Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Art of the Lacemaker: Exhibition at the Guelph Civic Museum

The Ruhland Collection: For the Love of Lace

"Lace is an art form ... very precise and delicate. It takes years for a craftsman to perfect ... and just as many years to learn and appreciate his work." Margaret Ruhland, Ottawa Citizen, 1988

An Exhibition of Lace is a rare event. Come to think about it, I have never seen one but this omission in my life has been corrected. Currently, there is an amazing exhibition of lace at the Guelph Civic Museum and it is well worth a visit.

Margaret Ruhland started collecting lace in 1978. My concept of lace is a stained, damaged and torn remnant of a bygone age. This collection is none of these. The lace is crisp and clean and has been carefully selected and stored under conservation standards. The variety and quantity is amazing.

Margaret and occasionally, her friend, Joyce Taylor Dawson, made trips to Europe looking for and acquiring lace of the highest quality they could find. Margaret died last year and this exhibition is in her memory. It has been curated and mounted by Joyce.

Here is an example of what you will see: Gros Point de Venise - ca. 1640 - Italian. This is a noble lace made for a noble person. It is Needle Lace made with gossamer fine flax, unusually high cordonnets and a variety of filling stitches. The picots are unusual for that period. Look at how many of them there are in this small detail and how even they are in size. The collar, despite its age, is in perfect condition as is all the lace in the exhibition.

You will see Needle Lace and pulled thread work. In our Guild, this is one of the favourite classes we offer so we have a number of knowledgable members. It is good for us to see the history of this skill and we are arranging a group visit during October.

Bobbin Lace is a more complex and rare skill, beautiful Bobbin Lace that could have been worn by royalty. It is complicated and time consuming to create and thus has always been expensive. It could only be afforded by people of wealth and was one of the ways in which they displayed their wealth.

Above is a Venetian Point Bobbin Lace Collar, Italian, made in the second half of the 19th century together with a detail of the same.

In the middle of the 19th century, a lace making machine was developed. It was the time of the Industrial Revolution and machines were invented to produce many textile items. Lace became more affordable and the less wealthy were able to purchase collars, cuffs and edgings by the yard. The hand made laces remained affordable by the wealthy only.

This is a piece of Handmachine lace. Point de Venise Fragment - ca 1890. It is just as beautiful as its earlier, handmade counterparts.

Lace tools are on view as well. And, in a special added feature of the exhibition, there are a few pieces of modern lace by contemporary Canadian lace makers, some made with a metal thread.

Magnifying glasses are provided so that you can really see the detail.

This is a large exhibit. There are drawers full of lace, framed pieces on the wall, towers of lace and reproductions of famous paintings of famous people displaying their lace. There is a lot to see.

The photographs, taken by Margaret and Audrey Ruhland are from the catalogue
For the Love of Lace (ISBN 978-0-9918365-0-5) as is the quote at the start of this blog entry.

The catalogue can be purchased at the Guelph Civic Museum or ordered directly from Audrey Ruhland at

I hope that you will be able to visit. The museum is in downtown Guelph at 52 Norfolk Street, adjacent to the Church of Our Lady, a prominent landmark. The museum is open daily from 1 pm to 5 pm but there are occasional variations so check first. The museum phone number is 519-836-1221. Group visits can be arranged. The exhibit closes on November 2, 2014.

Guelph is one hour west of Toronto, within easy reach of most of southern Ontario and border cities such as Buffalo

You have not heard anything from me lately as my time has been spent working on my book. It is on Hand stitching recognizable Summer Flowers and should be available soon.

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