The great part about rug school is the people. I loved the catch-up and making new friends, hearing their stories and seeing the fabulous displays. Walking from class to class to view the talent in each masterpiece always boggled the mind. I have clear and distinct memories of certain projects that I've gushed over and I wonder where they are now, what they look like finished.
The laughter; always so much laughter, the pure joy that radiated from each room spreading out into the halls like liquid sunshine. The talented teachers coaxing out the artist in their students, sometimes taking them outside their comforts zones and maybe a bit out of the box. Even when it rained the energy buzzed like bees in a daisy field. I'll always remember the people and that is the one thing that makes me sad every year at this time. Missing Joan Stevenson's humour and Rita's Jenkin's jokes, Vicki Graham and Susie Stevenson's foot massages, Anne Rankin's stories and just an overall camaraderie. The comfort of hooking sisters, sharing the passion that brings us together for that special five days in May.
My first experience with rug school was as a student in the dye class and after that I went as a vendor. That keeps you busy during the daytime and then at night, you play, or at least try too. The first year there I was the youngest in a crowd of an average age of 68 and found out pretty quickly everything stopped at 8:30 pm. Most were in bed or hanging out in their rooms in jammies, maybe partaking in a little glass of wine for circulation purposes...you know, medicinal reasons. Being a night person I wanted to rock and roll, geez maybe just have a conversation with someone, but I ended up watching TV all by my lonesome in a creepy basement.
One year there was hope. After dinner we all gathered in the large banquet room and the piano was wheeled out for a little sing song. I was first in line for a bit of action, loving to sing and belt out the golden oldies. Well, I was there singing my little heart out when it got a bit quiet behind me so I turned around and the room was empty, just me and the piano player, and realizing the audience had left, so did she in mid tune. Once again I was standing alone thinking someone ought to put a little something in the food to liven the place up a bit, just enough to go until 9:30?
The following year, things were a bit wild. Not only did the crowd manage to stay up until 9:00, at one point I saw one of the teachers swill wine out of a mop bucket. I had a picture somewhere but maybe that's like kissing and telling....although I don't seem to have a problem with that. Lucky for the 80 plus year old teacher I couldn't locate it. Now before you get grossed out the bucket was brand new! I thought great, that's what I'm talkin about, a lively crowd for once! But, I think the convulsive laughter sent them all scurrying to the toilet if they hadn't already unloaded in their depends. Once out of the room they collectively decided to call it a night. Now don't be annoyed...I'm only exaggerating and having fun...I don't think they had depends back then.......:)
After that I noticed school was changing. A younger crowd was beginning to catch on to the magic of rug hooking and enrollment offered new possibilities for some fun. Being a shop owner I get to meet everyone pretty quickly as they check out your store so I could tell this might be a better year, surely one of these gals would stay up and watch a bit of TV with me or shoot the breeze. I lucked out. It appears Susan Leslie and Susie Stevensons knew how to par-taa, and someday I might tell the tale of the after hours fun we had...getting lost on campas and trying to find our way back to our dorms. I'd smelled a wine cork so was a blubbering idiot. It didn't take much for me to be a floor licker in those days, not that it's improved much since. I'm still working on the tolerance factor...by the time I'm eighty I should be able to hold a full glass of wine without dancing on a table. I don't remember a whole lot about the evening but every now and then a shard breaks through but I do remember it beat sitting in the creepy basement.
Over the years I've seen a lot of rug schools and maybe my take on them is a bit different than a student or a teacher. I decided once Cornwallis closed and rug school was now only in Truro that I would hang up my vendor apron. The tall and the short of it is the Guild's rules make it impossible for me to attend school to sell my wares. The Agricultural College administration doesn't want the vendors there because we are for profit and over the years we were stuck in some pretty dank, poorly lit areas. One year it was the gym with dozens of basketballs bouncing endlessly from 10 am to 4 pm. Talk about bonkers, that's when a drink would have come in handy! You literally couldn't hear the customers speak or ask a question without shouting. They stuck us so far away from the classrooms that it was a brutal expedition, especially for those with walking problems and canes. To get to the shops one older woman actually slipped in the rain and broke her ankle on the trek across compass. And on top of that, the lighting was so dull with a sickening orange glow, people had to go outside to see the actual colour of the wool they might want to buy. That was a bad, bad year for business, went so far in the hole I hemorrhaged red.
Other times we were in the basement, a dank hole that made my face burn and my fingers swell. Must and mold are not my favorite scents. Then at times two vendors were stuck in the same room together. This was before my time but I heard all about it from a friend who had a shop. She got into some real cat fights with people and left bad blood splattered all over the walls. She was her own worst enemy and caused most of the dissension but it just proves that bunking up vendors is a bad idea. And people would take things from one vendors table, walk around and then take it to the other vendor to buy. It was a bit crazy at times. And then vying for space was a deal breaker. One taking more than they should while someone else felt cheated. Yup....not chicken soup for the soul by any means. (I'm using one disgruntled person as a reference who no longer is in the business but filled my ears to the brim with the unfairness of school....I don't speak for everyone so please don't holler at me.)
