Fibre Cartographies of Qonasqamkuk/St. Andrews, New Brunswick

13 April 2022

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St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick—Qonasqamkuk to the Indigenous Passamaquoddy and Maliseet people—is an attractive seaside “heritage” town that has been a tourist destination for over a hundred years, but it’s also an inspiring, year-round residence for many makers and artists.

Rather than using Google Maps or a tourist brochure, this fibre tour is guided by three contemporary hooked rugs, displayed in prominent St. Andrews tourist attractions.

As a rug hooking artist, I visited St. Andrews in 2019 for the Kingsbrae International Residency for the Arts (KIRA).

This beautiful hooked rug (the featured image, above) is a personal cartography rug depicting St. Andrews. It was made by Debbie Lessard (Moncton, NB), and hangs in the entranceway to the Kingsbrae café.

Pictorial landscape rugs such as this are personal cartographies, highly selective geographies assigning significance to place. The conventions of this fibre map are as firm as those governing any other mapmaking. They tell viewers how to superimpose the rug on the landscape: the “top” of the rug is the hilltop, and the “bottom” is the harbour. Significant buildings are large-scale and viewed from the same unobscured angle; tree cover, less significant buildings, and other complications are edited out.

Kingsbrae, pictured at the top of Lessard’s rug, contains its own small fibre source. Thanks to Jenna, who works with the animals at Kingsbrae Garden, I was able to meet the resident alpacas. They will cautiously approach any of Jenna’s friends.

image description: looking through a window, a large evergreen tree is visible, with snow all around the base

Philby kisses the author. An alpaca kiss is the softest, most whuffly kiss. [photo credit: Wim Schermer]

The alpacas get clipped annually. The wool is sorted and spun at a local mill, and then sold in the Kingsbrae gift shop. Labels identify which alpacas produced the wool.
image description: a stack of books, close up - only the lower edges of the books are visible

Alpaca yarn from Kingsbrae Garden.

In Lessard’s rug, below Kingsbrae is the red brick Ross Memorial Museum. In addition to “Oriental” carpets, its collection holds several artifacts from Cottage Craft, an important part of New Brunswick’s fibre history. Established by Grace Helen Mowat in the 1910s, and surviving almost 100 years, Cottage Craft created a network of cottage industries across Charlotte County, including farmers, dyers, spinners, weavers, felters, rug makers, knitters, dollmakers, and other fibre artists.

image description: an antique wooden desk

View of Pansy Patch, by Frances Wren (c. 1935). Needle-felted dyed unspun wool on homespun woven wool cloth.

image description: a framed picture; the picture itself is made from felted wool strands and wisps, pressed onto a wool fabric background

Sunset, by Frances Wren (c. 1926-1929). Needle-felted dyed unspun wool on homespun woven wool cloth.

image description: a greeting card, lying open; on the right hand side a Christmas greeting is printed with a signature underneath; on the left side is a picture of a rainbow, created with wisps and strands of wool roving on a wool fabric background

Christmas Card Rainbow, by Grace Helen Mowat (1952). Needle-felted dyed unspun wool homespun woven wool cloth.

My guide at the Ross Memorial Museum also shared some gorgeous hand-woven wool fabric scraps.

image description: a sketchbook page with a number of shapes and outlines in pen

Hand-woven Cottage Craft wool fabric. Private collection, St. Andrews, NB.

While Cottage Craft, like the Arts & Crafts Movement, relied on romanticized ideals of pre-industrial labour and rural “folk,” it was successful insofar as it provided craftspeople with additional income and a market. Additionally, it cooperated with other local producers—for instance, in the 1950s, then-owners of Cottage Craft shared dye formulas with Briggs & Little mill so that more yarn could be produced. As Diana Rees noted later, “Over the past fifty years or so, the two different colour ranges have merged so that neither is exclusive any longer” (195). The colour palette is largely unchanged, influencing local design for generations. Most handmade rugs from Atlantic Canada are made in part with durable Briggs & Little yarns. Wool fibre works in Atlantic Canada often have a distinctive look and texture that can be traced back to Cottage Craft. And, because tourists visited St. Andrews and bought or received fibre souvenirs from Cottage Craft, its ethos and aesthetic spread.

At the Ross Museum, you can find a second rug collecting St. Andrews landmarks, this one by Maureen McIlwain. The rug expresses the inspiring interdependence of being and creativity in St. Andrews through the chiasmus: “life is art; art is life.”

image description: a page from a sketchbook, with many rectangular shapes, some stacked on top of each other

Personal cartography rug of St. Andrews, NB, made by Maureen McIlwain (Brockville, ON).

Highlights of St. Andrews in McIlwain’s rug include (from top right) the windmill at Kingsbrae Garden, Pendlebury Lighthouse, the pebbled tidal shore of St. Andrews Harbour, Blockhouse, the Algonquin Hotel and golf course, and the circular bath house on Ministers Island. The centre shows the local Roman Catholic church, which hosts the Quoddy Loopers, a group of rug-hooking locals who meet in the basement every Wednesday, and who are welcoming, knowledgeable, and generous.

image description: five people standing, gathered around and looking at a small piece of textile art that is placed on the floor in front of them
Members of the Quoddy Loopers offer constructive criticism.

