Natural Dyes Rediscovered

Early Azeri from Woven Legends
An early Azeri from Woven Legends. The nascent renaissance in Oriental rugs moved a step forward in the middle and late 1980s when Woven Legends released carpets like this. Its outrageous asymmetry, its huge borders and giant design elements, its playfulness, its lavish natural dyes—all were without precedent. And this is not a little tribal throw rug; it is a 7 by 9-foot carpet.

Oriental Rugs Today: Chapter 1 Part 3

Then along came a German schoolteacher who changed the modern history of Oriental rugs. Harald Böhmer, a chemistry professor, went to Turkey to teach in 1960, and while there he became interested in the dyes he found in Turkish rugs and kilims. By the time his tenure expired in 1967, he was in love with rugs and with Turkey, and in 1974 signed a contract for another seven years of teaching there. By then he was methodically analyzing the dyes in Turkish carpets, enabled by a new technique called thin layer chromatography. He was especially interested in natural dyes, and he endeavored to reconstruct exactly how they had been constituted and prepared.

Faced with having to return to Germany when his contract ended, he conceived the idea of reviving the use of natural dyes among Turkish village rug weavers. He managed to get his idea funded and, by 1981, had taught weavers in villages around Ayvacik in western Turkey to produce rugs in natural dyes. The project, called DOBAG (an acronym for Dogal Boya Arastirma ve Gelistirme Projesi — Turkish for Natural Dye Research and Development Project), was an almost instant success. Within a few years, not only were hundreds of weavers involved in selling their naturally dyed rugs through the DOBAG cooperative, but weavers in nearby villages were learning to use natural dyes and were selling rugs in the open market.

At just that time, in the early days of DOBAG, a number of young Americans were traveling in Turkey and trading in rugs there. Two who staged their trips from Berkeley were Gary Muse, who later succeeded in putting together one of the world’s great collections of antique Turkish kilims, and Saul Barodofsky, now of the Sunbow Trading Company in Charlottesville, Virginia. They remained focused on old rugs, but other Americans involved with old rugs, like Chris Walter and George Jevremovic, found themselves interested in the new, naturally dyed ones from DOBAG and surrounding villages. Within a few years, both Mr. Walter and Mr. Jevremovic had established productions of vegetally dyed rugs in tribal and village designs that, along with the DOBAG project itself, profoundly changed the Oriental rug industry. (George Jevremovic and Chris Walter’s stories, along with those of other movers and shakers of the rug renaissance, are told in greater detail in Part Two.) In Turkey, we can clearly trace the progression of the natural dye movement: Harald Böhmer helped establish DOBAG in 1980; DOBAG weavers and weavers from surrounding villages began to produce significant quantities of vegetally dyed rugs; George Jevremovic was impressed and began his own production in Turkey in about 1984; from that point onward, nearly everyone making rugs in Turkey and elsewhere was influenced by DOBAG and especially by Mr. Jevremovic’s Azeri rugs. One of the important contributions George Jevremovic made to the renaissance was producing rugs with a tribal character in carpet — that is, large—sizes. Before that, room-sized carpets in tribal designs were practically nonexistent.

The rug renaissance was under way — if not yet identified as such — and being felt in America by 1985. One of the most important factors that helped it grow was George Jevremovic’s talent for promotion. He had a perfect understanding of how attractive to the rug-buying public the concept was of rediscovering the seemingly lost art of natural dyeing. He promoted it in poetic language, focusing on the weavers’ art. Mr. Jevremovic mounted exhibitions of his carpets — possibly the first exhibitions of new Oriental rugs — and he wrote books about them. He set a precedent by advertising his new rugs in Hali, the leading journal devoted (originally) to antique rugs. To a large extent, he created the market for new, naturally-dyed tribal rugs. The DOBAG people also did a marvelous job of promoting them, but they limited the effectiveness of their efforts by restricting the sale of them to specialty stores. I count George Jevremovic’s wise promotion of his product as one of the most important factors behind the popularity of new rugs after 1985. Once natural dyeing was established, Phase One of the renaissance was complete.

1 Comment

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    Anna December 18, 2015

    i hope sunshine days come back to you soon. very nice crcehot mat. it must have taken long time to finish making it. good work Claudia