With the 2017 Harvest Festival right around the corner, we decided to ask artisans that will be part of the Harvest Festival Artisan Colony at the Beekman Farm a few questions. Meet Beth Miller of Parris House of Wool Works.
Where are you based out of?
The Parris House, c. 1818, National Historic District of Paris Hill, Paris, Maine
What is the item(s) you make for Beekman 1802?
I make a line of wool on linen hand hooked and hand sewn pillows designed exclusively for Beekman 1802. The designs are inspired by life at the Beekman farm and on my own rural Maine homestead.
How did you get started?
After my mother passed away in 2011, I needed a meditative, zen art to cope with my grief. I turned to rug hooking. It provided the spiritual respite I was looking for and also became my primary creative outlet.
Is this your full-time focus?
This is my full time work and passion! I gave up a career in real estate and more traditional business pursuits to follow this dream.
Is there something special/unique about your process?
North American rug hooking is a heritage art, with its roots in northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes. It was originally a craft of necessity, with cold climate residents stripping up old wool clothing and hooking it into burlap sack foundations to cover chilly floors. I think what I value most about what I do is the continuation of that heritage, bringing a modern interpretation to an art that was practiced by so many who came before me in this place. Additionally, this is an entirely hand process, from the drawing of patterns onto the linen to the dyeing of wools, hooking, binding of rugs or stitching up of pillows, there are no machines involved.
What is a usual day like for you?
The first thing that happens in my day is a walk with my five month old Collie puppy, Wyeth, because, well, he insists. (Yes, he’s named for the family of artists.) After that I might tend to the Parris House bees, chickens, and/or garden. We’re getting into apple harvesting season now. After the outdoor work, I check email and social media, and review my daybook/schedule for my plans and to-dos for the day. Sometimes I eat breakfast, sometimes I just drink coffee. If it’s a Tuesday, I have a good sized group of “hookers” (that’s what we call ourselves – feel free to make jokes!) for open studio, during which I may work on my own pieces, teach, or tend to their shopping or other requirements. On other days I’m working on creating class offerings, which I teach in venues up and down the east coast, creating new designs, tending to my blog, newsletter, and website, fulfilling online orders for both finished pieces and rug hooking supplies, hand dyeing wool, writing hooked project articles for magazines when the opportunities arise, and generally tending to my business. It is usually late in the day and into the evening that I’m actually making, whether creating finished items for my own shop or for Beekman neighbors. Somewhere in there, I do eat, and I like to cook things grown on our own little homestead whenever possible.
How long is the process of making the product/piece?
This varies by size and complexity of the pattern. Some other variables include whether or not the piece requires me to hand dye the colors for it, the size of the wool strip or other materials being used, whether or not the piece has hand beading, and whether the interior of the pillow is my own homemade blend of buckwheat and essential oils, fresh Maine balsam, or a more typical stuffed interior. Having said that, the smallest of the Beekman 1802 pillows could be completed in one day if worked on nonstop. The larger ones would take closer to a week. Many of my students gasp at this because their process is longer, however, like all things, a bit more speed comes with a great deal of practice.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I wanted to be either an astronomer or an English teacher/writer. I guess I had both sides of my brain going back then!
If you weren’t doing what you currently are, what would you be doing?
I would be a writer, hands down. Fortunately, in my fiber art life I have been given the opportunity to do some writing and designing for craft journals. I also blog and have submitted a solid book proposal which is currently in review with a favorite publisher. Wish me luck!
If you are curious as to what the actual process of creating one of these pieces entail, read this previous post by Josh and Brent. See you all at Harvest Festival this weekend!