The Henry Gertmenian Company of San Francisco is one my favorite importers of what we call “mainstream” Indian rugs. These are handmade Oriental rugs with mostly Persian designs, good synthetic dyes and machine-spun wool, and a typical knot-count of between 100 and 200 knots per square inch.
Al Gertmenian, who gave up a law practice to join the family carpet business in 1980, is one of those rare souls who radiate honesty. In the company, he is in charge of importing rugs from India. During the early 1980s he would examine dozens of lines, and be happy to find one he liked well enough to buy. At the hotel that night he would wonder who in the world bought the other ones — the rugs he passed over. Today, of fifteen lines of rugs he examines, he may like twelve.
He agrees that we are enjoying a golden age of Oriental rugs, and one of its features, he says, is the sheer number and diversity of good products available. In part, he attributes the healthy diversity of rugs in India to the fact that for the past four or five years German demand has been soft, stimulating India to cater to the more demanding American market.
Indian rugs with chrome dyes and machine-spun wool pile are perhaps the most widely imported Oriental rugs in America. Most collectors of old rugs sneer at them. But the best of them, in our opinion, are destined to become valuable antiques.
But Al Gertmenian predicts that when German demand reasserts itself, India’s willingness to experiment and try new ideas will yield to more mainstream production. Like many other importers, he is wary of the present market’s fickleness. At one time he believed that his business would do well if he had ten good lines of Indian rugs available in a number of color combinations and in all sizes. Today, he realizes, demand changes so fast that the ‘ten good lines’ approach can never work. The trick now is to stay on top of changing fashions.
The Henry Gertmenian Company currently offers the very decorative carpets called 9/9 Jaipur and other natural-dyed rugs. (He is skeptical, by the way, that 9/9 Jaipurs are in fact vegetally dyed. He absolutely could not pin down his producers on the subject.) But I find Mr. Gertmenian’s more standard imports to be most characteristic of the Gertmenian approach. The rugs I am speaking of have withstood the test of time. They have universal appeal, will not soon grow unfashionable, and are durable, honest rugs offered at fair prices. Among my favorites is his Indo-Kashan Vase Rug (shown on this page) in an all-over design inspired by sixteenth-century Persian prototypes.