That’s what I learned the other day, when my mother was paging through Poetry to the Earth: The Arts & Crafts Movement in Deerfield, by Suzanne L. Flynt.
The richly illustrated book tells the story of how several handcrafters in the rural Massachusetts village of Deerfield played a significant part in the American Arts and Crafts movement. Inspired by the design reforms promoted by the Arts and Crafts movement in England, and encouraged by how home-produced crafts provided a new economic role for women, Margaret Whiting and Ellen Miller formed the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework in 1896. More women became motivated by the Colonial-era decorative objects that were a part of Deerfield’s history and the artistic, intellectual atmosphere that pervaded the community, which led to the founding of the Deerfield Society of Arts and Crafts in 1901 and the Society of Deerfield Industries in 1906. Before long, the baskets, rugs, furniture, pottery, metalwork, and other decorative objects that were made by hand in Deerfield were lauded internationally for their exceptional designs, workmanship, materials and colors. The women who created them revitalized Deerfield, transforming it from a picturesque agricultural village to a premier cultural destination.
Rachel Hawks (1887-1977) was one of those women. After graduating from North Adams Normal School (now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), she worked first as a dietician, then as a home economist. In 1921, she joined Deerfield Industries as an outlet for her true vocation — netting.
Netting is the craft of knotting loops of thread to make a mesh fabric used to decorate women’s clothing, accessories and household linens. Miss Hawks made netted edges for coverlets and curtains. She also created netted testers, or canopies, for the high-post beds that were such a part of the Colonial Revival.
The talented Miss Hawks gained a following. She and her craft were featured in “Deerfield Keeps a Truce with Time,” a June 1969 National Geographic article by Bart McDowell with photographs by Robert W. Madden. Museum curators at historic sites like Winterthur and Mount Vernon ordered her netted testers to furnish installations of period bed chambers. She worked on a netted tester for a field bed in the White House that Winterthur’s Henry Francis du Pont donated to the White House for Jacqueline Kennedy’s renovation project.
Miss Hawks also made ten-and-a-half yards of netted edging for my mother to sew on some curtains she made for my bedroom windows after we visited Historic Deerfield in the summer of 1973. Here’s the letter that Miss Hawks wrote to my mother when she sent the finished edging.
My mother made a scrapbook to help me remember our visit to Deerfield. When we pulled up to the Deerfield Inn, two kittens named Phoebe and Penelope met us at the car. With great trepidation that I still remember today, I took an up-close look at the eagle on the inn’s upstairs porch.…
We toured historic homes — including the Dwight-Barnard House, which I told my grandmother in a postcard I sent to her was my favorite — and we visited the old town well… In the museum at Memorial Hall, I saw an 18th-century rag doll named Bangwell Putt and bought a copy of her story to remind me of my nice visit to Deerfield. (I wrote more about Bangwell Putt and her book here.)
From Deerfield, we traveled to Boston, Cape Cod and Old Sturbridge Village. In Portland, Maine, we saw the flowering grapevine that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made famous in his 1841 poem, “The Rainy Day,” still clinging to the “mouldering wall” of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Next came Campobello Island, Camden and Bar Harbor, followed by the Equinox Mountain Sky Line Drive outside Manchester, Vermont.
Rachel Hawks’ netted edging may reappear on some new curtains at my bedroom windows.