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University of Connecticut University Libraries


January 20 - March 6, 2009

Hooked rug by Lida Skilton Ives
Hooked rug by Lida Skilton Ives

An Accidental Artist: The Hooked Rugs of Lida Skilton Ives

Gallery on the Plaza, Homer Babbidge Library
Curators: Erika McNeil and Laura Smith

How does one define a life? What of our accomplishments will survive to tell future generations who we were? Lida Skilton Ives (1902-1988) was a prominent western Connecticut citizen of the mid-20th century: a mother, businesswoman, community historian, writer, Grange leader…and rugger. Prompted by the thrift-minded WPA era and inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, Lida eventually hooked a substantial but never fully documented number of rugs from the 1940s through the 1970s, using recycled woolens and simple burlap backing.

Unlike her other very public endeavors, of which she was unabashedly proud, Lida hooked constantly in the background, anonymously, never touting her now well recognized creative accomplishments. Unfortunately, and again indicative of how she viewed her artistic efforts, most of her pieces were never signed, adding to the mystery of this enigmatic woman.

Although Lida married a UConn alumnus and was the mother of four UConn graduates (and the grandmother or great-grandmother of three others), she never earned a college degree -- one of her life regrets. Ironically, she has finally made her UConn debut through her rugs.

The rugs on display are a sampling of more than 100 surviving pieces owned by family members from several states. A small collection is also housed at the Morris Connecticut Historical Society. The exhibit is dedicated to Lida’s daughter, Virginia, and to the memory of Lida’s son-in-law and Virginia’s husband, Dr. Jack E. Stephens, emeritus Professor of Engineering, University of Connecticut.

When you see Lida’s work, you be the judge, utilitarian or artist, or, perhaps to her surprise, both.

More images of the work of Lida Skilton Ives are available here.