Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Grove Park Show 2012. By Bruce McLaren

Every year, when the winter wind funnels down from the North Pole, we decide to rent a truck, stack it chock-a-block with the finest handwoven creations to emerge from the mysterious and exotic east, and drive up into the even colder heights of the Appalachian Mountains. Westwards we climb, higher and higher, until we reach the snow-lined peaks around Asheville, surely one of the most visually striking towns in the Great Republic. There above Asheville we finally reach our destination - the lofty and illustrious Grove Park Inn!

The reason for this annual pilgrimage to the prestigious Inn is for the Arts & Crafts conference - the most important get together of Arts & Crafts design enthusiasts, collectors, antique dealers and contemporary craftsmen on the design calender. This year celebrated the 25th anniversary of the show, which has now achieved institution-like status.

The Appalachians around Asheville in Wintertime. Really quite grand stuff!

Asheville is definitely one of the highlights of the Carolinas. Fantastic architecture from the early 20th century punctures the skyline. And I'm not kidding - just check out the city hall and courthouse, and some of the bizarre Gothic cathedral steeple crowned apartments! Even the humble Baptist church has a pretty impressive and distinctive dome.

City Hall Detail

Asheville Courthouse and City Hall

The Baptist Church Dome

Down in the streets below is a fascinating blend of artistic types, hippies, chic uptown girls, old deco-loving boffins, antique shops, restaurants, pubs, clubs and coffee shops. Also on the upside, Andie McDowell lives there, which is most certainly a big plus. But on the downside there is an overabundance of facial hair being paraded around - on the blokes I mean! Cripes - I've never seen so many beards in my life!

Andie MacDowell. Good!

Excessive facial hair. Bad!

Anyhoo, standing sentinel above Asheville is the grand old Grove Park Inn, undoubtedly one of the most majestic period hotels on the continent. Constructed of cyclopaean rough masonry in the first decade of the 1900s, the hotel is a living time capsule of architectural and design elements of that period. It is therefore fitting that the most important show on the Arts & Crafts calender is held in those hallowed halls.

And what sacrosanct halls they are!

When you pass through the Grove Park doors you enter an absolutely cavernous lobby with soaring ceilings and a fireplace that you could walk into without bending over - at least, if flames don't bother you. Guests sit in rocking chairs before the fire, talking quietly, as icy winds blow over the vast mountainous panoramas outside the windows. With a good single malt in hand it is easy to be transported back in time, as all of the furnishings, chairs, lighting, carpets, stonework, you name it, are in the style of the period.

The Grove Park Inn. Not a bad spot eh?

The view off the terrace looking out over Asheville

Much of the residential district that lies below 'The Inn' is also of the same period and comprises some of the more stately and luxurious dwellings of the period. Asheville is, in many ways, one of the great Arts & Crafts towns. One may also like to note that the Biltmore Estate, built by the industrial tycoon George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, and still today the largest privately owned home in the United States, is but a stone's throw away. So for Arts & Crafts lovers Asheville is a bit of a Shangri-La.

The Biltmore House. A nice little hideaway in the woods for an industrial tycoon...

Now I know that when most people hear the term 'Arts & Crafts' they think of Martha Stewart making a birdhouse out of toothpicks and bottle tops but in the 'design world' Arts & Crafts has a very different meaning.

The history of Arts & Crafts as a design movement is a fairly extensive subject and needs a blog all to itself. But for the sake of this piece let me simply say that the Arts & Crafts movement existed in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, beginning in England but spreading to America. The most important figure in the movement was the designer William Morris, but many other important designers include Charles Voysey and Archibald Knox.

The Arts & Crafts movement was fundamentally a reaction against the mechanization of the decorative arts that had occurred following the industrial revolution. People like William Morris wanted to see a return to the original arts of carpentry, stonework, furniture making, rug making, and so on.

Although the term Arts & Crafts does not figure so large as say, Art Deco, in the public consciousness, it was a movement of enormous significance. In fact, it is more than fair to say that if it weren't for the Arts & Crafts movement then the major design movement that evolved in the early 1900s - Art Nouveau and Art Deco - would never have come to be. Both Nouveau and Deco were inextricably linked with Arts & Crafts.

So, moving on.....

Every February, for three days, Arts & Crafts-ophiles gather to surround themselves with every possible manifestation of this design style that they love. One floor of the show is for the antique dealers, some of who come from as far away as London, to exhibit their wares, generally wow the public, and make some sales. In need of a $5000 Tiffany Lamp? How about a $4000 silver and enamel Voysey ashtray? And what house isn't complete without a $10000 Frank Lloyd Wright table?

