Hooked on nature

As one of only 20 “Maine Masters” named by Maine Fiber Arts, Martinsville artist Anne Cox is recognized for her unique and imaginative hooked rugs. Her life-long dialogue with nature is expressed in the richly textured patterns she designs. “I like how creating things in conversation with the natural world helps me see it better,” she explains, “and my quest is to always understand what I see in untouched, unspoiled, nature.” This quest began when she was a youngster in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

During the 1960s, Cox’s environmentally-conscious parents became leaders of a movement to prohibit the construction of a dam across the Eno River in North Carolina. They helped found an association that acquired much of the land along the river’s banks and established the Eno River State Park. Because of her parents’ involvement with the river, Cox spent her teen years canoeing and backpacking there while closely observing its natural beauty. This kindled in her a love of unspoiled nature and also a desire to draw her observations. So, she took up pen and ink and began detailed renderings of most anything she saw. But Cox also needed the challenge to “make things.” She constructed small houses from cardboard boxes and turned them into artfully designed villages with landscapes.

After high school, Cox enrolled in North Carolina State University’s School of Design in Raleigh, where she earned a B.E.D.A. (environmental design in architecture). She then applied for and won a fellowship to the University of Michigan, where she earned an M.L.A. in landscape architecture. But another interest soon developed that would lead her in a different direction.

During her graduate school years in Michigan, Cox attended an Episcopal Church that embraced progressive ideals about social justice. This motivated the young woman to become involved in the church’s outreach ministry to the homeless—and to begin thinking theologically about her environmental design studies. It was a “big eye opener,” she remembers. It was also during this period that Cox met Julie Wortman, who was to become her life partner.

After receiving her M.L. A., she decided to pursue theology more seriously. This led her to Union Seminary in Manhattan, where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. Homiletics was a favorite study for the way it fulfilled her desire to engage in a “conversation between history, theology and what’s happening in the world.” In 1988, she was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and served as interim rector at a parish in New Jersey. Eventually, Cox moved back to Michigan where she served as rector of a small progressive congregation in suburban Detroit.

After serving in the church for 10 years, Cox says she began to feel that her creativity was “getting squelched.” At the suggestion of Maria Marta Aris-Paul, a member of the then active Greenfire community on the Wallston Road in St. George, Cox and Wortman signed up for something Greenfire’s leaders called a “Work Vision” as a means of exploring what sort of changes they should make to achieve a more satisfying and fulfilling life. There, the couple realized they needed to find a place to live that they could love and not think of leaving. New England spoke to them and, although they considered several possible communities, St. George and the people they had met at Greenfire exerted a strong pull. In 1997 they bought an 1820s home in Martinsville which eventually became the center of a fine gardening and landscape design business they launched in 2003 called Hedgerow.

Cox, who when she first came to Maine had focused her artistic energy on making rustic fences and furniture, began hooking rugs in 2007. She had been introduced to the traditional medium during a trip to Nova Scotia the previous year. The possibility hooking offered for pairing fine art with utility was immediately appealing to her. “A couple of things draw me as I hook my rugs. One is that I want to pay attention to the natural world around me and to celebrate it. The other is that I want to create rugs that are rugs—for the floor—more than as hangings on a wall.”

The process of creating a rug is organic for Cox. To begin, she chooses a subject based upon her observations of the natural world. She develops a palette in her mind and dyes lengths of wool accordingly (she cuts the wool into thin strips by feeding it through a Bee-line Townsend cutter). She then draws a very loose concept sketch on a scrap of paper. After that she starts working on the linen backing of the rug (which she attaches to a free-standing hooking frame) using a Hartman hook, inch by inch. The details of each rug emerge as she works.

“I am making decisions every step of the way, not just at the beginning, when I draw out my basic idea. And I like how slow the process is,” Cox says. “As a result, I think the rugs are very different from the way I might paint or draw the same images. I like the surprises that come when a shape gets smushed and rearranged by the loops next to them. I like playing with color.”

Her latest rugs play with geometric borders that break into the interior theme of the rug. Sometimes, the borders become the entire design, transforming the image into a fantastic abstraction of nature.

“I am not sure what my style is. It is what I do, and I think I am continually evolving. I have a decent color sense, and a sense of proportion. Beyond that, what happens, happens.”
Cox’s rugs and paintings may be viewed at the Hedgerow Gallery in Martinsville. She has also shown her work at the Maine Fiber Arts Gallery in Topsham and at the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild Show in Burlington Vermont, where she has won many awards. Her work may be seen at www.hedgerowdesign.com. —Katharine Cartwright

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