Robert Oglander: Busy Every Day

Institute 193

215 North Limestone, Lexington, Kentucky 40507

Tuesday, May 7th
11:00am - 6:00pm EDT
Saturday, June 8th
11:00am - 6:00pm EDT

Robert Oglander was a merchant for many years, born into a family of clothiers in 1930. He entered his father’s business along with his three brothers, and would continue in the clothing trade for his working life. While Oglander always gravitated towards the creative elements of the business––trimming a window, designing a billboard, creating advertisements for the local newspaper––he never thought of himself as an artist.

In the early 1970s, on an antique-hunting trip to Dallas with his wife, he happened to see a woman latch-hooking a rug. Struck by the craft, he ordered a kit for himself to try, and subsequently embarked on a kind of self-imposed apprenticeship, spending years learning to hook using easily available kits from local craft stores, and later from the internet. He liked the focus required to follow the patterns with his stitching, and as he aged he found the demanding physicality of the hand work helped to stave off his arthritis. As he grew more comfortable with the process, his work became more ambitious, culminating in a giant oval rug, a gift for his mother-in-law, which was nearly eleven feet across and took over a year to finish. Nowadays, he latch-hooks every day, for several hours, at a table his family purchased specially for him to work at.

After years of learning to execute the manufactured patterns, with their pre-cut yarn, instructions, and picture of the intended final product, something within him transformed, seemingly overnight, and he began hooking outside the lines. Abandoning the orchids, rainbows, horses, and sunsets common to the manufacturers’ catalogs, Oglander simply turned the pattern over and began making his own designs. Neither his wife, nor his son remember any particular reason for the sudden shift. The closest to an explanation Oglander himself offers is that he simply had some extra yarn lying around that he wanted to use.

Oglander has now spent the last fifteen years continuing to create his own rugs, with an ever evolving complexity. In the twenty-four pieces exhibited here, his eye for color, composition, and texture is immediately clear, perhaps refined over his long career in the clothing industry. Equally evident is his skill with the latch-hook. In some pieces, he subtly varies the length of the fibers, or oscillates the density of their presence in the mesh backing. In others, he introduces pointillist bursts of color to disrupt or surround the dense, swirling geometries that form the backbone of most works. He’ll often search out vintage yarns from the hinterlands of the internet to achieve a particular effect. Some pieces suggest landscapes viewed from far above, with rivers or roads meandering through fields of greens and browns, while others are reminiscent of sacred runes or hieroglyphics, with an indeterminate but potent spiritual force. In all of them, a sense of joy in the process of creation and the uncovering of the new is palpable.