By Jennifer Deacon
Jessica Steponaitis might not have ended up as a successful rug hooker if she hadn't needed emergency surgery in 2002. "I was off work for 6 weeks, so a friend thought it was a good opportunity to teach me how to hook,” Steponaitis said in an interview. “I instantly loved it."
Steponaitis, who lives in Jeddore, describes herself as a contemporary folk artist, "taking an old craft but doing something new with it. The bright colours are not traditional but the method that I use is still the traditional rug hooking method."
"A lot of my clients would call it practical art. I make art for their home that is going to be used in a practical way, like a mat or a set of stair treads." One stair tread takes her twelve to fourteen hours and the "folky fish designs" are the most popular. She also does wall hangings.
Seponaitis draws inspiration from the "seashore, ocean, colourful fishing villages, everything you find in Nova Scotia. I am a very visual person, so I am constantly taking in little details that I like, or colour combinations, and filing them away for playing with later."
She started getting commissions after signing up for a shop on Etsy in 2008. “As an artist, it takes you so long to get yourself established and find your market. Social media has been awesome for that. I've made a set of stair treads for a lady in Australia. She found me on Etsy. One thing I do like about commissions is that each new person brings a new challenge."
The canoe project was a commission from Colin Gray, who had just inherited a canoe. He had a very specific photo he wanted recreated for his cabin. “Gray’s grandfather, Warren, was a hunting and fishing guide in Yarmouth County well into his eighties. Gray has many fond memories of paddling in the canoe with his Grandad.”
"With this sort of project it is definitely more of a challenge than with the more simplistic kind of folk art designs because I am really looking to capture the accuracy of the photo,” Steponaitis said. “It's like painting with wool. I transferred some reference points from the photo to the backing, did the colour planning, and did some custom dying to get the colours right. It was a special project unlike anything I’ve done before."
Steponaitis was featured in Rug Hooking Magazine in 2020. Her patterns are carried by Martina Lesar Hooked Rug Studio, and she has been invited to participate in the Nova Scotia Folk Art Festival in 2021. Her hooking can be found at the Eastern Shores Gallery and 1274 Hollis Gallery.