When fiber artist and photographer Charlotte Bell found a village of rug hookers in Mexico, she knew their folk art was something special. With a visit that began as a simple photo shoot, Charlotte showed her photos of the rug hookers to a Texas folk art store owner who wanted to purchase the rugs to sell in her shop. As the number of venues grew, so did the demand for the villagers’ unique fiber art.
How did you find yourself on a creative path?
I have always done some kind of art. Mostly it has been fiber. I started in 1973 when I was living in a log house outside of Duluth, MN, and had a baby that I did not want to leave. With the help and inspiration of a friend, I began making clothing out of Chamois. This continued for10 years while I added deer and sheep skin as well. When I moved to TX I began hand painting cotton and making clothing from my creations. I sold them at better art shows in the US as well as in stores that sold one of a kind creations. To some extent this continues to this day.
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Tell us about The Rug Hook Project. How did it come about, and what are its goals? How did you become involved?
In 1994 my husband and I purchased property and built a house in San Miguel de Allende, SMA, MX. We continue to live there 4 months of the year.
My awareness of the rug hooking group began in 1999 through a fund raising luncheon for Mujeres en Cambio, whose members originally taught rug hooking to the people of San Miguel de Allende. I ventured to the village to take photos of the rug hookers for Mujeres. Then I brought the rugs to SMA to show a friend with a Folk Art Store in TX. She purchased all the rugs. We also contacted a local Mexican restaurant that did monthly art displays. Then for 5 years they showed and sold the rugs at the restaurant. In Mexico I got the women involved with art shows. We named the group, Las Rancheritas.
In 2004 I was contacted by a writer for Rug Hooking Magazine. They wrote an article about the group and we started receiving wool donations, sales of rugs and invitations to conferences in the USA and even hosted a rug hooking conference in SMA.
Then in 2012 they became a functioning cooperative.
In 2015 we created a tour of their village with home made luncheon, a visit to their store, demonstrations in rug hooking, stone carving as well as an introduction to the ancient language Otomi. The women continue to sell their rugs at their village and at local art shows. I continue to bring a collection of rugs to the US to sell at various craft shows and stores. This is a service project, so I receive no commission. Proceeds of the sales go back to the community.
Where can we find the art to purchase?
At art shows in SMA, 3 shows in the US, on the website.
Is it possible to visit the artists of The Rug Hook Project?
Yes, you can visit their village anytime. I suggest you contact me first so I can give you directions if you are visiting on your own. You can also attend a Rancho Tour that provides a good overview along with experiences with the community. http://rughookproject.com/the-rancho-tour/.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I now hook rugs when I travel!
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Marketing the website and the work of the women so that more people know about them.
What’s next for The Rug Hook Project?
Some of the women are learning English and we are working on an expanded Etsy store for rug sales.
Interview posted August 2022
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