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Tavern Signs

Rug hooking celebrates local history

By: Karl Gimber
Photography by Karl Gimber

Franklin Publick House, 25" x 35", #7- and 8-cut overdyed and as is wool on linen. Designed and hooked by Therese Shick, Annandale, New Jersey, 2014.

Following the successful conclusion of the American Revolution, many taverns were named or renamed after American military and political heroes. Franklin Publick House illustrates this politically correct practice. Therese Shick designed and hooked this rug inspired by Benjamin Franklin, who emerged from the American Revolution era as an international star.

Folks in New Jersey take their state’s history seriously. During the American Revolution, British and American military forces regularly moved through the state as strategies shifted from New England and Canada to the southern colonies. New Jersey has been called the “Crossroads of the Revolution.”

Members of the Hunterdon County Rug Artisans Guild (HCRAG) take their history seriously too. Some members live in 18th- and 19th-century houses, and others are active in local historical organizations serving as docents, demonstrators, reenactors, and board members. 

Hunterdon County, in central New Jersey, celebrated its 300th birthday in 2014 and encouraged community groups to sponsor an event during the historic year-long celebration. HCRAG was invited to help celebrate the 300th anniversary and responded enthusiastically. To add to the celebration, the guild sponsored a tavern sign rug challenge. Members and other rug hookers were “challenged” to design and hook tavern sign rugs inspired by Hunterdon County, family stories, or simply an interest in early American history. A separate exhibit displayed the creativity of Guild members.

Karl Gimber and his wife, Mary Jo, have been inspired by historic taverns and their signboards since 2002. Together they have created over 100 rugs, which have been featured at Rug Hooking Week at Historic Sauder Village, in Early American Life, Rug Hooking magazine (J/J/A 2006), the Wool Street Journal, the ATHA magazine, and in several books. They are members of the Hunterdon County Rug Artisans Guild; Karl is the editor of the Guild’s extensive newsletter. The Gimbers frequently exhibit their rugs at local museums and share the stories behind their one-of-a-kind rugs with rug hooking guilds, historical societies, and community organizations.

This article excerpt is from the November/December 2016 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.


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