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Chasing Down a Textile Story

The McDonald sisters of Gilmer County, West Virginia

By: Susan L. Feller
Photography by Susan L Feller

Rug by the McDonald sisters on display in the West Virginia State Museum, Gilmer County, West Virginia, 1970. Approximately 60" x 36", mixed media, hand-stitched.

Five years ago, I ran across the McDonald sisters of Gilmer County, West Virginia, while visiting the State Museum in Charleston. Actually it was their 5' x 3' “tapestry” with hooked border that caught my attention.

It was prominently hanging in the Legacy of Craftsmanship room next to a patchwork skirt made by the Mountain Artisans. The label reads, in part:

Old Skills, New Markets . . . Arts-and-crafts festivals have created another market for West Virginia artisans, craftspeople, and musicians. This hooked rug, made by Otha and Blanche McDonald of Gilmer County, was purchased in 1970 at the West Virginia State Folk Festival, the state’s longest-running folk festival.

I am sure you can imagine the excitement, thrill, and pride of finding an example of rug hooking displayed next to quilting in a museum.

I had to know more. Who were the McDonald sisters? The rug was made in 1970; could they still be alive? Why did they incorporate trapunto, crewel work, and hooking in their piece? What do their other works look like? 

Susan L. Feller is settled in West Virginia, a studio artist working and telling the history of traditional crafts/people at www.ArtWools.com. More of this story can be read under the tab McDonald Sisters on the site.

This article is from the January/February 2017 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.

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