In the world of rug hooking, Deanne Fitzpatrick is a rock star. She is the Jamie Oliver of cooking shows; the Sarah Richardson of home decor. Deanne Fitzpatrick is renowned worldwide for her stunning hooked rugs and patterns. Her work is in permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Like other media super stars, she is frequently on the radio and television. Working out of a small studio in Amherst. Nova Scotia her influence spreads far. Unfortunately, her loyal following largely consists of women over the age of 65, who live in rural communities – like ours. The art and skill of rug hooking that Deanne Fitzpatrick is famous for is largely considered out of date. Her appreciative audience is small.
Deanne Fitzpatrick is an established writer. She has five beautifully written books to her credit. I own two of her books and regularly revisit them. What a storyteller. Her voice comes through the pages with a relaxed down east twang and gift of the gab. It’s like sharing a cup of tea and oatmeal biscuits with your friendly next-door neighbor. She is wise beyond her years, kind and comforting.
Deanne Fitzpatrick is also a gifted presenter/teacher with over fifty videos on-line. She is an ordinary looking woman but her pretty brown eyes shine from behind her lenses and her smile brightens the screen. She is photogenic. Her videos usually take place in the backroom of her rug hooking studio with colorful yarns piled all around her. There the camera will capture Deanne sitting in a big upholstered arm chair with her wooden Cheticamp hooking frame in front of her. There is nothing phony about this woman; nothing big business or branded about her message. You just want to spread her sweetness on buttered toast and settle in.
Deanne promotes living a simple life. She walks five miles every day, out across the fields, finding pleasure in the solitude. This is an important step in her creative process. She breathes in the landscape, notes the subtleties of hues in the wild shrub brush and tall blowing grasses. She registers the shape of clouds and the call of sea birds. Nature’s color and texture is her inspiration. She carries those feelings and thoughts back to her studio and reinterprets them into her delicately complex art.
Deanne Fitzpatrick’s books and beautiful rugs tell intimate stories of growing up, the youngest of 7 kids in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. She generously shares private moments like the day her mother died. She ponders and shares her dreams. Above all else, this passionate woman inspires.
When reading through Deanne Fitzpatrick’s 2010 book “Inspired Rug Hooking”, I found myself excited and challenged. She teaches how to add more meaning and personal message into what you create. She captured my imagination and gave me the tools needed inject more substance and heart into my work. She writes a lot about magic and what it means to her. Magic is the label she gives to the unexplained mysteries of life.
To capture magic and insert deeper substance within her art, Deanne has a few tricks. Some you may find corny or overly romantic but they speak to my heart and artist goals. For instances, she will secretly arrange the wool to form a word. It may be buried into the landscape or water of her rugs and not obvious, but it is there. Sometimes she writes a thought or an idea onto the canvas and hooks right over it. It can never be seen, but it’s there. She calls this putting spirit into your art. She believes that as you work on a craft you can’t help but reflect upon how you feel about that person. You are, after all, making the rug with love; why not tuck in a little secret: A dash of playfulness. Sometimes when she makes a special rug for someone she loves she tucks in a special fabric, one that has meaning to herself or the person who will receive it and that adds a little bit of magic. She calls it flavoring a rug with love. I think this might strike a chord with any quilters.
I learned a lot from Deanne Fitzpatrick on how to tell stories; how to turn art into a narrative that can influence. The first step of storytelling is reflection and self-understanding. It is letting your memories come to the surface. She suggests avoiding the traditional rituals like graduations, marriages and births and think more about smaller things. Take note of how handling a particular dish, or smelling lilac can trigger a story. You do not need to engage in a search for an idea, rather just be open to the ideas that emerge naturally.
She also writes about enriching your work by adding personal symbols. For example, including in a reference to someone’s favorite flower or as I will explain later – a bird. Think back into your past and include the intimate details.
Naming your piece is another important topic. Deanne Fitzpatrick feels it should be nothing obvious. Let the viewer draw their own conclusions. Par it down to the essence of an idea, a notion. What do you want the piece to convey? Remember it is not what you want others to see that matters. What they see will be enhanced or restricted by their own minds. What matters is what you want to tell.
Deanne Fitzpatrick believes art is nothing without creativity and spirit. It is these things that bring art to life. To be creative, you need to let your spirit speak and you need to let go of yourself. You need to loosen your mind, your conscious and critical thought. Get lost in the work. Find that place where the hand and the mind are working together, through you, rather than through your labour. She calls it “a place of prayer”. “Inspiration turns our conscious thought into little more than the rhythm of what we are doing. It is the words spilling forward when you have no idea where they come from. Inspiration is a kind of blessing and a kind of meditation. The art comes out through the spirit.”
Her message has influenced my own art work. It has caused me to reflect; to think back over what is precious to me and how I wish to interrupt that memory. I hooked a little mat last year. It shows a small blue bird sitting around the trees. Above it I included a line from a Mary Oliver poem. It was just a short phrase that reminded me of my own mother’s love of nature. Mom was always wanting my sister and I to get up and go outside to enjoy the beautiful day. So, I stitched: “Open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song may already be drifting away”. I love this little mat I hooked. It proudly now sits in the centre of our coffee table and hold the TV remotes. It kind of feels like mom is in the room with us every night.
Currently I’m working on a large painting. In it I show three women in a kitchen. Two are holding dish towels, one is at the sink with suds to her elbows. I want to call it “Pitching in”. It represents the chatter among women when they work together and lessen the load.
My way of approaching my art has changed since I read this book. I’m exciting to produce work now with feeling. To turn memories into something tangible. It has given my art a purpose. I’m capturing moments of love.
I think Deanne Fitzpatrick’s message applies not only to creating art but how we choose to approach life. I am trying to add more spirit to my writing; to consciously take pleasure when cooking dinner or meeting up with a friend for coffee. I’m trying to be open and relaxed. I’m grateful for those who love me and want to acknowledge all of these moments. Don’t rush me. Life is happened now.
I will end with a Deanne Fitzpatrick quote. She says: “Make room for joy. Make room for playfulness. Make room for thankfulness. Make a little room between you and your creativity for something larger than yourself…. Make room for your spirit.”