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Davenport teacher continues art of primitive rug hooking

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DAVENPORT, Ia. ” A length of burlap-colored linen is stretched taut across a square wooden frame on a pedestal.

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In one hand, Beth Anne Smiley holds a thin strip of colorful wool under the linen, and in the other hand she holds a hook on top. With a deft motion, she pokes the hook into the linen, catching the wool strip underneath and pulling it up to form a little loop.

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She repeats this motion over and over, creating rows of loops. And by changing the colors of fabric and following a pattern drawn on the linen, a design emerges on the cloth – a flower, a horse or a chicken.

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Smiley is doing primitive rug hooking, a craft brought to the eastern United States in the mid-1800s. It is different from the perhaps more familiar latch rug hooking done with yarn that is knotted.

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At first, primitive rug hooking was practiced mainly by the poorer classes, but it grew into an art form prized by all, Smiley explains. People used established patterns as well as those of their own making, and they used their creations as blankets and wall hangings as well as their original on-the-floor purpose.

Smiley, a second-grade teacher at Davenport’s Adams School, has liked hooked rugs since she saw one in a friend’s house when she was a little girl.

The Quad-City Times reports that Smiley and her husband Barry are huge collectors of primitive folk art, including hooked rugs, and about 15 years ago she decided to try to learn how to make them herself.

She took classes from a woman in Pennsylvania and, in time, Smiley became so accomplished that the woman suggested Smiley begin teaching the art.

In 2012, Smiley founded Wheaten Woolens (Wheaten for the breed of dogs the couple owns), teaching classes and selling kits with designs and materials.

Her studio is a large room inside a 1860s stone barn on their Davenport acreage.

Stepping inside reveals a feast for the eyes.

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