Presidential exhibit hooks viewers with fabrics, facts

Staff Writer

 Chester A. Arthur Chester A. Arthur A nyone wondering which U.S. president had the first telephone in the White House or the first Christmas tree could answer those and many more questions during an exhibit at the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge this month.

Sisters Nola Heidbreder of Missouri and Linda Pietz of California have created “Hooked on the Presidents,” a fiber-art installation comprising 44 hook rugs that depict images of the nation’s presidents and offer little-known “fun facts.”

Both teachers of fiber arts, the sisters were inspired by Pietz’s students to create the project together.

“My sister’s students in California knitted all of the presidents during the election year in 2012,” Heidbreder said. “Because the dolls were going to go to Sauder Village — a living-history village in Ohio — in August 2013, we thought that it would be fun if we hooked all of the presidents to go along with the dolls.”

 Warren G. Harding Warren G. Harding In August 2012, Pietz began designing hook rugs of the presidents, and Heidbreder then started hooking them. She finished in time for the rugs to be displayed last August during the annual Rug Hooking Week at Sauder Village.

“We wanted to include fun facts about the presidents to educate people that they were not only the leaders of our country, but they were people just like you and me,” Heidbreder said. “They had pets and they had likes and dislikes — as far as food and things — that they were kind of known for.”

The sisters also put together a book that contains the pattern for each president, fun facts, hooking techniques and acid-dye recipes. The book will be available during the exhibit.

“Traditional rug hooking uses wool fabric that you cut into strips, and because I had all these different flesh tones, I had to invent dye recipes for all the different flesh colors,” Heidbreder said. Each hook rug contains items that help to identify some of the facts about the president depicted.

 Theodore Roosevelt Theodore Roosevelt Some of the sisters’ favorites are Chester A. Arthur, Warren G. Harding and Ronald Reagan, according to Heidbreder. Since Arthur had his friend, artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, redecorate the White House, the rug includes a Tiffany lamp, as well as an image of the Washington Monument, which was dedicated during Arthur’s presidency. Heidbreder used gray yarn to depict Arthur’s big mutton chops. “Warren G. Harding was kind of a bad boy of his time,” Heidbreder said. “He was quite the drinker, so we had a bottle of whiskey in there, and he had an

Airedale [terrier], so there’s an Airedale in there. And he loved to play cards, so he was quite the gambler.”

The Ronald Reagan rug has a colorful pattern because his favorite food was jellybeans, and a jar of jellybeans is worked into the piece.

The hook rug exhibit has been transported around the U.S. for the public to view. The sisters hope that a museum or person will be interested in acquiring the rugs for a year-round exhibit.

“We think presenting fun facts is educational, and it’s fun to know these things about the presidents that they don’t teach in school,” Heidbreder said.

“Hooked on the Presidents” can be viewed through Feb. 27 at the Barron Arts Center, 582 Rahway Ave. The exhibit is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.

For exhibit information and to book a group viewing, call 732-634-0413. For more information on the exhibit, visit