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Hooked on Prudence

Nobody likes Jury Duty, but for Prudence Matthews, in 1992, it was life-changing.

“I knew we could not talk about the trial, so to start a conversation with the lady next to me, I asked what she did. She replied, “I teach rug hooking.”

Prudence could not believe her luck as she had always wanted to hook and suddenly there was a ready-and-able teacher. Unlike others in the class, Prudence did not follow purchased patterns – she created her own patterns, the first being a chair seat for the Fisher’s Landing Cottage.

Over the next twenty-five years, Prudence built up a reputation as an artist, an accomplished rug hooker and, most importantly, for capturing our St. Lawrence River history in her work. In 2006 Canton’s Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) (a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting, preserving, and promoting, the traditional folk arts and folklore of New York's North Country), featured her work in an exhibition to celebrate its 20th anniversary: Hooked on the River: Picture Rugs by Prudence Matthews. 

It was TAUNY’s founder,  Varick Chittenden, who encouraged TI Life to visit Prudence and present her work. Varick explained, “TAUNY has undertaken over the years to showcase the contributions of North County folk artists and the show "Hooked on the River", was a major and most successful effort.”

Another of Prudence’s great admirers is her husband Robert L. Matthews (Bob), who is an accomplished writer in his own right. This summer Bob’s second book, The Thousand Islands Yacht Club was published. Together they have collected hundreds of pieces of 1000 Islands memorabilia, some of which is now on loan and exhibited in the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. (TI Life will feature Robert Matthews and his passion for Thousand Islands collections in a later issue).

It was Bob who proudly showed Kim Lunman, our TI Life team member, and me around their cottage complex where we were constantly impressed and inspired by the wall hangings - each rug has its own story and most are bibliographic in nature.

Prudence has spent every summer on the river in Fisher’s Landing. Her grandfather Charles Riggs came to the River in 1901. She and Bob lived in Binghamton, three hours south, so weekends and holiday visits became a ritual. Prudence explained in the “Hooked on the River" series, that the river is in every rug – “serving as the window through which Prudence sense of place developed.”

We have taken the liberty of including some of the original text compiled and written by Jill Breit and members of TAUNY. We hope you enjoy this tour as much as we did. As Kim and I left Fisher’s Landing on our October visit, we understood perfectly why Bob Matthews and Varick Chittenden wanted us to meet Prudence. We quickly joined her fan club.

Searchlight Cruise by Kim Linman

Freeloader on the St. Lawrence” 1992, # 1 in the series.  26” x 48”.  This hooked rug hangs proudly in the Matthews cottage.  The whole living space provides material for Thousand Islands research. 

Prudence explains, “I love that little rug because one of the things I love about the cottage versus some other cottages is that we get to see the ships. They’re called Lakers because they go through the locks on the St. Lawrence and lots of the island you don’t get to see the shipping channel and that’s one of the things I love absolutely best about where we are.  It’s still a thrill”.  “I wanted  something fun.  I didn’t want to do something technical. I wanted the Lakers, but I wanted my interpretation of the Laker.  That’s what it is.  And the bird, I call Freeloader.  He’s hitching a ride to who knows where. The little blue bird.” [Photo by Kim Lunman]


Boldt’s Yacht House, 1995, #6 in series, 48” x 68”.  George Boldt's Yacht House is considered an architectural gem, visited regularly by groups of architecture students.  The doors are very tall to accommodate sailing yachts. 

 “I just love boats and I love the boat house.  I always have.  I used to drive around there as a child.  I can understand why people do study it.  I love the trees up there at the river because the winds from Lake Ontario come in the winter and blow and usually the trees are listing to one side.” [Photo by Kim Lunman]


“Rock Island Lighthouse”, 1993, # 3 in series, 39” x 43”. From the front porch of the Matthews' cottage one can see this landmark out in the water.  At one time, the light keeper and his son were friends of Prudence’s family.

“Around the edges there are three daylilies. In August that island is just profuse with daylilies and I like them.  Up in the left hand corer is a fish, that’s a river fish.   I made that for Charles [her son] because he loves fish.  I put a little boat in there just for the heck of it.  Like the Lakers, this means something to us because we look at it every day.” [Photo by Kim Lunman]

 Panasonic 091 Train station

“Train Station at Clayton New York, in the Gay 1990s”, 1996. # 8 in series, 48”x 72”.  Often Prudence includes portraits of family and friends in her rugs.  This historical scene is a good example of how she brings the past and present together in her work.

