Artist Transforms Nova Scotia Church With Her Work

A former Anglican church in Martins River, Nova Scotia has a new purpose. The basement is now the apartment of neo-folklore artist Hannah Epstein. His altar is now his studio and the naive is now an art gallery curated by Andrew Cairns.

Epstein knows rug hooking can often be associated with older people, but the young artist injects contemporary imagery into her work. And it sells all over the world.

She has pieces inspired by The Simpsons, Britney Spears or Maud Lewis, from Nova Scotia.

Ask the artist, and she’ll tell you that she played an important role in introducing rug hooking to the contemporary art world.

“The contemporary art world is a really fun place where everything happens, but you didn’t see a lot of textiles until a few years ago,” she said.

“I took a long journey from someone completely outside the art world to learn a totally obscure skill and participate in a Trojan horse mission that took 12 years to become relevant.”

For her interview with CTV News, Epstein insisted on wearing a costume she made. The head-to-toe rug was a performance piece.

“I was thinking of creating these characters called serfs, kind of like contemporary modern versions of smurfs,” she said.

During the pandemic, rug hooking skyrocketed as people spent more time at home and posted videos or photos of their work online.

On Instagram, Epstein has 20,000 followers. One of them is his assistant, Libbie Farrell, who connected with Epstein during the pandemic and has since become addicted to rug hooking.

“She’s definitely like the Britney Spears of tapestry crochet, so it’s a real privilege and an honor to be able to work alongside Hannah,” Farrell said.

Epstein grew up in Halifax but lived for years in Toronto and Los Angeles before moving back to Nova Scotia in 2020. She bought the church for convenience.

“The church was the cheapest property I could find. Nobody wanted to do it. There was no bathroom,” she said. “The kitchen was a bit industrial.”

She has now converted it into a new gathering space.

“Just a parallel with the adaptation to the hooked rug. So like taking an old craft and trying to make it new. It takes an old space and tries to make it new and relevant for new people,” she said.

The church studio is currently showing the work of Cat Bluemke and Lisa Theriault and will hold its next opening for work by Sage Szkabarnicki-Stuart on September 3.

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