Fiber artist Joan Blasko is hooked on wool rugs

The art that Joan Blasko hooks with her hands serves multiple purposes: practical, artistic and metaphorical. Inspired by the sprawling fields, meadows, mountains and streams that surround the Centre Region, Blasko’s wool hangings are products of her environment, in a literal and figurative sense.

Currently showing at the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County, “Wool Hangings by Joan Blasko” is an exhibition that takes an imaginative stroll through Centre County via the detailed and ornate hooked rugs she has been crafting for the past decade. An expert intent on using any and everything to hone her incomparable craft, the former professor, who earned a BFA and MFA in Art from Penn State, approaches her rug hooking with a style and work ethic all her own.

“I learned to sew when I was 6 and I made all of my own clothes when I was a teenager, so I love different materials, but wool is just so wonderful,” Blasko said, “The colors can be so subtle, or they can be evolved, and I just like the idea that it’s so simple. You have a hook and you have a piece of burlap and once you cut the wool into strips, that’s it.”

Despite Blasko’s claims of simplicity, rug hooking is still an intricate and time-consuming process that requires patience. While it may seem frustrating at first, the process provides an almost Zen-like calm to the artist, which Blasko said she experiences through the act of weaving and the scenery of State College.

“Most of my work relates to the outdoors and I make all of my own designs. When it’s a fine day here in State College, the sun and the colors are brilliant and it’s really special,” Blasko said. “But then someone introduced me to the idea of the ‘gray days’ and the subtly of grays and how those colors can actually be more special. My designs are more about everyday life.”

“Joan's hooked rugs have the aesthetic of a fine artist and the awareness of someone who consciously embraces the naïve in art as well as the forms of the abstract expressionist,” said Bellefonte-based artist Nancy Brassington. “When you attend her exhibition you will see beautiful hooked rug hangings, like textural dimensional paintings hanging on the walls of the gallery.”

What is perhaps most fascinating about Blasko‘s process is that the majority of the material she uses to have been recycled or donated to her. These findings literally allow her to craft trash into treasure.

“I get a lot of my wool from the clothing at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and from the State College Women’s Club, like slacks, skirts and tweeds from men’s jackets. I bring that home, wash it and cut it apart into strips with a special hand-driven machine,” Blasko said. “Many people use a much finer cut of the wool, whereas mine is more of a provincial aspect of rug hooking.”

Having received an honorable mention from Celebration: The Rug Hooking Magazine two years ago for an original design, Blasko’s exhibition details a cluster of her work highlighting her past 10 years as a rug-hooking artist.

“In the exhibition I have an actual frame with a piece that’s not finished and is in progress,” Blasko said. “I also have the picture that I used for that piece to show the source for that particular piece so people can see how I do the work.”

Initially used to provide warmth in Scandinavian countries, hooked rugs eventually evolved from a practical, domestic purpose to a more creative and imaginative artistic medium, a medium that is still soul-warming.

“In the beginning, people were making actual rugs in their kitchens with a wood stove, using their old clothes, and these rugs were made by the wives of sailors who were always away,” Blasko said. “Since then, it’s gotten very popular, evolved into an art and now it’s all over the world.”