96-year-old Ellen Greaney Jacobs smiled as she pointed to the gravestone in Bloomfield Cemetery.
“This is my great-grandmother,” said Jacobs. “I never saw her, but I heard a lot about her.”
For nearly a century after her death, Perry County native Magdalean Briner Eby was known and remembered mainly by her descendants. The now famous hooked rugs she made were simply floor coverings.
“We walked on those rugs,” said Jacobs. “We took them out and beat them on the line twice a year.”
But in recent years, the random and simple design patterns Magdalean used in her rugs have become a favorite of many rug hookers and textile art collectors, inspiring the book, “Rug Hooked Traditions with Magdalena Briner Eby,” by Evelyn Lawrence and Kathy Wright.
Magdalean’s great-great grandson Greg Jacobs remembers beating those rugs as a child. He says the family can’t get over the recognition the rugs are getting today.
“It’s really pretty amazing that everybody’s making a fuss over something she just did as a past time,” said Jacobs.
Although the lettering on her gravestone and early family records spell her name Magdalean, most have come to know her as Magdalena, the name adopted by a rug hooking group in her hometown of New Bloomfield.
Debra Smith, editor of “Rug Hooking” magazine, is a charter member of the four-year-old group, “Magdalena’s Rug Hookers.”
“Knowing that we wanted to start a rug hooking group,” said Smith, “we thought it only fitting that we take her name to honor the heritage we have here in Perry County.”
But Smith points out that just because they honor Magdalena’s name, group members don’t hook their rugs in her unique style.
“We emulate her and her spirit,” said Smith, “but we do our own thing.”
In the tradition of their namesake, however, the rugs they make are not just for show.
“You can put these rugs on the floor and walk on them, if you want,” said Smith. “With luck, they’ll be around in a hundred years just like Magdalena’s rugs are today.”
Magdalena’s great-great-granddaughter-in-law says rug hooking creates a unique bond with her famous distant relative.
“That bond makes rug hooking very special,” said Beth Jacobs, a relative newcomer to rug hooking. “And I hope to become famous like Magdalena,” she added with a laugh.
In conjunction with Perry County’s upcoming 200th anniversary, the group is making one Magdalena-style hooked rug to raise funds for a legacy marker. The group meets monthly at the New Bloomfield Library.