My favorite antiques dealer is Titus and Omega from London, who have a collection of silver and blue and green enamel items that will blitz the senses. Check out this clock, for example...

Here is a link to their website. Check it out - they have a magnificent collection..

Another floor is dedicated to 'Contemporary Craftsmen', meaning, people like us - craftsmen who are hard at work today, keeping these design traditions alive. So there are many specialist carpenters, potters, metal-workers, fabric-makers and tile-workers there, all coming to show off, and, hopefully sell, their wares.

Let's start by talking about us. One of the things we specialize in at The Persian Carpet is a line of Arts & Crafts design rugs, all hand-woven, wool on cotton, just like the originals.

The first thing we do on arrival is join the mad scramble to get our truck unloaded at the dock - this is a work of art in itself that involves no small amount of jockeying for position and maneuvering. But once inside, we get straight to work at putting up an aluminium frame, hanging up the lighting, and getting the rugs out and in stacks. We always hang our latest designs in order to stun the customers - this year it was the Streathem Park Border and the Field Lillies.

When the show begins the following day we employ four students from nearby Warren Wilson College to help us flip the rugs - they are always good eggs!

Another angle
The booth ready for action

The good Steve Williams Esq. 

Yours truly primed and ready for action

Yours truly having Presidential handshake with show organizer
and Arts & Crafts aficionado, Bruce Johnson, flanked by PC
stalwarts Barak Rutledge and Steve Williams

Now as Billy Ocean used to (unfortunately) sing 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going', and that is how it is when the floodgates open and the crowds surge in. These videos give you a bit of a 'before and after' idea of how the booth looks when this happens...

Now, there are many other contemporary craftsmen who go to the show - too many to mention here - but over the past 18 years of attending we have got to know the other vendors pretty well. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Pewabic Pottery out of Detroit do some great tile work. I couldn't resist this 'Tudor Rose' tile this year and now have one at home - anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses and the significance of this motif has to have one. If you don't know about this then go and get a book about it and read it!

Here is their website...

Pewabic Tudor Rose Tile

The Pewabic Booth

The Pewabic Booth

Another old favorite, and also someone we work with quite closely, is Paul from Archive Edition textiles...

We make three of the Archive Edition designs are they are extremely popular! Here is Paul manning the booth.

Now in my humble opinion I have always been a bit of a fan of the work of Robert Hause of Art of the Craft based in Wilmington NC. He is a master custom furniture maker! Check out his website...

Robert Hause of 'Art of the Craft'

In terms of tile work it is pretty difficult to beat Motawi out of Ann Arbor MI. I have to admit that I couldn't resist this FLW tile, which now is waiting to be hug up on a wall in my house.

This years purchase
Next years purchase.
Now THAT people, is a work of
Fine Art!

Here is their website...

The lovely ladies of Motawi at their booth

One of the more unique and certainly most unusual exhibits is the work of Evan Chambers out of Los Angeles. Evan makes undeniably the most funky objects in the whole show, such as one eyed opium gazing brass desk-lamps with chicken feet or octopus legs. It's all a bit like Jules Verne meets Arts & Crafts. He also does some ingenious work with glass. Here is his website - I strongly recommend you check it out - he is a true innovator.

Another real talent in the tile game is Linda Witkowski out of Indianapolis. Here she is with one of her really quite remarkable tile creations.

Linda Witkowski

One of the more flamboyant characters to grace the show is our neighbor Karen Hovde Interior Vision. Karen is a design specialist with a mind-boggling array of hats and the personality to match. Look her up for any of your design needs.

The one and only Karen Hovde!

And to wrap it all up allow me to present Mr. Paul Katrich of Katrich Luster Pottery. Paul is a craftsman of the highest order who holds the record for selling each of his unique vessels in a mere matter of hours during most shows.

His work is contemporary, but is firmly in the realm of the collectors cross-hairs. He is one of those few artists who actually can enjoy fame for their efforts before they are dead. well done Paul.

Here is his website...

And here is a very happy man!

Another sold out show!

And for now, dear reader, I must bid you adieu. Twas a good show all around and we are looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Meet The Team Behind The Dream. By Bruce McLaren

You've met the family - now meet the whole team that live the dream!

So....Who does what?

Nelda Lay. The 'Big Boss'. The Back-Bone Of TPC.

