Within the last four months Museum Textile Services has received four Grenfell Industries hooked mats for conservation. Made of silk and other fine fabrics hooked onto a burlap base, these mats can be circular or rectangular. They feature Arctic animals, depictions of indigenous and local people, and other picturesque scenes of life in Labrador and Newfoundland. These mats are not only wonderful textiles, but also speak volumes about the distinctive maritime culture of these northern provinces during the first half of the 20th century.
The economy of Newfoundland and Labrador has long been heavily dependent on the fishing industry. All of a family’s income traditionally came from money made by men during the fishing season. This money would have to last a family for an entire year, and by 1900 many families were living in poverty as it was becoming increasingly hard to live comfortably off this income. An Englishman named Wilfred Grenfell established hospitals and industrial missions at various small coastal villages where he and his employees taught local women to make different crafts to sell to the public in Canada and the United States. The craft of rug hooking from scraps of fabric had long been practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador by local women for domestic use, but beginning in 1912 Grenfell began capitalizing on the market potential of these mats.
Hooked mats made from stocking scraps became the mainstay of the Industrial starting in the mid 1920s. At that time, the Grenfell mission began soliciting donations of used silk stockings from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom with the slogan "When your stockings run, let them run to
Two of the mats we received are small circular "table mats" and feature a polar bear and a sled dog. These mats were intended to be used as pot holders or coasters and were popular products of Grenfell industries, where they were often hooked by young girls to introduce them to the craft of mat hooking.