The Art of Woven Legends
The stars that guided us in the late 1970’s were the antique carpets we bought and sold. The abyss between old and new was explained in the rain forest language of rarity and extinction. It was a view that divided the world, east and west, into sellers of dowries and sellers of estates, with everyone playing the role of middleman. It was folklore built on the backs of the folk, who were rumored to trade old kilims for tractors and grain-bags for Tupperware. A quarter century ago, looking into shop windows at new rugs that passed for quality, who could argue against a final fall? The litany of loss was universal and evoked the names of tribes, former trading centers and legendary workshops. Who could say that art and commerce had not lost their way when the oriental carpet collided with the 20th century? In 1982, emboldened by the basic yet invaluable natural dye recipes revived in Ayvacik, and blessed with a sense of opportunity out of proportion to our means, we began laying the groundwork for our productions of room-size decorative carpets in eastern Turkey. Parlaying a love of old carpets into a new production confronted a frightening and exciting void, one made tangible by the belief—as strong now as it was then—that the alchemy of weave, color and design in beautiful carpets is tied squarely to one’s visceral response to materials, to palette and fleece. It is a hierarchy that binds the mind’s eye to a drop spindle and a copper cauldron, echoing times when guilds existed and whole communities centered around the making of art.
Progress had to be earned: in the absence of knowledge we became students. Rug fixers were our tutors. Trial and error guided us. Warp and weft confused us. Books filled with useful information eluded us, yet to be written. In the absence of a master dyer, we experimented. With no understanding of fleece, we tried everything. The learning curve was a mountain road that bled rocks and broke schedules. What needed to be done unfolded over time: we organized villages to hand spin nomadic wools; we worked with skeptical officials to establish teaching and weaving ateliers in remote areas; and we combed the countryside in search of weeds that were formerly cultivated. We created infrastructure without a model by responding continuously to what worked. It is testimony to the relationships we have built over the years that we succeeded in imagining, intuiting and reinventing a “traditional art” that was thought to have perished.
The carpets featured in The Book Of Woven Legends span a wide variety of weaves and styles. As designs, many live in the public domain. As meditations on tradition, they take inspiration from antique carpets. And as real carpets, they balance the decorative with the artist’s natural impulse to decorate. Our goal is not—as if it were possible—to copy the past but to stand in relation to it, supporting, line by horizontal line, this most cooperative of contemporary arts.