Arts & Leisure

Silent auction of late artist’s rugs benefits Sheldon

ONE OF SUZANNE Douglas’s beautiful hooked rugs is displayed by interns Vivian Ross, left, and Zora Duquette-Hoffman with Henry Sheldon Museum Executive Director Coco Moseley. Thirty of the late artist’s rugs will be available to bid on via silent auction beginning Friday, June 21, to benefit the museum. The opening of the auction will coincide with a celebration of life held for Douglas, from 4:30-6 p.m., who served for 25 years as staff at the Sheldon and died in January. INDEPENDENT PHOTO / ELSIE LYNN PARINI 

Her presence was “quiet” and “steadfast.” She was an “expert listener” and knew how to “talk to people.” This is how Coco Moseley, executive director of the Henry Sheldon Museum, described the late Suzanne Douglas, who most recently worked in admissions and welcomed guests to the downtown Middlebury museum. Douglas passed away suddenly in January.

With a Master’s in Library Sciences, Douglas began her work with the Sheldon back in 1999 as a librarian. 

“She knew everything about this place,” Moseley said, adding that the museum’s archives go back into the 1700s — much of which is not digitized yet — and patron’s ability to access it comes thanks to folks like Douglas with immense institutional knowledge. “She could connect equally with a faculty member here to do specific research as she could with a five-year-old watching the trains… She had such a gift to welcome people.”

Beyond her museum duties, Douglas was also a professional craftsperson — weaver, quilter and rug hooker. She sold her work at craft fairs, some in the Sheldon’s store, and offered workshops. 

A RUG BY Suzanne Douglas

“Folks knew Suzanne was a member of the fiber arts guild and was a rug hooker,” Moseley said during an interview last week. “But I don’t think people realized the extent of her skills.”

Fellow rug hooking local export Amy Oxford — the inventor of the craft’s standard tool (the Oxford Punch Needle) and founder of the Oxford Rug Hooking School — came by the museum to help Moseley assess the pieces. 

“When I first saw all of Suzanne’s rugs carefully laid out at the Sheldon, I was staggered by the number of pieces she had completed,” Oxford said. “I had seen some of her rugs but had no idea she had made so MANY!”

Thirty of Douglas’s handmade hooked rugs are on display at the Sheldon as well as online. These pieces have been generously donated to the museum for a fundraiser. A silent auction will begin on Friday, June 21, at 4:30 p.m., with a celebration of life for Douglas held at the museum until 6 p.m. The bidding will close on Saturday, Aug. 31, at 12 noon. All bidding must take place in-person at the museum or by phone (802-388-2117). Shipping is available. 

A RUG BY Suzanne Douglas

“The rugs are beautiful works of art,” Moseley said, noting that viewers are allowed to handle the rugs with care. “Yes, you can touch the rugs… they want to be handled — carefully.”

You’ll want to touch them, promise. Douglas created some of her own patterns and borrowed others; but the coloring is uniquely hers. From bold contrasts to muted pastels, Douglas used fine quality fibers to bring life to each rug. 

“One of the things that stands out the most to me is her skill as a colorist and you can watch this talent evolve as she goes from more traditional color combinations to her own unique palette and sensibilities,” said Oxford, who first got to know Douglas when she came to work at Oxford’s rug hooking shop, Red Clover Rugs, in 1994 and 1995. “You can see the joy she took in creating her work in the excitement of her colors. She loved color and knew how to use it!

SUZANNE DOUGLAS IN 1995 shearing a stair runner with sheep shears to trim off extra fuzz to clean up the design.
Courtesy photo

“Suzanne made her rugs using multiple techniques,” Oxford continued. “She did what’s called traditional rug hooking, using a crochet-like hook to pull loops of wool fabric strips up through her rug backing. She also did punch needle rug hooking, a technique where you use yarn and a punch needle to punch loops down through the backing. She sometimes clipped her loops to create a soft fuzzy look like velvet, and also made loops of different heights, clipping them and sculpting the heights to create three-dimensional shapes… Suzanne was also an expert at making oriental-style hooked rugs (as seen in her exhibit). For this style she used a punch needle and worked the design in straight rows with thin yarn. When she finished a row, she’d run a knitting needle down the row inside the loops and clip each loop. This is a slow and precise technique that requires great patience! At Red Clover Rugs a lot of people without this patience would bring in their unfinished Oriental rugs and Suzanne would cheerfully finish them, without passing any judgment. Whatever technique she used, she always had even loops and beautiful stitches. She took pride in her work and it shows.”

The Sheldon Museum staff voted on one rug to purchase in memory of Douglas and her dedication to the institution as well as the craft. 

“We chose one that plays with traditional rug and quilt design while bringing in color and themes of flora and fauna,” Moseley explained. “It tells the story about the craft that’s been modernized by Suzanne. It’s a good fit for the museum.”

Starting bids for the rugs in the auction range from $50-$300, but the actual values are much greater. The museum is hoping that offers will be generous and appreciate the incredible quality of these pieces.

“Suzanne will be missed by her friends in the local rug hooking community,” Oxford said. “She shared her knowledge generously and was an inspiration to us all.”

To find a gallery with sizes, starting bids and rug condition visit henrysheldonmuseum.org/hookedrugs or stop in the museum at 1 Park St. in Middlebury, Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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