Barnett A. Hook loved telling the story about how he discovered his talent for artistic needlework.
Hook, a Civil War veteran and retired horse trainer, was working in a stable when he realized his talent for the craft.
“…One day, just because I had nothing else better to do, I picked up a horse blanket belonging to a friend and told him I would embroider it for him. He laughingly told me to go ahead,” said Hook in an interview with the Columbus Press in 1898. “…As my ideas grew beneath my fingers, I was delighted, and when my work was finished I exhibited it with some pride. I had found something that I could do that won commendation.”
Although the veracity of the story has often been questioned, Hook nonetheless became one of Ohio’s most well-known names in the female-dominated industry.
“Hook was always hustling; he was always on the lookout for a new way to make money,” said Karmen Beecroft, digital projects librarian. “…He found new careers in female-dominated positions. He was a nurse; he was a caterer; he was a teacher; and he made, exhibited and taught his art of needlework.”
On Feb. 14 from 1 to 2:30 p.m., a hands-on pop-up exhibit and presentation in room 319 on the third floor of Alden Library highlights the success of Hook, a native of neighboring Vinton County. Along with the presentation and a discussion linking themes surfaced in Hook’s life and work to participants’ subjective experiences, attendees have the opportunity to make their own hand-sewn or drawn creations, said Beecroft, who added the event is free and open to the public. A couple of Hook’s designs from the Libraries’ collection of about 20 pieces of needlework will serve as examples.
Sherri Saines, subject librarian for the social sciences, said the hands-on activity serves as an introduction to needlework, and no prior experience is needed. Simple patterns of leaves and strawberries, modeled after intricate designs by Hook, will be available to guide those who try making creations. Participants are also welcome to sketch a design.
“[The activity] is definitely intended for anybody who wants to give needlework a try,” said Saines. “There will be people around who know how to do those things, if you want to learn from them.”
Beecroft and Saines said the presenters will use the Barnett Hook Collection, which was donated to the Libraries’ Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections in the 1970s and processed in the 1990s, to discuss themes of art, commerce and gender roles.
“We are expanding it just from these physical things,” said Saines. “There are a lot of interesting ways to think about the collection.”
Along with needlework pieces, the Mahn Center’s collection includes manuscripts, manuals and rare books.
Since last year, after a small exhibit of the Barnett Hook collection in Alden Library, Saines and other librarians suggested bringing the collection to conferences. Those suggestions led to Beecroft and colleagues photographing the collection, and the digitization served as the catalyst for the Valentine’s Day workshop, she said.
“Part of the digital projects’ workflow is we don’t just put stuff up and then hope people will come to us,” she said. “We do active promotion and make people aware. That’s why we are doing a workshop.”