Chapter 11

He made old rugs for the joy of creating, and, besides, he loved old rugs.

Avery spoke to Sarah in his deep, rich voice as he began to create his Ching Dynasty dragon rug. “Create, my dear. Not re-produce, and certainly not fake. Together we will make a rug that has never before existed, so how can it be a copy or a fake?” As he imagined talking to Sarah—that is, imagined in the sense that children sometimes imagine playmates, and not at all in the sense of hallucinating—he gazed at a blank white page in a large drawing tablet and held a pencil in his right hand. Avery had studied the Martin book and read every word ever written about the Ferrier Dragon Rug, and now he was ready to give it life. “I’m doing this for you, Sarah. To make you happy.”

He had done “this” before. In fact it could be said that making antique rugs was what he did. Oh, of course, he bought and sold the occasional vintage automobile or antique bronze statuette. He bought and sold nearly anything, really, to hustle up money. But his calling was fashioning antique Oriental rugs. And, just as artists who work in oils or acrylic are happy to say they have their works in famous galleries and museums, Deane could have bragged that his work was represented in some of the best private and institutional collections of Oriental rugs in the world—except that he had to keep quiet about it because the collectors and museums which owned his works believed them to be at least a hundred years old.

Once, in his youth, he had heard a rug dealer joke, “They aren’t making old rugs any more.” That thought had deeply disturbed him and it continued to rattle around in his head. Later it occurred to him that maybe someone should be making old rugs. Otherwise, soon enough they would all be worn out and gone. So he had given it a try. In his first effort he had used store-bought, machine-spun wool and had woven the rug himself. When it was finished, he clipped its pile short like an old rug’s and consigned it to auction. The auctioneer, at least, was fooled, and he offered it as an “old Hamadan.” Apparently at least one other person took it to be old, and it sold. From that time, antique rugs were Deane’s medium.

He made old rugs for the joy of creating. He wove them to challenge himself. But, more, he wove them for the delicious secret knowledge they gave him—knowledge that confirmed his poor opinion of the wealthy people who believed they were collecting works of art. Having fooled them with his rugs, he knew them to be fools. “Idiots, morons, dolts!” he called the smug museum curators and directors who collected works of art for the amusement of the wealthy. “I know something you don’t: that your expertise is a sham; that your money is thrown away; that your works of art are mirages.”

He took special delight in dreaming up and creating rugs so hip that wealthy collectors simply couldn’t resist them. There were only eight known star Kazaks in the world? He made the ninth and arranged to have it discovered at auction. It was the absolutely coolest star Kazak of them all. Within its classic star design, he planted tiny animals that some believed to be antelope and others thought to be dogs. He designed elements that a famous rug scholar claimed to represent earth goddesses. Critics argued. A human face peered out from the very center of the centermost star. And finally, the background color of its major border was a rare shade of pistachio green that was absolutely irresistible to collectors. Rug dealers and agents from museums swarmed to the obscure auction gallery outside of London to vie for it. All agreed that the rug was well worth the $120,000 the National Carpet Museum, in the end, paid for it at auction.

The other rug he produced at about the same time, the Arabachi, was just as hip. Why? Because of an absolutely insignificant technical anomaly involving the rug’s construction. Instead of the usual Z-spin and S-ply of a Turkmen rug’s foundation, this one was S-spun and Z-plied. It was thought to be from a previously unknown group of rugs. No one considered that it might simply be the work of a dyslexic weaver—or, of course, that it might be a hoax. If not for its anomaly, the rug would have been worth four or five thousand dollars. Though it was not an attractive rug, the National Carpet Museum bought it at the same auction for $90,000.

Avery Deane took a fine pleasure knowing that some of the world’s rug experts were monkeys, but his deepest satisfaction was from anticipating that someday his rugs would be discovered to be fakes, thus ensuring that their owners would have to acknowledge that they were idiots. To ensure that this moment would come, he wove into each of his creations a clue. For instance, he worked two dozen knots into the star Kazak that he had colored with a dye not invented until two decades after the rug had supposedly been woven. Sooner or later, he knew, someone would subject the dyes to modern analysis and the cat would be out of the bag.

