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.
Labrador." These mats were sold at shows throughout northeastern North America, with a special focus on New England. They were also sold to people who stopped at the mission while on leisure cruises. Grenfell hooked mats reached peak popularity in the 1930s, and began to wane with the advent of the Second World War. Beginning in 1940 all imports of mats to the United States were suspended. The reliance of local women on these mats for income declined further in 1949 when Newfoundland and Labrador’s confederation with Canada offered family allowances, pensions for the elderly and other government programs to mitigate poverty in the region.
One of the other mats recently received by MTS for conservation features an image of a dogsled team lead by a man. It is worked in silk dyed a variety of browns and greens, and is an important reminder that all of the mail and supplies that arrived at the Grenfell mission during the winter months came via dogsled.
The last of the mats is a rectangular "nursery mat" featuring a variety of images of life in Labrador such as fishing boats, nets, dogsleds, and a dock. Two figures are dressed in traditional clothing, with the female figure wearing sealskin boots, which was a piece of fashion common to Labrador but absent in Newfoundland. The first three mats were all cleaned with the use of a microvac and then wrapped in acid free tissue and packed in archival boxes. The last mat is currently on its way to MTS where it will receive the same treatment.