Emily Carr

Thunderbird Totem and Big House c. 1925,

Hand Hooked Rug
33 x 41 in

Purchased in Victoria in the 1920s.
By descent to private collection, Vancouver.
Maynard’s Fine Art, July 7, 2019, lot 172.
Purchased from above, private collection, Vancouver.

The hand hooked rug is one of the rarest items in the oeuvre of Emily Carr. Only a handful of examples of these rugs have survived through the years. Carr began creating hooked rag rugs in the 1920s to supplement her income to help her strained finances. Like the pottery she produced at this time she utilized in the rugs the First Nations iconography familiar to her to attract sales. She would sell her rugs through local gift shops in Victoria as well as with the help of her tenant and friend Kate Mather who promoted the artist's pottery at her craft shops in Victoria and Banff. Carr also produced rugs as gifts for family, close friends and for her own use; it is from a few surviving examples of rugs from these sources that one can compare other rugs.

While inexpensive to produce, these rugs took a considerable amount of time to complete. A piece of burlap would be stretched over a frame and a proposed design outlined on top. Carr would then hook individual fabric strips that she would source from old clothing and other disused fabric.

In her journal from April 4, 1936 Carr writes:
“Humphrey came last night with a handful of breeches, sweaters, bathing suits, etc., which he invited me to trade for some old sketches, cast-offs he spied the other night. So we swapped derelict clothes for derelict pictures. His pants and coats will be converted into useful rug mats.“

These rare surviving examples of hooked rugs which can be traced back to Carr share the same design elements, materials and technical details as Thunderbird Totem and Big House.
The renowned textile restorer Rebecca Pavitt who undertook the restoration of this rug preformed a detailed analysis and concluded, in her opinion, this rug compared similarly to Emily Carr rugs she had worked on in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Pavitt states:

“The working technique - hooking elements cut on the thicker side from heavier weight fabric - is consistent with other hooked rugs by Carr that I have mended. Outlining motifs in black is also typical of Carr’s technique.”

Kathryn Bridge, a leading authority on Emily Carr and Curator Emeritus at the Royal British Columbia Museum, which holds the largest collection of Emily Carr rugs, stated that in her opinion, Thunderbird Totem and Big House is remarkably similar in fabric colours, format, technique and design to the two rugs known to have been hooked by Emily Carr that hold clear provenances.

Thunderbird Totem and Big House stands as a lasting testament to Emily Carr's diverse artistic talent.