Ministers Island is near to St. Andrews, but you can only visit during low tide, when the road is exposed. Originally a Passamaquoddy summer camp, the island’s most visible history is its late nineteenth-, early twentieth-century amalgamation under William Van Horne, builder, and later president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Van Hornes spent summers on the island, which became a vacation home, artistic retreat, health spa (featuring sea bathing), European art collection, and model farm.    

image description: a hooked rug, with a map-like image of a small village

Ministers Island community cartography rug, made by the Quoddy Loopers.

Our final hooked guide comes from the Quoddy Loopers, who teamed up to make the rug for a fundraising auction in support of the organization that runs Ministers Island. The purchaser kindly donated it back to Ministers Island. In the middle of the rug’s landmarks is the Van Horne house, Covenhoven.

Covenhoven contains many examples of local fibre arts. Most have no provenance or named maker. However, these treasured community gifts add vital texture and context.

image description: a close up of a piece of lace netting

Lace

image description: a close-up of a beaded and embroidered fabric, possibly a table cover

Possibly goldwork?

image description: a close-up of a section of a handmade quilt, made of small random patches of fabric, with detailed hand-embroidery decorating and joining the patches

Hand-pieced and embroidered silk crazy quilt.

image description: a close-up of a section of a handmade quilt, made of small random patches of fabric, with detailed hand-embroidery decorating and joining the patches

Hand-pieced and embroidered silk crazy quilt.

image description: a view of a bedroom furnished with antiques in the style of a late 19th century home; many textiles are on display, a patterned rug, a bed coverlet, embroidered pillows, a lace nightgown

One of a pair of hand-hooked wool rugs, with other handmade clothing and bedding.

Interestingly, the owners’ and family members’ rooms feature examples of finer fibre art behind ropes, while servant rooms feature functional, more worn artworks that visitors may touch. These differences in fibre displays illuminate class differences in useful ways.

image description: a hand-made patchwork quilt on a metal framed bed

Quilt in servant’s room. Note the materials—probably flannel cotton—and hand-tying quilting technique.

image description: a patterned and faded wool rug; the corner is turned over so that you can see that the pattern is brighter on the underside

Hooked rug in servant’s room, probably wool. Note fading and wear on top of rug as compared to bottom.

Covenhoven includes some exhibits of local indigenous history. Possibly the only visible evidence of contemporary indigeneity in popular St. Andrews tourist sites is a number of baskets made recently by local (Maine-based) Passamaquoddy or Peskotomuhkati fibre artists.

image description: a hand-made basket

Quilled woven basket, made by an unnamed artist.

We might compare St. Andrews’ relative scarcity of contemporary indigeneity in tourism and arts institutions in the summer of 2019 to the relative abundance in Toronto, including the Art Gallery of Ontario’s retrospective of Brian Jungen’s work.

William Van Horne and Grace Helen Mowat, who appeared in this fibre tour, make for a suggestive pairing. Both were deeply committed to establishing artistic St. Andrews and to boosting New Brunswick industry. Furthermore, both promoted a modern national Canadian identity founded on ideals of connecting remote rural pockets of local settler resourcefulness. For Van Horne, the construction of this national identity was literal, as railway-building was equivalent to nation-building, while for Mowat, fibre-making was equivalent to community-building. It’s worth noting that this idea of Canadian identity relied on the marginalization of the Passamaquoddy, and this near-erasure persists through much of St. Andrews’ tourist celebration of white settler cultural production.

I like to think that fibre artists are grounded, and we have a good sense of how much work is involved in making quilts and rugs and baskets. I hope when we find fibre arts in historical homes, museums, and other sites, we remember to not perpetuate an idealized past in which people had more access to fine craft. We know that the narratives of craft have been made to serve classed, gendered, and colonizing enterprises. While we tour, we might also wonder: what might the next generation of decolonizing personal cartographies of fibre look like?

Recommended readings:

Ian McKay. The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1994.

Diana Rees with Ronald Rees. Grace Helen Mowat and the Making of Cottage Craft. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 2009.

All images by Nadine Flagel, unless otherwise noted.

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The articles, tutorials and patterns we publish about Canadian fibre and textile arts, crafts and industry are made possible by our members.

Copyright © Nadine Flagel except as indicated.

About Nadine Flagel

Nadine Flagel is a self-taught textile and fibre artist whose mission is making art out of “making do.” She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Dalhousie University and teaches literature and composition. She is interested in the repurposing of both texts and textiles. Both practices rely on cutting up existing text(ile)s, on aesthetic and sensual appeal, on thrift, and on putting old things into new combinations, thereby intensifying and multiplying meanings. Flagel has recently held her first solo exhibition at the Craft Council of BC, has written about textile art, has created textile art for public art commission, and has received grants to make art with youth. She is also a member of CARFAC, and the Craft Council of British Columbia. As a settler, she is grateful to live and work on unceded land of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, səl̓ilwətaɁɬ, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm peoples.

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