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East Coast
Laura Kenins
Home Economics at MSVU Art Gallery
November 02, 2016

Expertly exploring the relationship between craft, art and commerce, Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery’s Home Economics is a standout among the many exhibitions that aim to highlight craft or folk arts. Featuring hooked rugs from the Textile Museum of Canada’s collection, the show spans 150 years and moves from traditional homesteads to the latest digital animation. The design and commentary by curators Shauna McCabe, Natalia Nekrassova, Sarah Quinton and Roxane Shaughnessy brings the economic and social issues inherent in the creation of these rugs to life.

Leading with a work by Emily Carr and the little-known fact that Carr also created hooked rugs to supplement her income as a painter, the exhibition subtly brings in gendered questions of economics. Did Carr’s peers in the Group of Seven need to make rugs to supplement their income? Farther along, a text tells the story of women in Newfoundland outports who were encouraged to make rugs to sell to wealthier tourists as an income source when industry dried up. Little but a famous name separates the work by Carr and the other creators who made their rugs as a way to earn money. Most of the older work is anonymous and only a couple of the named creators are male – mainly, like Carr, more well known artists.

Yvonne Mullock with Mary Francis Decker, USE ME, 2013, artist’s clothes, burlap

Though the rugs come from across the nation, the history of Atlantic Canada is deeply entrenched in this collection. It’s there in the underlying economic questions and, with a variety of mermaids and lobsters on offer, the overt imagery. But what has really changed over the 150 years covered in this show? Upstairs amidst the contemporary pieces, local artist Joanna Close’s work draws attention to the more current issue of outmigration from rural communities in the Maritimes, while Heather Goodchild’s gory fairy tale Journey reads like a Margaret Atwood story. Though our ideas of authorship, gender roles, and gender itself have evolved, I’m left thinking about who the women who made the older rugs were, what their economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds were, and whether the contemporary pieces reflect this evolution, or how much the same narratives of privilege, hidden work, and power dynamics play out in craft today.

Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery:
Home Economics continues until November 6.

Laura Kenins is a writer and comic artist currently based in Halifax. She has written for CBC Arts, C Magazine, Canadian Art, The Coast and other publications.



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