Nelda is the primary founder and back-bone of the business. Starting with only a handful of rugs some 35 years back, under her guiding eye the business has grown to become one of the preeminent oriental carpet businesses in the United States.

As 'The Boss', Nelda runs a tight ship. She does the books, pays the bills, signs the checks. At the end of the day, if an executive order has to be made, then she is the person in charge. And if any of you telemarketers out there think you have a soft target with this elegant Southern Belle then be warned - when it comes down to the crunch then she is a true Steel Magnolia!

Doug Lay. The 'Other Boss'. The Creative Genius Of TPC.

As most of us know a relationship is all about 'balance', and here at TPC it is no different - Doug is the 'Yin' to Nelda's 'Yang'. A lot of customers are mystified as to what Doug actually does here at TPC, mainly because, whenever they call for him he is never here. He has always 'disappeared' into the ether and no-one knows quite where he has gone or when he will be back. But hey, that is how Doug rolls!

The fact of the matter is that Doug pretty much does some of EVERYTHING here. No job is too menial. He washes rugs. He maintains the building. He changes the lights. He flips stacks until his back breaks. Not many bosses do such chores - he is a truly humble man.

But, more importantly, Doug MAKES THINGS HAPPEN! What I mean by this is that Doug is always thinking about what the business can do to expand. Doug is the main brain behind the lines of rugs that we manufacture at TPC and distribute around the country. The Arts & Crafts Line, The Dreamcatcher Line, The Pendleton Line - these are all Doug's ideas and are the result of many years of labor on his part, involving countless trips to India to make design ideas become rug realities. These great rug lines, which comprise a significant chunk of the business, are primarily the result of Doug's tireless efforts.

A final word on Doug. It is fair to say that, along with Nelda, he is the 'personality' of the business. He is welcoming, charming, always witty and entertaining, always upbeat and positive, and no-one who has ever had the good fortune to meet him ever forgets him. As the Cockney's would say, he is -a rare diamond geezer'!

Cynthia McLaren. The 'Little Boss'. Advertising and Southwestern Lines.

Just as Cynthia is the biological product of Doug and Nelda, she incorporates a blend of their personalities and work ethics. Just like her Dad, she functions like a dynamo, getting done in a day what most people get done in a week. She literally throws herself into her work and also MAKES THINGS HAPPEN!

Cynthia has a lot on her plate. First of all, she is a total fox, and having people mistake you for a model all the time can be a bit of a drag. But she is also a mother of two, is responsible for all of the advertising at TPC (which is a very considerable amount of work), and is ALSO responsible for coordinating the Dreamcatcher Line and Pendleton Line of rugs that we manufacture. Doug is the ideas man, but Cynthia puts those thoughts into action, working with Reps, going to trade shows, and keeping a handle on this rapidly growing part of the business.

Somehow, in the midst of this maelstrom of activity, she also finds the time to work with customers who come in the store, and always has the energy to greet them with a big and sincere smile. As I said, she is also extremely good-looking. I married her so I should know.

Bruce McLaren. Social Media and Websites.

The less said about Bruce - that is me - perhaps the better. I am responsible for the Social Media - the two websites that we run ( and, the facebook pages for both of these websites, the twittering, and other related social-media thingamabobs...

Let's face the facts. Bruce was pretty much given this job because he married the bosses daughter. He does have a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Archaeology but that, unfortunately, qualifies him for diddly-squat! On the plus side his ten years of academic research furnished him with a modicum of intelligence (at least, enough to fulfill his job description). He is also an Australian, which is considered a plus or a minus depending on who you speak with. He also harbors literary aspirations, but, quite frankly, who doesn't. Don't worry, me, one day you will receive the Nobel Prize...

Steve Williams. Operations Manager ('Black-Ops') and 'To The Trade' Liaison.

Meet Steve - a man of many, many parts. Attempting to do justice to such a dynamic individual with prosaic limitations is akin to catching lightning in a bottle.

On the one hand, Steve is like the head-surgeon at the nerve-center of TPC, literally buzzing away like an electric current in order to keep our computer systems functioning and up-to-date. His work is important, because if the computer systems went down, then the whole edifice would follow. Steve would like a dollar for every day he has been off work and received a phone-call along the lines of 'Hi Steve, I know this is your day off but the computers have crashed, and we were wondering if you could...' (you know the rest).

