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Next Exit History -- The Blair House Rug

By LIZ MURPHY Published: May 31, 2017 12:00 AM
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Just when I think I know a lot about Hudson and its history, I uncover another hidden treasure! A casual comment by Katie Coulton, owner of the Grey Colt, led me to the Blair House rug; my mention of the rug in my last column led Tom Vince to bring me an entire folder about its history and the hundreds of area residents who helped create it. Here is its fascinating story.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Jane Fitch of Hudson, owner of Robin Hill, Ltd., was commissioned to decorate one of the bedrooms in Blair House, the guest residence for the White House in Washington, D.C. While she designed and furnished the entire room using Ohio craftsmen, the rug took on a life of its own. Three Hudson women headed the team Jane Fitch, Anne Burnham and Dossie Tasker and hundreds of volunteers, not only in Hudson, but from all over Ohio and Michigan, worked on the project for more than two years. Anne Burnham designed the rug, which depicting a woodland scene with small creatures scattered amidst flowers against a pond and blue sky. Dossie Tasker oversaw the project from beginning to end, guiding the work and controlling the quality of the stitches. Priscilla Graham, who wrote the official history of the rug, transferred Mrs. Burnham's drawing into a grid and made six hand-drawn copies of each 18-inch square, all without any edge lines so they could be perfectly joined. Mrs. Graham had a special tracing table made to work on the project.

Sixty-four different squares were used for the rug, joined by a stitch that allowed each square to blend into the next with no interruption of pattern. Every Tuesday for over two years, volunteers would gather at the Burnham's home. Mrs. Graham's history states that "the dining room was given over to this project and a pot of stew was kept simmering in the kitchen to fortify the diligent workers." Sarah Burnham Malinowski remembers the excitement surrounding the creation of the rug. She wrote, "it was such a BIG deal for our family. There would be a group of women working around the kitchen table, looking, checking, comparing and stitching Sometimes I would tell mom I was sick and unable to go to school just so I could see what was going on."

John Rogers was Mayor of Hudson at this time, and according to his daughter, Rebecca, his wife felt he should get involved in this historic project. "Mother sent Dad to Dossie Tasker. She gave him the "test" needlepoint which was a little Anne Burnham angel. He worked the angel, passed the test, began as a "border" worker, the less challenging designs. By the end of the project he was finishing all the squares that had been turned back in from women who had lost interest or were not so skilled." An aside, but interesting look into the life of our former mayor - needlepoint became a part of Mayor Rogers life, and Rebecca says he would needlepoint during any meeting he didn't chair. She thinks the needlepoint made her father much more approachable - not quite so tall (6'-6"), not quite so handsome (very), generally not so intimidating.

The rug remained at Blair House for more than 20 years. In the early 1990s, Blair House was renovated, and all furnishings, including the rug, were put into storage. Upon the death of his wife in 1993, Mr. Brad Burnham campaigned to get the rug back to Hudson in her honor, and in 1994 the State Department decreed that it could be permanently loaned back to Hudson as long as it was hung in a place of honor and never walked upon. Today the rug, expected to last at least 200 years because of the care taken in its creation, hangs proudly in the entrance foyer to the John S. Knight Fine Arts Center at Western Reserve Academy.


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