The Sculptural Bird Creations
of Sandra Grant
FLIGHTS OF FANCY
ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANNE-MARIE LITTENBERG
Sandra Grant says “Where did it come from?” is what artists, writers, musicians, and spiritual leaders are asked when the world wants to understand what inspires their work. “Most of the time for me, it is intuition and being aware of what is right in front of me,” says Sandra. “My love of birds, with their variety of shapes, color, movement, and habit, inspire my creations. I’ve often said that many of the bird subjects I work with choose me more than I choose them.”
While working in the medium of rug hooking for over a decade, Sandra has spent most of her life creating art. “In high school, I was accepted into Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where my art adventures began.” Sandra has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA) as well as a Masters Degree in Art Education.
“I taught art in the public school for many years while continuing my own independent and formal studies, which included a semester of weaving and working with a variety of fibers.” She has also worked with oil and watercolor paints. “In college, I was frequently found in greenhouses, painting the plants. I also worked in pottery and have a particular love for that medium. I still paint flowers and birds with watercolor, but my favorite media have always involved fiber and texture. I was a weaver for many years, but had to give it up. A friend suggested I investigate rug hooking for a new chapter in my fiber art initiatives. It took exploration in a variety of media before I found the one (rug hooking) that really worked for me.
Of course, age and maturity help the creative process grow and change.” Sandra’s first rug hooking class was with Jacqueline Hansen. “She taught me stitchery techniques and, of course, hoving (hooking loops higher than normal) and the Waldoboro technique (clipping the hoved loops, leaving the pile high so that it forms three-dimensional shapes). These techniques are an important part of the work I do today with my bird creations.”
“I have been fortunate to have a variety of excellent teachers over the past ten years of rug hooking, and they have all influenced me in many ways, big and small. I was a teacher for many years, so I go into each class without expectation. That helps me intuitively find things that I can take away. Teaching this medium is an art in itself.
Various teachers’ styles and ways of creating have helped things come together in my own work,” Sandra explains. “At one time I felt my efforts were a bit too arranged and organized. Then I took a class with someone who is so open and loosely structured, I learned I could bring that feeling into my own work.”
“Sometimes, influence comes from other rug hookers who may be doing things totally different from me,” Sandra continues. “That can inspire me to try and use other techniques. In addition, going to different hooking groups opens one up to seeing and trying new things in ways one might not otherwise have imagined.”
Sandra finds special inspiration from the work of botanical painter Mindy Lighthipe (Florida), and rug hookers Gene Shepherd (California), Diane Phillips, (New York), and Capri Boyle Jones (Florida).
Sandra believes the biggest influence in her work comes from the birds she sees in her environment. “I create series of different species in a variety of gestures and positions. At present, I am drawn to owls of all kinds. Last year, I attended an owl festival at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Vermont, and was fascinated to learn of the variety of owls there. They have different personalities and habits, making them such interesting subjects for my hooked rug creations.”
Once Sandra starts to explore an idea, she will continue pursuing it as a concept morphs from one piece to another. “While making one piece, I may get the idea to try the subject in a different way, and so second and third versions follow, each enhancing the original idea. At present, I am fascinated with how some shapes look if they are cut out near the edge of the subject instead of having a straight, finished border or edge. This idea is a challenge to execute because of the way I frame some of my pieces on a stretcher.
I have also made birds that are three dimensional structures, and others that are like cutouts of birds.”
Linen is Sandra’s backing of choice. Some of her favorite materials to work with are hand-dyed velvets and textured yarns. She works in #3-, 4-, and 5-cut strips of hand-dyed wool. She finds these sizes work best for hoving. “I like to work in a range of values and tones of a single color,” Sandra continues. She also likes plaids in both raised and flat-hooked areas if they are in the right color and shade.
“The style of hooking I have come up with has more depth to it, so it can be difficult for colors to easily blend. I like to use strong contrasting colors while blending more subtle shades together for backgrounds.” Sandra also enjoys dyeing.
“Learning to dye was a natural sequence after I learned to hook. My favorite thing lately is marbleizing wool. It is fun and creative, with a surprising variety of results.”
Sandra says her experience drawing and painting botanical flowers has been helpful with her rug hooking. “However, that was tightly detailed work and I don’t need so much detail when drawing a design on linen. Now I start with a loose pencil drawing on tracing paper, which I transfer directly onto linen. When I feel the form of the bird is in proportion, I add lines with a permanent marker before starting to fill in with wool. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the shape fits the linen; Does it look better vertical or horizontal, or streaming off the edge, or contained within a border? I love color, so if the bird has neutral colors, I try to replicate its natural hues and then plan on a brightly colored background. I begin my hooking by working on areas where my loops will be low. I then move on to the areas where I will create raised loops for sculptural effects. I use a lot of velvet materials because it provides a sheen. I enhance my birds with varied textures and colors of yarns. I usually finish my birds with feather embellishments.”
Sandra began with a Needlework frame. She moved on to a large rectangular frame for larger pieces. “Now I am hooking a lot of 6″ x 8″ pieces and I find a small tilting travel lap frame works well. The frame size I use depends on the size of the hooked rug I am working on. I don’t use a standard straight hook; rather, I have grown to appreciate a small, bent hook. It seems to be easier on my forearm.”
Sandra describes her workspace as “having long tables I can draw on. I use many reference books. I have shelves overflowing with hand-dyed wool, and bins of my marbleized wool. When I am at my home in Warren, Vermont, my hooking chair has a view of the Green Mountains. When I am in my other home in Sunapee, New Hampshire, I have what I call my ‘Hooking Nest’. I work while watching the woodpeckers come to the feeder or the bluebirds to their box. Many turkey families come to each location and leave feathers for me to admire.”
Sandra’s rug-hooking experiences include giving some private lessons to a few 14-yearold girls. “That was fun!” she says. Her accomplishments are impressive. She has been juried into Celebration three times as of the writing of this article. In addition, she has been awarded “Viewers’ Choice” at the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild’s Hooked in the Mountains exhibit, and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s show.
In 2020, she will be featured artist at Hooked in the Mountains’ next exhibit. In addition, she is a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and an image of her piece, Bucky the Blue Heron #2, was used to represent the League’s 2019 Exhibition. It was featured on their promotional materials, posters, and t-shirts (which sold out!). The summer of 2019, the League featured Sandra’s work along with that of other members of New Hampshire’s White Mountain Woolen Magic Rug Hooking Guild.
Sandra says, “Rug hooking is a great medium to learn at any age because it can encompass such a wide range of subjects. It provides an open canvas to create whatever you come up with. The first question I asked myself when I learned this craft was, ‘How detailed and how much variety can I get with rug hooking?’
Creating all my three-dimensional birds, I think my questions were answered. There is no limit to how creative you can be with rug hooking.”
Anne-Marie Littenberg is a rug hooker and photographer living in Burlington, Vermont. She periodically teaches rug hooking workshops, and is the author of Hooked Rugs Landscapes and Hooked Rug Portraits. firstname.lastname@example.org