May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Possibly Otisfield, Maine

c. 1840

Wool appliqué, gauze, and embroidery on wool

29 x 53"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.49

Photo by Stephen Donelian

Pictorial Table Rug

The religious foundation on which America rested was never far from the surface. Even this table rug concisely illustrates the strong connection between church and home as the pillars of an orderly society. These two centers of community life are visually linked by the white picket fence. A willow tree stands beside the church, a reminder that before the advent of the cemetery movement, burial grounds were often located near houses of worship. An oak tree prominently situated in the center of the rug is symbolically associated with strength and fertility.

In America the term rug has variously referred to a table cover, an early type of warm bedcover, and a woven or knotted floor cover. By the early nineteenth century, a new type of rug was in vogue. Although referred to as table rugs, they were probably intended for placement in front of the hearth to protect floors or expensive carpets from soot and flying cinders. This table rug is thought to depict the very home in Otisfield, Maine, in which it was made and used.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Pictorial Table Rug,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.