The Oriental Rug Renaissance – Recap and Timeline

New Turkisk Kilim
New Turkish kilim, in natural dyes and handspun wool. It was imported by Paul Ramsey of Denver, who takes a hand in designing the kilims he imports.

Oriental Rugs Today: Chapter 1 Part 7


To summarize, then: The renaissance was stimulated by a renewed interest in Oriental rugs that began in the ’60s and increased over the next thirty years. Interest initially focused on antique tribal and village rugs, which were scarce and expensive and unavailable in large sizes. When young American rug dealers living in Turkey were exposed to the pioneering work of German Harald Bohmer, who instituted a production of village rugs with natural dyes in 1980, they loved the idea, ran with it, and essentially perfected it, finally delivering to the market a relatively inexpensive and wholly satisfying alternative to antique rugs. I am calling 1985 the beginning of the renaissance, because it was then that the new tribal and village rugs began to be seen in the markets in America and Europe.

Bakshaish - Mahindra Carpet
A Mahindra, based on an old north Persian Bakshaish. I venture to say that not a single carpet was made in the world from 1930 to 1985 as good as any of these Mahindras.

Phase Two of the renaissance also was driven by a strong change in fashions in the rug industry, this time in the direction of decorative carpets. The challenge began to be met by young Americans and Europeans in Nepal in partnership with the Tibetan refugees who had created the carpet industry there. In the process of filling needs in the market, pioneer rugmakers in Turkey and Nepal improved the quality of Oriental rugs — in Turkey by rediscovering the use of twenty-five-hundred-year-old technology, in Nepal by experimenting with color and design. The commercial success of the new Turkish and Nepalese rugs started a kind of chain reaction, and dozens and finally hundreds of American rugmakers ventured interesting new approaches.

Turkish Heriz Woven Legends
A Euphrates, about 10 feet by 12 feet, produced by Woven Legends in Turkey and modeled after an old Persian Heriz.

The renaissance was launched. Rugmakers were aided by the availability of a displaced population of Tibetan weavers in Nepal, a vast number of displaced weavers in Pakistan, and the increased control over production that they enjoyed when India, Pakistan, China, and others filled in for Iran as our major source of rugs. Finally, Western rugmakers and their counterparts in the East were aided by advances in information, transportation, and communications technology. As I’ve stressed, however, while technology and political change helped the renaissance along, it was the resourceful, adventurous and visionary rugmakers themselves who deserve principal credit for it.

And on it goes. Though the renaissance has passed through its formative stage, it still seems young to me. The techniques of rugmaking, some of which, like natural dyeing and hand spinning, had to be rediscovered, are now in place. The craftspeople are in place — skillful weavers, spinners, and dyers. The market is in place: the public has voted its approval. Now it will be fascinating to watch the renaissance evolve.

Chronology of the Renaissance

Silk Egyptian Mihrab Oriental Rug
Silk Egyptian rug in a vase and mihrab design. It was made by Nasr N. Salem of Egypt and is about 3 ft by 5 ft.
  • 1973 China provisionally granted Most Favored Nation trade status 1976 First International Chinese Carpet Conference
  • c. 1976 American-born Tombo makes rugs in Nepal with natural dyes under tutelage of Tibetan refugees
  • c. 1978 Empress of Iran sponsors natural dye project in southern Iran
  • c. 1978 Harald Bohmer analyzes natural dyes in Turkey
  • 1979 Revolution and hostage crisis in Iran
  • 1979 Soviet Union invades Afghanistan; hundreds of thousands flee
  • 1980 DOBAG established in Turkey; natural dyes reintroduced to weavers
  • 1981 George Jevremovic first sees natural-dyed DOBAG rugs
  • 1982 Chris Walter first sees DOBAG natural-dyed rugs
  • 1983 George Jevremovic produces Azeri prototype
  • 1985 United Nations sponsors natural dye project in Kabul, Afghanistan
  • 1985 Natural-dyed rugs from Nepal, Woven Legends, DOBAG, Ayvacik, Konia, Egypt, and a few pieces from southern Iran, begin arriving in the U.S.—and we are calling this the beginning of the renaissance
  • 1986 James Tufenkian begins production of Tibetan rugs in Nepal
  • 1987 Stephanie Odegard begins production of Tibetan rugs in Nepal
  • 1987 Chris Walter establishes Ersari Project and initiates first natural dye enterprise in Pakistan
  • 1990 Chris Walter founds Aryana in Pakistan with Habibullah
  • 1990 Teddy Sumner and George Jevremovic start first natural dye project in India
  • 1990 Chinese government corporation system breaks down; U.S. importers now deal with factories directly
  • 1990 Teddy Sumner and George Jevremovic start first production in China with natural dyes imported from Turkey
  • 1994-1995 Robinson and Samad and their producer achieve nearly perfect finish for decorative carpets in India March
  • 2000 US drops trade restrictions on importation of carpets from Iran
  • 2001 US attacks Taliban in Afghanistan, and shortly afterwards Afghan refugees begin returning from Pakistani camps

1 Comment

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    Jana December 18, 2015

    Totally agree with jenn. I think a Frank blog could be a goldmine and poinettal celebrity status. Ha, ha!Ooh! DC. Have a great time. I love that place. Any good eats lined up?Have a great time!