Sun Rise and My Great-Great Grandmother
A personal story from Gretchen, a recent addition to Vermont's rug hooking family.
My first rug hooking project was an 8"x8" floral kit which gave me “firsts” in everything from how to achieve the proper tension on the frame, to how to create a row of loops that did not resemble lumpy porridge. The pattern challenged me with rounded flower petals, pointed leaves, and tight spaces, while offering me a lesson in how to push through self-doubt.
My second project was a 10"x 20" blank canvas. I wanted to work in an open space to find the rhythm of hooking continuous monochromatic lines outside the confines of an established design. I attached the canvas horizontally, and hooked my first row in deep autumnal colors. Two more rows, more new colors. Throughout this process I found myself repeatedly drawn to the empty space in the left-hand corner of the canvas. I kept sensing there were something there, and tried to discern what was under the invisible. After finishing the third row with a mustard plaid, I found myself pencilling a circle in that lower left corner, then returned to hooking the next few rows. The circle sat empty. But it wasn’t.
When I returned to the circle, I filled it with golden wool. The circle evoked the sun, so I filled in the space around it as if it were sunrise. I Then turned to the top of the piece and continued hooking, row after row. At the “sunrise” section I decided to extend the sun's rays across the canvas. When it came time to trim the ends, something held me back, so I left them sticking up and continued to fill in the piece.
As I worked, I periodically removed the canvas and laid it on the dining room table. Examining it from different perspectives, I discovered what I had missed while working horizontally. What I thought was a horizontal “sunrise”, was in fact my great-great grandmother. Vertically, the "sun" was her head with braids. The uncut ends were her prayer flags, her prayers. By turning the canvas 90 degrees, I discovered my Onondaga-Oneida great-great grandmother, who had been left by her son on the reservation in upstate New York.
There is no record of this separation. There is one photo of three sisters that disappeared after my father died. My grandfather's grandmother was one of the three. My older siblings insist there is no proof of a blood relation and deny her existence. Since then, the photo has gone missing. I don’t remember the photo. I don’t remember my grandfather who died when I was five.
A pair of photos have survived, taken of my great-grandfathers, both born in upstate New York. My grandmother’s father, a burly man with a wide face and short beard wearing a three-piece suit and tie; the other my grandfather’s father, born in a town bordering the reservation. “Dark-skinned” the census called him, with dark eyes and hair.
I turn the canvas 90 degrees and found my great-great grandmother, prayers rising up from her golden image, and am moved by the power in the invisible; of the past to find us in the present.
In Honor of the Ancestors,