But Steve never fails to handle each crisis with steady-hand and level-head, a Rock of Gibraltar in a raging storm. Such self-assurance translates into his other major role here at TPC, where, as 'To The Trade' liaison he works closely with the many Professional Designers who grace our doors. Before their questions have even tumbled from their lips Steve knows what they want and how to get it. A turn of century Serapi in mint condition? No problem. A fine nomadic Gabbeh with burnt umber accents on an indigo blue field? You can tell by the glint in those deep blue eyes that Steve already has the answers.

Beyond the deep-wells of knowledge, mention must be made of the style of delivery, for Steve is no taciturn monk! Rather, he is a silver-tongued conversationalist who will cause your thoughts to drift as the mysteriously as the sands of more oriental climes  - then, before you know it, hours have passed in a blissful and rejuvenating spiritual repose.

Oh yes! On a final note, the following must be said of Steve - he earned a MA from UNC, he is the epitome of style, he NEVER confuses Fad with Fashion, and secretly harbors Presidential aspirations.

Barak Rutledge. Logistics Manager and Dealer Liaison.

Meet Barak, at the tender-age of 29, the young whipper-snapper of the business. Barak has a lot going for him. He is young and single, blessed with handsome looks and a razor-sharp wit, with a brain like a computer and a lightening sharp sense of humor, they even decided to name the President after him!

In all seriousness, young Rutledge - as I like to call - is no mug. He is a UNC graduate with a brain like a computer and a photographic memory. Here at the TPC we have an inventory of over 7000 rugs and Barak knows where each and every one of those rugs is to be found - if you think I am exaggerating then come in and test him yourself.

But Barak's knowledge goes FAR beyond that. You can dream up the most obscure type of antique oriental rug and Barak will know where to go to find it. This is hardly surprising considering that Barak began working here at the tender age of 15 - as he himself says, 'TPC is the only home I've ever known'. As a side-line, he also happens to be responsible for all of the shipping logistics that must be dealt with here at the business - child's play for a man of his formidable abilities.

As the only bachelor at TPC all of the other old fuddy-duddies like to live vicariously through Barak's shenanigans. Barak actually goes out on 'dates'! He also does other things that single people get to do, like biking, cooking Thai dishes, sampling Kolsch beers, and going to Norwegian Metal concerts....There was a time when I used to do those sorts of things myself!

Alberto Balderas. Cleaning Specialist and Sales Associate.

Meet Alberto, the younger brother of Antonio Banderas. Most of the time Alberto is to be found towards the rear of the premises, not so much because he is overseeing all of the rug cleaning operations that are undertaken at TPC, but because too many of our female clientele have a tendency to faint as soon as they see him. Good looks you see - a blessing and a curse!

But Alberto is a whole lot more than just a pretty face! He has a voracious thirst for all forms of knowledge, which, not only means that he is one of the foremost authorities on textile cleaning, but is remarkably well-informed about everything from financial markets to post-beat literature, is fluent in both Spanish and English, and is learning Italian and German for fun! Alberto is a highly motivated person and has put himself through college on top of holding a job and providing for his family. A tip of the hat to Alberto! The smart money says that Alberto may be destined for greater things....

Jan Ali. Rug Repair Specialist and All-Around Rug Guru.

Meet Jan Ali. Jan Ali is as old as the sands of time - perhaps even older - he won't say so we don't know. Jan   Ali is a Kazakh who traces his lineage back to Chinngis Khan, but, sometimes just for fun he tells people he is an Eskimo - everyone believes him!

Jan Ali has led an exceptional life and has literally walked the length and breadth of the Asian Continent. In the process he has accumulated a vast knowledge of rugs borne of the best school of all - real life! You are bound to have a more authentic knowledge of nomadic rugs if you have seen the nomads making the rugs!

When you enter the shop, Jan sits there quietly in the corner, assiduously making his repairs, and blends so well into the surrounds that most people don't even know he is there. He is a chameleon. Jan Ali has been here with us at TPC for a good thirty years and we consider ourselves very fortunate to have such an expert gracing us with his presence!

And To Close...

So, there you have it. The back-bone, the bread-and-butter, the nuts and bolts, that make TPC run and hum. Although each person plays a specific role here at the business I would like to emphasize that each and every one of us is amply qualified to help you in any aspect of your rug needs. When you walk in the red doors between the two camels any of the above people may meet you with a welcome smile and the ability to assist you. Our brains are all on call - three BA's, two MA's, two Ph.D.'s, a Professorship AND a Guru - all at your beckon call!