Janet has a Master of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Iowa. Her husband was also a painter and a printmaker, so Janet decided to do something different, something that she could teach. Commuting from Duluth to Minneapolis to look after her aging parents, she took classes at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.
In 1978, Janet received grant funding to interview weavers in Two Harbors, Minnesota. She realized that each person had a definite style or signature of making rugs. She also became fascinated with the looms because she saw them as “pieces of sculpture”. Many of the looms were hand made by immigrants with whatever materials were available and in the style they had learned in the “old country”. She saw the value of studying old looms and long before most, Janet researched and collected history on these and other looms.
Janet saw an exhibit of Paula Phaff’s work and they soon decided to teach a class together. When they couldn’t find a book that they liked, they wrote their own. Paula brought her weaving experience (weaving about 200 rugs a year), while Janet focused on the loom histories and project pages. Their Rag Rug Handbook has become a classic resource for beginning and advanced rag rug weavers and is currently published by Interweave Press.
After compiling the book, Janet started “The Weavers Friend”, a newsletter that she has been publishing for 25 years. It is a place for rag rug weavers to share their stories and photos of their projects. “The Weavers Friend” is a way to encourage weaving among many those who are often isolated around the country. Janet has found that, “people have been very generous about sharing their stories and their pictures and their projects.”
With Janet’s interest in old looms, she she discovered that people needed loom manuals to learn how to set up old looms. She now has a collection of manuals for companies that are out of business. The most popular has been the Union Loom manual, and then followed by the Newcomb Loom Company and the Deen Loom Company. The requests for manuals seemed to coincide with the time when weavers were giving up or selling their looms. Now the Hammett Loom, which was used in schools and nursing homes, is a popular request and new buyers are looking for manuals.
As part of her effort to encourage rag rug weaving, Janet Meany has become known for her “Show and Tell” meetings at Weaving Conferences, both regionally and nationally. Weavers are encouraged to bring their rugs and network and learn from each other. These “Show and Tell’s” also became a way to document what was being woven at the time.
Rag rug weaving is often looked upon as a utilitarian craft, but it can be so much more. When asked if rag rug weaving is relevant today, Janet talks about its importance and states that, “...I do think that people are beginning to appreciate rag rugs as a creative process.”
Over the years Janet has collected rag rugs from many weavers she has known, and now when the weavers are gone, their weavings carry their stories. Two rugs from her collection were displayed in the “Standing on Tradition: Rag Rug Techniques” exhibit as well as her own work.
Janet is known for her interest in the history of rag rug weaving and looms, yet it has been her sharing, networking, and encouraging that has left the biggest mark on the weaving community. Without her constant support and dedication, the weaving community would not be as connected as it is today and important and unique histories would have been lost.