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Fibre artist prepares to hit home

Rug hooker Rachelle LeBlanc parks her road show for a date in St. Albert

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 04, 2013 06:00 am

LOCAL PHENOM – Rachelle LeBlanc is a rug-hooking artist who's shown her work all over North America. Later this month she will hold her first show in St. Albert.
LOCAL PHENOM – Rachelle LeBlanc is a rug-hooking artist who's shown her work all over North America. Later this month she will hold her first show in St. Albert.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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Beyond Traditions:
Contemporary Fibre and Rug Hooking Works by St. Albert artist Rachelle LeBlanc
Opening reception on Friday evening from 7 to 9 p.m.
Artist will be in attendance
The exhibit runs from tomorrow through till Saturday, Feb. 1.

A special fibre-hooking workshop with the artist will take place on Saturday, Dec. 14 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron St.
Call 780-460-4310 or visit www.artgalleryofstalbert.ca for more information.

Rachelle LeBlanc, St. Albert’s superstar of rug hooking, is counting down the minutes and hours until she gets her first exhibit of work here in her adoptive city.

“I think it’s great! I’m always surprised when I submit my work and I get yeses,” she admitted. “Fibre art already is a hard sell. Collectors of fibre art are obsessed with it but they’re few and far between.”

LeBlanc is a fibre artist, hooking rugs that you would never dare drop on the floor. These works are meant to be hung on the wall, observed and admired.

She’s shown her work pretty much everywhere else. For her, it was just a matter of time, or timing at least, before she would have a show at home.

“The challenge is time. The ideas aren’t the problem. The wool obviously isn’t the problem. There’s only so many hours in the day,” she sighed.

Because of the preciousness of her quaint and impressionistic portraits of people and animals, there’s a lot of detail and a lot of care that goes into the work. She’s had exhibits at the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton, Calgary’s Leighton Arts Centre and Stony Plain’s Multicultural Centre Public Art Gallery. There was Vancouver too, plus some shows much farther afield including the Shelburne Museum in Vermont and the famous Musée des Maître et Artisans in Montréal, much closer to her upbringing in Québec.

That’s where she started as a fashion designer but held onto painting as a hobby. After she filled the walls of her small apartment, her artistic muse changed. She discovered rugs and hasn’t looked back.

Her elaborate and somewhat nostalgic pictures often portray children in the full blush of their youth or people in artistic poses, a scarf swirling in the wind and crows flying all around them. She loves Alberta’s landscapes too but everything she does, she admits, has to have her heart in it. That means it takes more time.

“Painting is faster! I don’t think I was meant to be a great painter. There’s too much technique necessary. I don’t say that my rugs are great but I’m much happier with the results. They take longer. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it. Everything’s already worked out in my head. By the time I sit down to hook, it doesn’t matter if I have to walk away.”

The highly-acclaimed artist is a rarity among local artists and artisans. Rug-hooking is a longstanding folk art but is said to be a dying art form. She has not only picked up the gauntlet but she has taken it to a new level.

First, she has never been interested in patterns, so she always comes up with her own original designs. She doesn’t even use frames, another way she breaks from tradition. Some of her new work even breaks into three-dimensional sculptural pieces. This is all very challenging work that, she says, is very tough on her hands.

Armed with a recent grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, she commissioned a Manitoba artist to weave some reproductions of Métis sashes to use as a kind of back binding. These offer a potent frame of support so that each rug stays fairly square while hanging.

She might just find that her biggest challenge is capturing the imaginations of a western audience with such a tried-and-true Maritimes art form.

“It’s huge!” she exclaimed. “The people out west don’t even know how big this is out east.”

Maybe that’s where the break comes for her very contemporary adaptation of a very traditional practice. LeBlanc herself admits that she appreciates the old ways but she has her own ideas about things.

“They made their own frames and just started hooking old fabrics. I understand it. I can appreciate it as someone else’s work. There are still a lot of traditional rug-hooking artists out there that stay true to the visuals that used to be done. I don’t have any interest in making something that’s already been done.”

“I’m an emotional person and my subjects are chosen and designed with emotion that I’m either remembering or that I’m going through. I have to have an emotional connection to whatever I’m working on. It has to come from the gut. This is me,” she continued. “Whoever me is, this is who I am.”

LeBlanc has been at it without a break for several years now, but she says that she’s going to take a breather in 2014. That rest will still see her travelling around to promote her work. She’s going to Vermont next October to be the feature artist with the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild.

Visit www.hookedrugstudio.com to see more of her work.


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