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A Tale of Two Portraits

An artist shares her thoughts on the challenges of hooking portraits

By: Donna Hrkman

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 25"x 36 1/2", #4-, 5-, and 6-cut hand-dyed wool on bleached cotton linen.  Designed and hooked by Donna Hrkman, Dayton, Ohio, 2009.

Any rug hooker who makes a lot of rugs will develop a body of work that can be clearly identified, either for the particular style or for the chosen subject matter. In my case, my style has developed over time into specific themes. I hooked animals, then portraits, then landscapes, and then animals again. But it was a commission in October of 2009 that really put me through my hooking paces and brought me back to portraits.

Poetry in the making

The woman who hired me for this project, LaVerne Sci, had seen some of my rugs in a local art gallery. She called to ask if I would make a rug portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar. He was one of America's first African-American poets to have his work published in books. An authority on Dunbar and his work, LaVerne was the director of his museum here in Dayton, his hometown.

I based the design on a single black-and-white photo taken of Dunbar upon his graduation from high school, which my client provided. Given the era, I felt that the rug would be best rendered in a sepia color scale. I also offered LaVerne the idea of hooking part of one of Dunbar's poems as part of the design. She was delighted and gave me a verse from one of his works. With these elements in mind, I set about the task of drawing up a design.

This article is from the January/February 2011 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.


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