One of my biggest problems with the Truro school is the bathroom facilities. You have to leave your warm, albeit uncomfortable bed, (I don't know what they are like now but back then the beds consisted of a thin piece of foam over a hard wood frame, nasty on the bones if sleep even ventured near) to traipse down the hall and god forbid if two in the morning the door locks behind you and you've forgotten your key. The doors swung quick and hard, not enough time to collect your sleepy thoughts to remember to take your keys, but you awaken quickly as the door slams your butt on the way out.....nice. I only did it once but it left a lasting impression.
The showers were communal with only a sheet between you and the next wet body. I'm a prude...don't like to be naked in public and there was no place to hide behind to change. Please don't tell me I've got the same stuff as any other woman, it's my stuff and I don't like strutting it! You had to strip in the open area, hang up your clothes and then dash behind the curtain or take your stuff in with you and try to keep if from getting a shower as well and good luck with that! And I don't mind rubbing elbows with the hooking fold but not literally while having a shower! Not a great life....camping in substandard conditions is for the youth who venture into the woods......I'm over having hardships. I like my modern convenience. And the rooms were too dingy to even hook in them...I have no clue how the students studied in that college, unless they took the good light bulbs with them.
When the school was held at the Cornwallis Convention Center it was a cake walk. Toilets and a shower in your room was worth an extra $100 or more. The rooms felt clean and bright and the beds were comfortable. The food was better too and the people were so friendly to the vendors we felt as if we belonged. Once that facility closed it was curtains for me and I'll tell you why. If you don't like to hear complaining I suggest you grab your coffee and head back to your hooking!
People ask me all the time why I don't go to rug school anymore and besides the crummy bedsit dormitory and crappy vendor spaces I have a few insights that I would like to share. It isn't like I'm talking behind the Guild's back, because, in the past, I've addressed these concerns with them. A few of the shops agree but no one wants to complain, I had nothing to loose so I grabbed the torch and ran with it. I want it stated that I would be perfectly happy to take my shop to rug school, anytime, anywhere, but I would insist on some changes first. I've always worked hard for schools, prepped by dyeing wool for months and designed patterns and filled my space with hooking delights. I worked my butt off to be the best I could be and took everything in the shop to make it worthwhile to the students. I thought I was an important asset to the success of the school but apparently, not so much.
As long as I was ignorant of certain facts I was willing to go for PR because school was never a money making proposition. If you take into account the vendor fee, room and board, meals, rental of a vehicle, gas, insurance, labour to pack up and deliver, then pack up and bring home, all the gifts requested for handouts and all the incidentals it came to a couple thousand dollars. Now some tell me that I do this because I love it and shouldn't worry about making money but hey....I'm a registered business with bills to pay, employees who don't work for nothing and overhead up the yin yang. Also, while I'm at rug school peddling my wares there is little to buy in the shop so there is all that lost revenue as well. As long as I was not privy to all the facts I sucked it up and hauled my shop around and did what I thought I had to do for the success of the school, but then a little birdie told me something that changed my entire outlook.
In a nutshell, I found out the teachers were reimbursed for travel expenses, didn't have to pay for accommodations or meals, got paid to teach plus were allowed to bring product to sell. I was shocked and full of disbelief for a bit and then asked around to verify the facts. I felt a bit sick to my stomach when it was confirmed.
The meaning of the word vendor is any person or company that sells goods or services to someone else. Somehow there remains this grey area that separates the vendor, who is perceived a profit monger while the coveted teacher gets propped on a pedestal. The Agricultural college school shuns the shops, didn't want us on their doorstep because we were for profit but somehow overlooked the fact that the teachers were also profit making enterprises. One Guild representative said they have a hard time getting the school to accept the vendors at all, and probably the reason for the shabby spaces we are given to set up and sell and the reason for the fees that keep going up each year, now standing at $500.00. Note: Never in these words do I want anyone thinking that I have a problem with teachers, that is not my point and I hope that is clear!
I have been told, why should we care, we're making money, so what if we have to pay and pay and pay, but in the all the years I attended rug school only one was a break even and the others were all losses. You have to make a Brinks load of money to break even or ring up a profit after the heady expenses are subtracted off. I'm sure only people in retail will understand as most think we make a haul and laugh all the way to the bank...I've been told this so often it's now almost funny. So where is the incentive to go? So much work for no reward other than a good time in the evening. It just poor business sense, and I am certain if all the teachers were treated with the same set of rules, there would be no school.
So this year I noticed an SOS in the Guild newsletter for vendors to step up to the plate but at $500.00 for a room there was no chance in heck that I would go. I considered writing a letter saying that I would attend if the fee was dropped and I would still be willing to eat the expense of accommodations and meals, but after a previous years "chat" I was turned down and the things I discussed were ignored so I figured I would be wasting my time. A letter was sent out shortly after with 15 or 17 conditions necessary to attend school as a vendor and all it did was make it more work to go. I might as well have saved my breath. The message taken? My shop as well as the others, weren't deemed an important asset to the Nova Scotia Guild Rug School.
So that's my rant. I guess I won't be Miss Popularity by being frank but I'll take that chance. Before I knew the facts, I used to think the shops were just as important as the teachers, offering a service to the overall success and benefit of the school, bloody foolish girl that I was...........
P. S. One thing I forgot to add....I found out that the shops were actually charged more for their room and meals, I believe it was around $100.00. When I went to pay my bill at Cornwallis the clerk told me that I had a different rate than the students because the guild subsidized them to keep their costs down. I asked why it did not apply to me, considering I am a guild member, but apparently my vendor status meant no Guild perks.