a decoration and not to be walked on.

The majority of the hooked mats are now proudly displayed on a wall.

Earlier in her mat hooking career, Anne would use recycled wool for her craft, but now it all comes from their own sheep.

After shearing, the wool is sent away to be spun into yarn and the finished product is what she uses both for her mats and her tree ornaments.

She has patented her designs and packages some of her wool for resale and quite appropriately labeled it “Salt Water Wool.”

The name is derived from the fact that their sheep graze on grassland bordering on the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean.

Anne is a member of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador and is classed as a “Crafts of Character Producer” for this province and her work has been deisgnated of finest handmade quality by a jury from the Deptartment of Trade and Innovation

Her Anne’s Original Hooked Rugs business has its own Facebook page which is where she now gets most of her business.

A few years ago Anne had four of her mats displayed for sale at The Hooked Rug Museum of North America in Chester, N.S.

Soon after, the museum contacted her to say that Canadian singerstar Anne Murray had purchased one of them.

An excited Anne Kirby emailed the internationally acclaimed singer and asked her if she would mind sending her a photo holding the mat, which now hangs in the living room of her home in Lords Cove.

Allan Stoodley is a long time resident of Grand Bank and a former reporter with the St. John’s Evening Telegram. He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com and he welcomes any comments on this article or any other story he has written.

Organizations: Kitchen Party, The Rooms, Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador The Hooked Rug Museum of North America Grand Bank

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Ottawa, Salt Water Chester Lords Cove.Allan Stoodley

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