Cheticamp is a village on the western shore of Cape Breton, along the Cabot Trail, Demonstrating hooking which describes a loop across the northwestern Cape Breton Peninsula. It is the entry point for the National Park, but also another one of the Acadian settlements which we have been finding scattered more widely across Atlantic Canada than we had realized. It is primarily French-speaking, although the Cabot Trail attracts enough visitors that most folks here speak at least two languages.
Scattered throughout each local area are craft shops, bakeries, hunting and fishing services -- just about anything that might catch the interest of the visitor. We have become somewhat immune to most of these, but it was the last day of our visit, still too chilly to tempt us outside for a walk, Forest scene and the Trois Pignons (Three Pines) Cultural Center and hooked rug museum was just down the street. So we went.
The women, dressed in bright Acadian reds and blues, were charming and happy to talk about the local craft industry. They have made hooked rugs for years and years. They have designed and sell their own rug-hooking frame and their special rug-hooking needle which they have made from a standard nail, by filing it down to a tiny point and then hammering the top till it makes a hook.
Over the years, certain designs have become more popular, and certain artists have been recognized as special. One is Elizabeth LeFort, a shy convent-educated woman who attracted the attention of a local gift-shop owner with one of her earlier tapestries. LeFort - politicians He then offered to buy whatever she created. And did she create! She developed the techniques for making portraits and made several of Canadian and American politicians, but she seemed to like religious subjects bests. Their museum has several of her works which demonstrate her use of bright colors.
At about the same time that Elizabeth was developing her talents, the other women in the village were industriously creating tapestries, both for their homes and for possible sales.
Enter Lillian Burke, an American art teacher accustomed to spending summers with the Alexander LeFort - crucifixion Graham Bell family. She had tried to get the people near the Bells to make and sell tapestries, but that project failed, so she came to Cheticamp and found the rug hooking women. Engaging a local restaurant owner as her agent, Ms Burke developed a workshop, using her designs as well as others' and insisting upon only the highest standards of design and workmanship -- the women will tell you today how she would require a patch to be removed and re-done, sometimes several times over.
She was apparently a harsh taskmistress, demanding and ruthless about the tapestries and business matters. She paid (not much) by the square foot, and insisted that both the front and back be perfectly worked. By 1939 the Cheticamp workshop was successfully in business, carrying out her standards and continuing through today.
The hookers of Cheticamp rightfully consider their craft to be a fine art.