For the Love of Home

For the Love of Home

At some point during my career in energy and environment, I became obsessed with the human love of place, and more specifically, the love of home.
I was no doubt reaching back to my initial motivation for entering the environmental field – the family farm upon which I had been raised, and my father and his siblings before me.

Its beauty was a breathtaking combination of undulating farmland and formal gardens, all steeped in 18th century American history. It was the deep desire to preserve such places that led me towards my future work.

 Lea Rutledge Wenham Massachusetts
Photo of the formal garden (Designed by Fletcher Steele) on my childhood farm.
When I transitioned from the corporate world to academia, I seized the freedom to explore this idea of “home” in more detail.
My thesis while at MIT (I’ll spare you the boring details) found that, broadly,
“The environmental causes upon which executives most preferred their companies’ focus were directly linked to each executive’s geographical location, their personal interests, or their local community. “
In other words, the “love of home”, or what British philosopher Roger Scruton calls, oikophilia, was the greatest motivator for environmental preservation.

 Lea Rutledge, MIT, Environmental Policy
Here I am giving a paper in February 2017 based on Scruton’s Oikos philosophy (John was 6 months old - I distinctly remember the effort it took to get into this suit!)

Our intrinsic human attachment to home, and to land, is perhaps most apparent through art. The number of artists inspired by their homes is infinite. We paint what we know, what we love.

The first artist who inspired me to take up textile design in summer 2019 was Pat Albeck, who in a career astoundingly motivated by place, designed upwards of 300 tea towels for the British National Trust and National Trust of Scotland.

Pat Albeck, "Queen of the Tea Towel"

Pat says,

“Decorative design is at is its very best when the designer actually speaks directly to the eventual customer, the consumer, the audience.”
Pat noted that she wasn’t “trying to educate people, but rather, to please them”, and she did so by harnessing their love of place.  

 Montacute House, Pat Albeck for the National Trust
Max Gate, Thomas Hardy's house, by Pat Albeck
Max Gate, where Thomas Hardy lived, designed by Pat Albeck for the National Trust
A few of my favorite Pat Albeck tea towels. 

My own home has been my primary motivator, both for my initial environmental career and my emerging artistic one. It is no coincidence that I started painting again when I moved back to my childhood home with my own children.

As is written in my 2020 Look book, my initial fabric collection was..

“...inspired by the perennial flowers that grow along the lanes of Essex County, the classical architectural elements that live in the old books and historic details of our home, the seashells and maritime flags that dot the Cape Ann coast, and the hounds and horses that race through the fields in my small town.”

The Crane Estate, Ipswich, Mass. by Lea Rutledge
My illustration of the nearby Crane Estate, Ipswich, Mass., inspired by Pat Albeck.

Similarly, I have designed patterns for others specifically based on the places they love and those to which they feel most connected. 

Savannah Scarf by Lea Rutledge

Forsythe Park, Savannah Scarf, custom commission 


Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, a landscape preservationist and hero of mine, notes, 

“We are still place-bound creatures, carrying in the recesses of our memories personal histories of spaces we have inhabited and imagined. We carry “placeness” in our genes … we long to feel at one with the natural world.”

This holiday season, may home for you be one of peace, contentedness, (a bit of cabin fever no doubt!), and appreciation for the unique characteristics of the space and place you inhabit. 

May it perhaps inspire you to settle deeper into how it has shaped your own personal history, present motivations, and future imaginings.

 Lea Rutledge Art & Design

Photo of our home at Christmas. 

Lea Rutledge Art & Design
 My favorite reading nook at home. 

As C. S. Lewis wrote, as quoted by Dale Coulter,

"To speak of a love of home is to conjure up images associated with a way of life at a particular place—all of the sights, sounds, smells, mannerisms, dialect, and other peculiarities associated with the locale."
As 2020 comes to a close, with most of us having spent more time at home than ever before, our senses have sharpened to the charisms of our respective homes. The comforts of its familiarity, or the longing for a home to which we are unable to return, or the task of shaping a brand new one for those you love. The importance of home is unlikely to be underestimated in years to come.

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Dear Lea, I can’t wait to meet you and have you and your husband over for drinks, see the house and the room where your fabric will be. I’m also curious to know how you know Thatcher Gearhart, I see him sometimes at the Somerset Club.I just love your fabric and your colour choices. Let’s get together soon. Cheers, Winnie

Winifred Gray. ( Winnie )

Lea, this is just wonderful, and so close to my own experience & beliefs. I think you are absolutely right to root your ‘place’ to all of the rich meanings of family and the natural world that surround us & orient us. You know, I think, of my great respect for Wendell Berry, and you reminded me immediately of him! So thank you, and keep up your celebration of art, nature … and family! Love, Pa

David Rutledge (“Pa” to my grandchildren)

Thanks for sharing this, Lea! It’s so cool that you now live right down the road from the farm, a place that impacted you so much…no coincidence I’m sure! I loved this thoughtful reflection, it gave me a lot to ponder :) xx

Sarah Howe

This is beautiful, Lea. Did you know that Sefy mentioned “place” about 10 years before her death? She asked me, "Is there a certain “place” you feel especially connected to?" For her, it was Cape Cod.
It makes me happy to know she is buried there beneath those large beech trees near the ocean with her husband, mother, sister and aunts and uncles.

Kali Reynolds

Lea, this is an inspiring post. You are so fortunate to have been raised in such a beautiful environment. I did not love my childhood home, nor does it give me a sense of pride. But I loved being six miles from the District of Columbia and driving there along the tree-lined George Washington Memorial Parkway. I loved living in DC, especially Foggy Bottom along the Potomac River. For me, rather than looking nostalgically back at the little house where I grew up in the suburbs, I’ve created (with husband Harry) a home I dearly love in Lincoln, Vermont, with a view of Mt. Abraham and the Green Mountain National Forest. Our house is in no way grand, but it vibrates with art and comfort and love. We carry “home” within us, I think. And I sincerely appreciate the gratitude that pours from you for your sense of place. Your posts lift me. Keep them coming!

Ellie Bryant

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