January 2015: Betty Reece

Decorative painting on tray, by Betty Reece

Featured Artist: Betty Reece

Last updated: January 1, 2015

Betty Reece with her award-winning hooked rug, Mountains
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We’ve been seeing a number of exhibits lately by multi-media artists.  In the past year Pasqua Warstler, Judy Merrill-Smith and Judy Colein have all exhibited in Alberta House.  Heidi Finley has been exhibiting and giving workshops in marbling, and this fall had a painting exhibit in LSSU’s Arts Center.  Almost all the rug hookers were already known for work in other art mediums prior to hooking.  One of the rug hookers, a multi-media artist you may not already know about, is Betty Reece, of Sault, Ontario.

Betty’s daughter, Karen Reece, who lives in Colorado, makes lampwork bead jewelry and has been in the arts festival for the past four years.  Because she stayed with her mother in Sault, Ontario, we invited Karen to store her festival work in Alberta House so the jewelry wouldn’t have to be taken through customs twice.  In the process we became better acquainted with Karen than with artists we see only at the festival.  Betty came to the festival with her daughter and stopped by the SAAC booth to introduce herself.  While at the festival, Betty learned about the Group of Seven rug hookers and subsequently joined the group. 

In 2012, Betty donated a number of items to the arts auction.  We were amazed at the variety.  In addition to two framed rug hooked pieces, she donated a painted tray, a lazy susan decorated with Norwegian rosemaling, a hand painted tin plate and a hand painted china plate.  In May of 2013 she really got our attention when her  hooked rug won the Joan Muckelbauer Memorial Award at the Group of Seven exhibit.  The award was given by the Artists Guild and the Artists Guild committee which judged the exhibit, cited her “very good design and a unique assortment of rug hooking styles” in explaining its choice.  The one-hundred-dollar award came with a special certificate made by Gene Usimaki.

Reece’s award winning work, titled “Mountains” is shown below.  Note the remarkable relief and perspective she was able to depict through subtle color changes, a wide variety of textures and stitches and the way she worked past the edges of the work in places and cut into it in others to add further definition.

Mountains, an award-winning hooked rug by Betty Reece
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When we talked to her, we learned that Betty was no novice at rug hooking and that she is skilled in a variety of needle arts as well as in other crafts and painting.  Betty grew up in a family of crafters, so she was exposed to many facets of needlework and folk art from childhood.  Her grandmother hooked rugs, her mother knitted, and all her great-aunts kept busy knitting, sewing, embroidering, tailoring, quilting, needlepointing, smocking, and crocheting.   As a young adult she had no time for crafts other than making her own clothes and the pace increased with marriage and three children, but in 1971, she saw a rug hooking class advertised at her local community center and, remembering the rugs her grandmother made, she signed up.  After that she was “hooked”.

Her first instructor, Prinnie Fraser, was also a neighbor.  Betty says, “Prinnie believed that your first work should be of your own design, not from a printed canvas.  Prinnie’s first project for the class was to design a canvas, but it could only include leaves.  Her instruction progressed to hooking flowers (lilies, poppies, daisies and pansies).”   Betty, who was more interested in making a rya rug, was going to quit the class, but Prinnie told her that if she didn’t complete the flower project, she would never learn to shade, so Betty went back to class—and never looked back.

In her first rug hooking class, Betty met Marie Bresch, a neighbor who was also a first-time hooker.  Although Marie moved back to the U. S. in 1973, both women  attended Association of Traditional Hooking Artists conferences in Oregon, Michigan, New England, Montana, and Indiana. 

Betty went on to take courses from many instructors, both in Canada and the United States.  She  learned how to dye her own swatches and, never doing anything in a small way, set up a business dyeing swatches for all the hooking classes in Ottawa.  (Since she didn’t believe in rubber gloves, her hands were always dyed, too.)  She joined the Old Forge hooking group in Ottawa and shortly after, joined the Ontario Hooking Craft Guild.  In the years that followed she curated rug-hooking shows at Ottawa City Hall and at the National Arts Center, where over 1000 pieces were exhibited.  She took every opportunity to hook at rug hooking camps and conferences across Canada and the United States.  She worked for several years on the organizing committee for the Trent University Rug Hooking Camp and, in 1978, was its keynote speaker.

In 1985, ready for a change, she took a class in tole painting and discovered that all the shading she had learned during her rug-hooking days paid off.  Barreling full tilt into this new craft, Betty joined the Ottawa Decorative Artists and, in Phoenix, Arizona, the Cactus Wrens.  She traveled to many conventions across Canada and the United States and, for five years, ran the annual Ottawa Decorative Artists show.  She has work in a local art gallery in Calabogie, Ontario.   Inspiration for many of her pieces came from rug hooking and from her garden.

In the 2014 Sault Summer Arts Festival Betty and Karen Reece shared a booth and Betty surprised us with another example of her creativity—ruffled scarves (shown below).  In her application she described them as “handmade knit scarves” and added, “I like to use unusual yarns.  I incorporate ribbon, sheer fabric, and lace with the yarn.”  She billed herself as “Busy Betty”, an apt description if there ever was one!  Karen and Betty’s booth won the award for “Best Display”.

Ruffled scarves by Betty Reece
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To sum up:  Betty is an expert at giving old, well established crafts, new and innovative twists that incorporate her wide-ranging skills in the rudiments of the craft itself.  When she takes up a new craft, she brings to it the skills learned in other crafts, and she pursues it enthusiastically, joining with others in local, national and international organizations, curating shows, organizing committees and speaking at conferences.  She doesn’t describe herself as a perfectionist, but one can hang her hooked rug on a wall, look at it every day, and never see a misplaced stitch.  Instead, every glance reveals a different technique, a subtle texturing, something new to admire and appreciate—which in a way, describes the lady herself.  In her eighties, she is busy, active, innovative, social, and incredibly energetic—both a role model and an object of admiration.

More Works by Betty Reece

Sculptured Jacobean rug

Hooked rug

Russian-style acrylic painting
on wooden plate

Norwegian rosemaling
on wooden plate

Painting on tin plate

Decorative painting on tray


Two hooked still lifes


Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: saac@saultarts.org Phone: (906) 635-1312