The production of carpets in Kathmandu has had a transformative effect on both the Tibetan refugee population and the native Nepali people. It is an industry which during its ascent, golden years, and decline – in volume – provided much needed foreign exchange for a country dependent upon such transactions. It created wealth both in Nepal and abroad, and it has undoubtably contributed to an increased standard of living in the country of Nepal.
It began innocently enough as I was preparing in May of 2018 to travel to Portland, Oregon to observe and document the making of ‘Intimacy Portland,’ a joint project between Christiane Millinger Handmade Rugs and Rug Star by Jürgen Dahlmanns. I was conducting field research for the article and eventual presentation ‘Inside Intimacy Portland’ for Rug Insider Magazine and – as one did in 2018 and still does in 2020 – I was browsing the titles available for download on Netflix; plane travel after all can be notoriously monotonous. One documentary quickly caught my attention: ‘Coffee for All,’ or ‘Caffè Sospeso’ as originally titled. I downloaded it partially out of sincere interest, partially out of the serendipitous nature of traveling to a renown coffee mecca: Portland, Oregon. The short film proved to be the entrée which has refocused my life.
Calling as art the vast majority of rugs and carpets made today is intellectually dishonest and in truth no different than calling mass produced paintings from China that have ‘just the right hint of blue that ties the room together’ art as well. There are of course rare exceptions but in a world driven by design and trends, precious few carpets elevate themselves above the fray into the exalted world of art, or perhaps to best distinguish: Art!
In the 1999 film ‘Dogma’ Salma Hayek plays ‘Serendipity’. Not simply a woman whose name happens to be Serendipity, but rather she plays the physical embodiment of serendipity itself, which is to say she is the ‘chance’ which brings about the occurrence and development of events in a happy or beneficial way. Except of course, there is no chance. While those without divinity perceive their interactions as random, or due to fate, or karma, or what have you, from the perspective of Serendipity, it is her will which causes events to happen as they do; for her the future is not fully unknown nor fully manifest rather its exists as any one of an endless number of permutations based upon her direct actions. In many ways the creation and success of a supposedly new rug or carpet design is a result of serendipity with the artist or designer creating something perceived as new as a result of the careful and equally serendipitous or Serendipitous work of those who have come before.
Meeting a German requires a degree of punctuality and though I was not yet late, I was concerned that I would be as the cab driver zig zagged his way through the gridwork of Toronto streets, dodging streetcars and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of orange safety vests, construction cones, pedestrians, and incomprehensibly slow and distracted drivers. My anxiety mounted as he asked me which route I would like him to take as if I was some navigational savant. ‘I just need to get there as fast as possible,’ I replied. My appointment was for 15:30 and when the driver pulled to the curb in front of the Gladstone Hotel where I was staying and entertaining Kath, the clock on my phone read 15:23. Safe! Then Jenni Finlay, partner of Findlay and Kath, messaged: ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t get Jan out of here on time. He’s in an Uber now but is running late.’ I am sure I rolled my eyes, laughing internally at the situation. I took a few moments to head up to my room in order to preen myself before returning, settling into a very comfortable lobby sofa to await my guest.
I have thought long on this, in fact since November 2016 and I do not in any way claim to have the answers save one: I know if nothing is done, the facts speak for themselves. I have friends in Nepal who envision a guild of sorts which would certify the quality of workmanship and materials. I have other friends in Nepal who would join this guild if it meant they would sell more carpets. I see the possibility of this guild idea growing to include export organizations, and NGOs from the West. I see the Guild bringing together Nepalis, Tibetans, and Westerners with a renewed ‘we can rebuild’ attitude like that which existed in that ‘brief shining moment’ that was the aftermath of the earthquake; earthquake also as allusion to the long decline of Nepali weaving. I call upon any concerned importer or maker of Nepali-Tibetan carpets to if not join me and my colleagues in working toward this concept of Guild, at least acknowledge a new approach must be had. For those who feel as I do, that a more unified voice is required, that more can be done both here in the West but more importantly in Nepal as well, and that the status quo is less than acceptable, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you personally so that we can – collaboratively – truly give back to Nepal.
Kyle and Kath – Jan Kath Design New York and Avenues the World School quietly launched the Crossroads and Avenues design project in January 2018. The brainchild of Kyle Clarkson, Managing Partner and designer at the firm, Crossroads and Avenues extends an ongoing multi-year program in which Kyle and Kath hosts schoolchildren educating them on the art, craft, and design of handmade carpets. During these class visits, children learn about the art of handknotted carpets and are given the freedom to imagine and create their own carpet design. ‘The kids have had such fun creating their own designs that I was inspired to take it to the next level and produce a few of their designs at our factory in Nepal.’ says Clarkson of the effort. Originally envisioned as a way to expose handwork to students whose lives are admittedly removed from such work, the project – with the encouragement and support of Avenues: The World School of New York City – quickly developed into a global collaboration bringing together disparate cultures and interpretations of design; all through the as of yet unjaded eyes of children.