“People would come into the train station from new York and all over and a lot of them had their own Pullman, their own private cars.  They would get off the train and get on these boats to get to the islands. This was taken from a postcard. That became my inspiration, but I certainly put in my own [touches].   My daughter-in-law was expecting a child when I was hooking this rug. She thought it would be a boy, so I hooked a blue blanket of the baby in the rug.  Then the call came that I had a granddaughter: Out came the  blue and in went the pink.” 

Robert Matthews pointed out the drawings on the left, as it was the sketch that Prudence first made.  The detailed sketches on the drawing are outstanding.

Panasonic 104
Located in a room of its’ own is a charming dollhouse and Kim could not resist “moving a piece”. 

“Prudence took just as much care in furnishing this house as she does for the big cottage” says Bob.  Lying proudly on the floor are two Prudence Matthew’s hooked rugs.
Panasonic 099
Each work is signed P.R.M. – this close-up of the hooking, demonstrates the intricate shading effected by the hooking technique.

In 2006 National Public Radio interviewed Prudence.  The audio tape of the interview with Todd Moe about the exhibit at TAUNY is available here

By Susan W. Smith,


Posted in: Artists
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Liz Huff
Comment by: Liz Huff ( )
Left at: 9:12 AM Friday, October 16, 2009
What a pleasure to read this article and to see the beautiful rugs that so lovingly depict a slice of our experiences of the wonderful St. Lawrence. It is amazing how many artists, and rug hookers, we have on both sides of the river...we need to find a way to celebrate our 'international' creative bonds!
Carolyn McCarney
Comment by: Carolyn McCarney ( )
Left at: 2:14 PM Friday, October 16, 2009
What a wonderful article, evoking such memories for me. You see my Grandmother was also hooked on the River.

My Grandmother, Helen/Sunny Lewis (ne Stevens) grew up coming to Wyoming Island with her parents and loved it so very much. Shortly after she married my Grandfather Edward, they bought Belabourer Island and that is where I was introduced both to the beautiful River and the wonderful world of rug hooking.

Some of my favorite memories as a girl are of early mornings, rising early to help in the in the kitchen, dying, cutting and later hooking in what we called our camp, on the Island.
The smell of simmering dye pots, sumac, acorn, flowers. The wool of my Grandfathers old wool suits swirling in the dyes until they were just the right color. How Gram knew they would be perfect was a mystery to me. She taught me how to dye the wool, use the cutting machine and map out a design. I remember my very fist burlap covered brick. My very own hooked doorstop!

She spent as much time as she and Ed could on the River. Grandmotherly things were her specialty for all of us. Her own free time was spent down under the pines though, on any given afternoon watching us swim and getting lost in her next big project.

She was such a little person and some of the rugs were quite large. I am still amazed that she could make such wonderful treasures, all variations of hues, textures and light. I shared her passion for all things home crafted to this day and I was lucky enough to have her pass on her equipment. Some of her rugs, etc., are still being used and appreciated and my Sister Dianne was kind enough to send along her picture of my Grandmother, along with her happy memories.

After reading your article I got one of the books from the early 50’s down from the shelf and reread my Grandmother’s signed copy of The Lore and Lure of Hooked Rugs by Pearl K McGoon. Pearl too was an avid teacher of the craft and was instrumental in bringing the craft to the masses. In the old days, the craft had a real mystery to it, very little was shared. Rugs were planned months ahead of their start and often were scheduled to be completed over a year’s time. Each stitch and line a part of that woman’s life. Now, thanks to people like you, so many people can delight in your very special way of self expression, made all the more delightful for those of us always hungry for all things “River”.

I am sending a picture of my Grandmother "hooking" via the emal for you to enjoy.

I can’t thank you enough. Carolyn McCarney

Rosanne Withington
Comment by: Rosanne Withington ( )
Left at: 9:31 PM Sunday, October 18, 2009
Fascinating article about a fascinating person and her work. One small editorial comment; the flags hooked into the rugs look to me like PRM not PEM as mentioned in the text. (Only a fellow River-nut would notice!) Dick Withington
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 10:09 PM Sunday, October 18, 2009
Yes, Dick. You are RIGHT. It is PRM. Thanks for this, it is appreciated! Susan.
Sheri Bell
Comment by: Sheri Bell ( )
Left at: 4:36 PM Sunday, January 31, 2010
This is a great article about one very talented lady.
Sharon reynolds
Comment by: Sharon reynolds ( )
Left at: 8:58 PM Thursday, November 22, 2012
I watched the show on television about Prudence Matthews and she does beautiful work. I have been collecting wool to try to start rughooking. She has inspired me to get started. I just wish I had someone like her to help me out!!