702
702
Knitted wool rug, attributed to Elvira Curtis Hulett (c. 1805-1895)
Probably Hancock, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, 1890-1895
Estimate
8,00012,000
LOT SOLD. 161,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
JUMP TO LOT
702
Knitted wool rug, attributed to Elvira Curtis Hulett (c. 1805-1895)
Probably Hancock, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, 1890-1895
Estimate
8,00012,000
LOT SOLD. 161,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian

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New York

Knitted wool rug, attributed to Elvira Curtis Hulett (c. 1805-1895)
Probably Hancock, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, 1890-1895

Provenance

Richard and Betty Ann Rasso, East Chatham, New York
George W. Sieber, Ashley Falls, Massachusetts
Suzanne Courcier and Robert W. Wilkins, Austerlitz, New York, and Thomas C. Queen, Columbus, Ohio
James and Bonnie Udell, New York, 1990
David A. Schorsch, New York, New York, 1990

Exhibited

"Shaker Design," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1986
"American Radiance: Highlights of the Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum," de Menil Gallery at Groton School, Groton, Massachusetts, October 15 - December 15, 2002
"Folk Art Revealed," New York, American Folk Art Museum, November 16, 2004-August 23, 2009

Literature

Rebus Inc. American Country: The Needle Arts. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1990, p. 140
Sherrill, Sarah B. Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America. New York: Abbeville Press, 1996, p. 260
Sprigg, June. Shaker Design. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with W.W. Norton, 1986, pp. 186-87
American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum, p. 311, fig. 270

Catalogue Note

Rugs of various kinds were woven, braided, hooked, and knitted in Shaker communities, both for household use and for sale to visitors, The earliest Shaker rugs were probably produced in the 1830s, at about the same time that floor rugs became widely used by the general American population.1Late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century photographs of the sales rooms at the neighboring Shaker villages of New Lebanon, New York, and Hancock, Massachusetts, show decoratively patterned rugs displayed for sale, By then, earlier strictures against ornamentation had been relaxed by the leadership of the Shaker society.

This striking knitted rug is attributed to Elvira Curtis Hulett, a Hancock Shaker, on the basis of a note on the backing of an example almost identical in design and technique. The note identifies the rug as the work of "Sister Elvira in 1892 in her eighty-eighth year."2 Hulett entered the Hancock community as a child in 1812. She apparently was engaged in textile production during the course of her long life as a Believer; her name appears on an early-nineteenth-century pattern draft for huckaback, a type of weave.3

The rug is a technical tour de force. It is distinguished by a brilliant use of contrasting colors and the varied patterns—crosses, diamonds, checkerboards, and chevrons—that decorate each of its concentric rings.4 These patterns are suggestive of Hulett's early experience as a weaver. She knitted the rug in strips of two or more colors worked together. The strips were sewn together, and then the rug was edged with a braid of woven fabric. The center clockwise spiral tapers to a point, forming a circle, which is surrounded by five knitted rings, each with a different pattern.5

It is not certain whether this rug was intended for sale or for use within the community. The late nineteenth century was a time of new directions within the United Society-in part an effort to resist the tides of communal disintegration. At Hancock, for example, the trustees' office, the building in which business with the non-Shaker world was transacted, was remodeled in 1895 "to conform to the prevailing Victorian architectural fashion."6 Interior decoration-colorful wallpapers, ornamental moldings, and linoleum floor coverings-were now countenanced, and Sister Elvira's exuberant rug would not have been out of place in this new Shaker environment. -G.C.W.

1 Beverly Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts (Hanover, N.H. Univ. Press of New England, 1980), pp. 95-9 6.
2 June Sprigg, Shaker Design (New York: WMAA in association with W.W. Norton, 1986), p.188.
3 Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts, P.56.
4 Sprigg, Shaker Design, p.188.
5 For her technical analysis of Hulett's rug, I am indebted to my colleague Joan Walsh.
6 Deborah E. Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love, and Union (Hanover, N.H.: Univ. Press of New England, 1993), p. 170.

Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian

|
New York