As the early 21st century begins to wane many of the innovations which have propelled the art of carpetry to its current zenith have passed from novel to commonplace. The technology which brought forth the rise of photorealism in carpets is now pervasive; its functionality enjoyed by countless carpet makers and designers the world over – regardless of their artistic or aesthetic merits. This is the natural state of progress, yet as any connoisseur knows there can be and is great divide between technical and artistic acclaim. In short, just because one can manipulate an image via computer and make it into a carpet does not mean one should. However, time and time again the firm of Jan Kath has demonstrated an adept ability to find balance between technical achievement and artistic merit; this is the nexus point, the so-called ‘sweet spot’, and in its latest manifestation it presents itself as the enchanting ‘Magic View II’.
There is a certain penchant on the part of carpet purveyors to romanticize the notion of carpet weaving as a storied, well respected, and almost nobel profession. Skills are extolled, the art and craft are professed as sublime, homage is paid to the hard work and talent of those who make carpets, and the resultant product is held as high example of handwork and human artistry. And why not? The ability to create woven cloth from fibre dates to time immemorial, with estimates dating this skill to some 27,000 years ago. And while pile carpet construction, as evidenced by the Pazyryk Carpet, dates to perhaps only the more recent but still sufficiently historic fifth century BCE, it is safe to state unequivocally that weaving has been important to the development of humandkind. But, for such a noble and profoundly important profession, ‘How many handweavers do you know here in the west?’ I ask rhetorically.
‘As long as you think it could work and that anyone would be interested.’ was the affirmative reply I received from Lucy Upward, Editor of COVER Magazine, when asked if she would be willing to be interviewed as part of my series ‘Over Coffee’. ‘We’ll do it over afternoon coffee at Jan Kath’s during ‘A Family Affair’ I replied, ‘I think it has the potential to be quite interesting. It will be a fun exploration of our thoughts, handfulls of people will find it enjoyable. Handfulls!!’ I concluded. ‘Handfuls. At least ten (10)… .’ Lucy replied. And so it was decided that we would sit down and chat while Lucy and I were both in attendance at the second annual ‘A Family Affair’, graciously hosted by Jan Kath, his eponymous firm, and the extended and diverse global Jan Kath family – in both the literal and figurative sense.
‘A lot of films about carpets follow the same narrative.’ begins Janis Provisor as I speak with her via telephone whilst her and co-principal and co-creative director Brad Davis are on a brief visit to New York City. ‘You typically see spinning, carding, weaving, all the usual makings of a carpet, but we wanted to make things more interesting; to create little vignettes.’ Provisor is referring to a series of short films her firm Fort Street Studio recently commissioned to tell a story with few stipulations and no pre-defined narrative. ‘We more or less gave the filmmakers carte blanche only requiring the films be shot on location in our New York Showroom and that they use our painterly and textural carpets as an inspirational design element. Beyond that, we said ‘Do what you want.”
In October 2016 Jan Kath by Kyle and Kath – the New York City showroom of the eponymous brand – presented ‘Boro: The Art of Repurpose’, an innovative presentation of authentic Boro garments paired with the firms like inspired carpet collection as well as the contemporaneous bespoke Boro fashions of Kuon. Spanning the intertwined realms of interiors, history, and fashion the exhibition revives the wisdom of the ages as it were, presenting it as one must, polished and now in high regard.
The New York International Carpet Show (NYICS) gets underway in New York City this 11-13 September 2016 and even before the show starts it’s as though – to quote Star Wars – there is a ‘great disturbance in the force.’ As the original autumn New York City rug and carpet show there has, in years past, been a certain caché to exhibiting and attending the show, which was in no small way, due to the disrupting nature of the show when it first broke from the then stranglehold of the Atlanta Markets in 2004. By adding an ‘Antiques Pavilion’ during this year’s show, the NYICS once again attempts – to quote Star Trek – to ‘boldly go’ into the great unknown by presenting antique and collectable carpets alongside new production. While this is not uncommon in showrooms, this is a novel approach worthy of note for what it may bring to the trade show environment and marketplace in general.
The 2016 installment of the venerable contemporary furnishings show ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) takes place the 14-17 May 2016 at New York City’s Javits Center. Billed by the organizers as a must see ‘high end luxury’ exhibition, this year’s show is back with a wide ranging selection of rug and carpet styles from some of North America’s (and beyond) premier brands. The Ruggist will be on hand to gauge for not only himself, but for you, which carpets stand-out and which truly live up to the luxury moniker. Here’s a peek at a just few we intend to see.
I’ve long been a proponent of drawing comparisons between the world of fashion and the world of rugs and carpets; the appeal is simply too irresistible. Iconic fashion houses producing the absolute finest articles of couture clothing with degrees of customization that, to be frank, can at times be envious, contrasted against the monotony of prêt-à-porter and the one-size-fits-some downmarket world of fast fashion; if only the French had a more vulgar sounding word to convey the harshness that comes with producing inexpensive commodity quality clothing. Or do they? I digress.