Bonnie Montgomery is a master weaver. Perhaps not a weaver as you’d imagine with exotic threads, but an experimenter, an adapter, who for years has taken the concept of rag rugs to new levels. She says her rugs are influenced by the Asian technique of ikat, which uses pre-dyed thread to create designs. As with the itak technique, the colors of the fabrics create the designs of her pieces.
After receiving an MFA in textile crafts from the University of Georgia, a friend shared a technique that became her creative turning point. This friend showed Bonnie how to sew fabrics together into a tube that could later be cut into strips for weaving. She used up all the fabric she had in the house. She then began tearing apart clothes before discovering she could buy material at yard sales. The discards of others became her palette of colors.
For 40 years, Bonnie has spent her Saturdays scoping out yard sales for fabrics, simple and exotic. She has an eye for unique designs and colors that she weaves into totally unexpected patterns. The rectangular beauties can stretch as long as 12 feet or as wide as 45 inches. Her pieces can adorn a wall, a floor, a table or become tote bags or placemats. Each creation is hand numbered and catalogued.
“I love taking little things to make a big design,” Bonnie explains. Her designs are either sketched out on graph paper or visualized strip by strip. Once perfected, she plays with the design, substituting shapes and colors for the next creative effort. “Each time I approach a rug, it is unique. Each one is different from the next,” she says.
Bonnie’s creations are sold in high-end craft stores throughout Georgia, North Carolina and New York. Locally, her products are available at Genuine Georgia in Greensboro, Chappelle Gallery in Watkinsville, and Lyndon House in Athens. They have been used as wall hangings and washable floor coverings from Lake Oconee to as far away as Australia. Commissioned pieces mix just the right colors to enhance specific spaces.
Lulu Mullervy has had Montgomery custom design rugs since she first moved to the area seven years ago. Bonnie’s creations have complemented a Cath Kidston cowboy-themed bedroom for her grandson in Houston and were also custom made for the guest bedroom in a modern-styled apartment in the same city.
“I like the fact that Bonnie can do custom designs and bring in just the right colors. For example, she can do stripes, or something busier such as chevrons,” she says. “We are going to be adding a pool house, and I am sure we will have Bonnie create rugs for us there.”
As the number of Bonnie’s weavings counted into the 900’s, her life changed. Her husband, Walker, died unexpectedly in 2015 of complications from a surgical procedure.
Their home had been expanded several times by Walker, and his photography studio was perhaps the biggest addition. Here, Walker invented devices to capture images unlike any others, and tediously spent hours at his computer tweaking the end results to perfection. As Walker worked tirelessly to carry his craft to new levels, Bonnie was nearby creating her rugs.
Fanatical about lighting, Walker had hung a strip of black velveteen over the glass paneled door to his studio so his images would not be compromised by the sun’s changing patterns. Through this door walked many of the most noted potters, sculptors, silversmiths, and other artists, near and far, to have their artwork photographed for submissions. The black covered door became as much a part of the studio as its array of cameras and photography equipment.
In the year following her loss, Walker’s memory was fresh on Bonnie’s mind. As she approached her 1,000th piece, it seemed only fitting that her husband be represented in this significant milestone. The entrance to the studio took on new meaning. The sun had etched the black velveteen covering into a grid of golden windows from the glass panels of the door. Bonnie knew this image would provide the inspiration for rug #1,000.
Number 1,000 is simple. It’s black and gold. Named the Golden Door, this rug is reminiscent of all those who walked through the Montgomerys’ creative lives just as the Statue of Liberty beckoned immigrants through the open door of America. Bonnie’s special weaving carries on Walker’s memory. By combining remaining remnants of the black velveteen from the studio with golden fabrics from Bonnie’s collection, she brought together the two arts in a single piece.
The Golden Door is not the end as Bonnie continues to weave. She averages some 25 rugs annually and has finished as many as 54 in a single year. She has returned to swirls, geometrics, and other patterns. Above Walker’s photography studio, her workshop is a collection of pale hues to deep jewel toned fabrics. Solids and prints wait their turn for pieces that combine multiple shades into images based on Bonnie’s latest inspiration, whether the view outside her window, the flowing brook in her yard, or some other vision she converts with her loom.
Bonnie is back in full steam. She is keeping Genuine Georgia and other high end crafts stores supplied. Today, it’s 1,000 and counting. Bonnie is lifting her lamp of creativity beside The Golden Door.
Written by Lorraine Edwards
Photographed by Jesse Walker