An long-standing Atlantic Canadian crafting tradition helped author and artist Deanne Fitzpatrick find her voice
It’s the colours that first attract you as you walk into Deanne Fitzpatrick’s Rug Hooking Studio at 33 Church Street in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Then comes the urge to run about, handling the wool and jersey swatches, silk ribbons, fleece bundles and Curlylocks yarns that overflow the baskets and painted tables. Whimsical hooked rugs crowd the walls. You’re charged with an overwhelming desire to be productive and engaged to “Create beauty everyday,” as the studio’s motto recommends.
Artist and writer Deanne Fitzpatrick works among this stimulation daily. The terracotta walls of her glassed-in office are visible to everyone who enters the studio. She likes being accessible to both clients and staff.
She started rug hooking 22 years ago, to decorate a newly purchased farmhouse. As a child in Newfoundland, she watched her mother and grandmother hooking rugs. For her mum it was only “a chore of poverty, a chore of necessity.” However, Fitzpatrick’s personal foray into rug hooking has revitalized it as an art form and led her to a successful writing and business career.
She first operated out of her home, and later set up shop in a space behind an upscale men’s clothing store managed by her husband, Robert Mansour. In 2007, the couple purchased the building, and she took over the adjoining storefront.
Fitzpatrick’s cozy office is filled with colour, books and inspiring quotes. A large rug-hooking frame occupies almost half of it. A pair of rugs, entitled Port Greville Poppies, hangs over a cluttered desk. She once shared her office with the communal tea corner, but she purchased a bike and needed more room. “It was time I had my own space. It’s not much but it’s all I need. I don’t need anything fancy.”
Her conversation is peppered with the concept to which she now dedicates her life: beauty. “I love the publishing process. The publisher comes back to me with this beautiful book, with my name on it and my images. We should take the time to make something beautiful every day, get some beauty in our lives. We all think we have to be intellectual or stronger, but beauty is enough. Life is supposed to be beautiful.”
Fitzpatrick writes with her office door closed, but still feels she’s in the middle of things. “I like to work with hubbub on the periphery. I got used to that when the kids were little.” And she finds concentration different for writing and rug hooking. “I can listen to music or a podcast when I’m hooking, but when writing, nothing,” she says while working away at Seven Trees, her latest rug. “It’s based on a tree on the way to Parrsboro, high on the top of a blueberry field. I have seven sisters, so I expanded it to seven trees.”
She wrote her first book, Hook Me a Story: The History and Method of Rug Hooking in Atlantic Canada (Nimbus Publishing), because “I felt that there were no Atlantic Canadian books on the topic. They were all American and that really bothered me when there was such a strong Atlantic Canadian tradition.” In 2007, East Coast Rug Hooking Designs: New Patterns from an Old Tradition (Down East Books) was nominated for both an Atlantic Book Award and an Independent Publisher Book Award. In 2013, her first collaboration, Singily Skipping Along (Nimbus Publishing) with children’s author , netted her another ABA nomination.
Current projects include a knitting book, a second collaboration with Fitch and a new book, Simply Modern: Contemporary Design for Hooked Rugs (Nimbus Publishing), due out in October. “I dreamed of being a writer, but until I started hooking I never had much to write about. It gave me a voice.”
Fitzpatrick doesn’t keep a rigid writing schedule. “I’ll write in spurts, a week on, a week off. But I stick to deadlines.” As she finishes one book, inspiration for another one always comes to her.
A friend once told Fitzpatrick that she was “doing more than hooking rugs,” which got her thinking about the bigger picture, and gave birth to her motto: Create beauty everyday. “Tell them that I do know every day is two words,” she laughs, explaining that in rug format, everyday just looked best. Her concentration on beauty, in her rugs, home, books and studio, is testament to the value of immersing oneself in what you love and enjoy. Now her life and work have created a public space in which others are inspired to do the same.
Laurie Glenn Norris is a freelance reviewer and writer. Her book Haunted Girl was nominated for a 2013 Atlantic Book Award. She is currently working on her first novel.