Style Shopping: All About Weave
by Scott Baldinger
One of the great things about Hudson, New York, is that you can literally fall out of bed (or your car, if you don’t live or weekend here) and into a new and wondrous world of the decorative arts. Sometimes you may even find worlds within that world. Such is the experience upon entering the tight quarters of Kea-on-the-Hudson, the upstate branch of Susan Gomersall and Azy Schecter’s Brooklyn store. Despite its small size, it contains an eye-popping variety of sophisticated mid-century modern looking rugs made from the 1950s to the present by various indigenous peoples in places such as Karapanir in Central Anatolia, Morocco, Syria, northeast Turkey, and Persia (Iran).
Some of the rugs on display at Kea looks as if they had been designed by Mark Rothko or the Eames. All, however, were hand made on looms in faraway lands, almost always by women working with traditional design templates and materials —primarily wool and goat hair (the latter often combed out into long strands and woven into a woolen backing rather than turned into a thread), in a style totally unique to the represented regions. Due, however, to the not infrequent times of sociopolitical and economic stress over the last forty years, they can also be fashioned from fabric recycled from Western clothing, sometimes made available by relief organizations.
Though circumstances and materials have been subject to change, “these techniques and design traditions go back to pre Islamic times, and were passed on grandmother-to-granddaughter—mothers were too busy providing for the family,” says Gomersall. “What was different over the last century was color—previously the Berbers and other tribal peoples had only red, but other dyes became available.” Colored fabric from recycled clothing during the 70s and 80s also led to a whole new look for the weavers, who used their training as a foundation for startlingly original, softly shaggy creations called Boucherouites, Arabic for “scraps of material.” Gomersall and Schecter recently held an exhibition of these rugs at their Brooklyn gallery entitled The Untrained Eye: Freeform, Vintage ‘Rag Rugs’ of Morocco. “They look modern because our own modernist movements took a lot from tribal peoples,” Gomersall says. The Islamic proscription against figural representation was also a major contributing factor.
“The market is very much dictated by what’s happening in the world,” says the Yorkshire-born Gomersall, who started in the rug trade in the mid 1970s as an art student studying abroad in Greece. “I do much of the traveling myself to various countries to meet with various pickers I’ve cultivated over the years. But it all depends on the political situation. In the early years, I would go to Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the Shah was deposed, I’d go to the northwest frontier of Pakistan, to places like Peshawar and Balochistan. After 9/11, we had to limit ourselves to Turkey and Morocco. This year, we were about to go to Syria but then it erupted.”
Gomersall met Schecter, a textile designer who hails from Long Island, on much safer ground—a Moroccan restaurant in the East Village in the mid nineties. They opened their Kea headquarters in Brooklyn 10 years ago. After weekending at their house in Germantown for a number of years, they “decided it was time for a rug shop in Hudson” They will be in their current space until November. As for permanently joining the tribe of other cosmopolitan purveyors of the decorative and fine arts that currently carpet Warren Street from top to bottom (if not wall to wall), they both say, “We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Meanwhile, hanging on the walls or neatly piled in corners of the 12-by-10-foot space are examples of an age-old art form brought to contemporary life: two shagadelic Turkish rugs called Filiklis (behind Schecter in the photograph) with long-strands of goat hair woven into them that were made in the 1960s and seventies; the group of those candy-colored Boucherouites described above (pictured at right); chicly monochromatic Siirts from Central Asia; and a stack of plush Beni Ouarains, soft woolen area carpets designed for sleeping that were created by a young Moroccan woman who recently took over over her father’s rug business after he was incapacitated by a heart attack. The series was commissioned by Kea and a woman’s economic empowerment group called Nest. Gomersall mentions that the woman’s father is far from happy, despite the continuance of the family trade, because he is certain that no man will marry his daughter now that she has become so independent.
In other words, Kea is not just a carpet store; it’s a petite précis of the adaptable artistry, resourcefulness, and craft of women weavers throughout the millennia.
Kea on the Hudson
409 Warren Street, Hudson
Thursday - Sunday; noon - 6 p.m.