A couple of months ago, I met Marian Sykes, a native of Chicago, who makes rugs that tell the stories about her life and her family. Using a process known as rug hooking, she recycles wool that she gets from unraveling garments that she buys at area thrift stores. An amazing and talented artist, she spends months producing a rug. Marian’s rugs are different from most of those produced at hooking guilds and clubs; Marian’s rugs tell stories of “happy times.” Some tell of her memories of visits to Little Italy, where her father lived, other rugs share humorous tales about a young single mother raising a family.
Marian was raised in the Angle Guardian Orphanage in Chicago, from the age of 3 years until she was fourteen, when she went to live with her father. She hated the institutional life of the orphanage, and lived for her father’s visits and the foods he would bring from Little Italy. She recalls, “It was like living in two worlds: one institutional; the other wild, free, and dirty…[Little Italy] was enjoyable.” Marian chooses not to depict the painful memories from her life in the orphanage, but rather fills her quiet creative days, illustrating the “happy times” with her family. Almost like the rosary of her youth, the time consuming construction of making rugs fills the quite times alone and squeezes out the harsh memories of the orphanage.
One of her rugs records the “Worst snowstorm in Chicago.” Twenty-six inches of snow fell, and for a week the kids were at home, and entertained themselves throwing snowballs and playing in the snow. Her story-rug collapses the week into one scene, which includes the big igloo her son made, her daughter selling snowballs to the other children (2 for 5¢), and building a snowman. In the background of the image are the “coldwater flats” where Marian and her children lived in Chicago. She marked the door to their home by hooking it with red wool. Click here to listen to listen to Marian’s story.