Of course he also made antique rugs for money. But somehow he never managed to hang onto it. Of the $210,000 the rugs had sold for to the National Rug Museum, Deane saw only $150,000 after the auction gallery’s commission, and that went to get him out of a scrape he was in at the time. The money was nice, but…no, that wasn’t it. The pleasure for him was the satisfaction of a job well done.

Now he began to pencil in the outlines of Sarah’s rug, a simple rectangle and then a smaller rectangle within. Already two spaces were defined: border and field. Then, the dragon: Deane placed him to one side of the field, facing forward, and gave him menacing teeth and a long, drooping and finally up-curling mustache and a bristling beard. “Eyes,” he said aloud, and quickly he sketched eyes that glowered so fiercely they seemed almost comic. Then the dragon’s sinuous, scaly trunk and tail and his four legs, on each of which was a five-toed claw. All along his back ran saw-toothed armor like the sharp dorsal fins of a shark.

“Who is this dragon?” he mused, studying what he had drawn. “What sort of beast have we created, Sarah? A fierce and fearsome dragon, yes, but one so menacing that he delights us. Does he keep us from a treasure? Frighten us away? Or does he protect us with the fire he breathes? Hah! That’s it! He guards us, keeps us safe from harm! My kind of dragon, Sarah, my kind of dragon. Supreme deity in the heavens and supreme protector on earth, our emperor. Let us bow our heads.”

Avery began sketching again, drawing sideways-facing dragons in each corner. “And because he rules the waters, we will border him with waves.” The artist penciled Chinese waves along each edge, surveyed what he had drawn and finally crooned, “Enough, enough, enough.”

Now to color. This, too, he had thought about. “We’ll lay our imperial dragon on an imperial yellow background, Sarah. I’m sure he would approve.” Exchanging his black lead pencil for a brush, he squeezed yellow watercolor onto a pallet, diluted it with water, added a spot of red and then brushed it on the pebbled paper around the five dragons. When it dried, he topped it with a thin glaze of red and brown. “Imperial yellow to frame our dragon, love. What else?” And then the dragon. He painted first in blues, three shades, then white for the dragon’s scales and for his teeth, beard and mustache. Finished with the central dragon, he painted the corner dragons and then, finally, the water waves that formed the border. And having reached the moment to stop, he stopped, a challenge for any artist!

He stood back to view his work. “I think you’ll be pleased, Sarah. I believe you will.”

The Ferrier Dragon rug had already cost Deane his Porsche. He had sold it—as he had sacrificed his various Porsches so often in the past—for what he needed at the moment. This time it was the shelter and materials and labor to create a 350-year-old rug. The shelter, a studio apartment on the north end of Berkeley’s Shattuck Avenue, had not come cheaply, and he wasn’t sure he had money left to buy the wool and pay a dyer and a weaver. But Deane had an unshakable faith that, chips down, he would have exactly the amount of money he needed. Money came to him, he believed, and so he never worried about it.

He had drafted the rug’s design and had chosen its colors. Now it was time to find help. Though he had drafted and woven and clipped his first several works himself, over the years he had learned to leave the technical work of rug-making to experts. That was especially true for this rug. For one thing, it would have to be woven with an asymmetrical knot, as nearly all Chinese rugs are, and he specialized in tying the other kind: the symmetrical knot. Secondly, he knew that this rug, for which someone apparently was ready to spend a million dollars, would be examined very carefully and that its dyes were likely to be subjected to chemical analysis and would have to be made from natural substances. And finally, it would have to be made from hand-spun wool rather than off-the-shelf machine-spun wool. So he needed a weaver, a dyer and a spinner. In addition, he needed someone able to put each individual colored knot into its own square on a piece of graph paper so that a weaver could use it as a map from which to weave the rug. Where in northern California could he find such people? He guessed: Little Kabul.

Little Kabul was so named by the large Afghan population living in Fremont, California, about 25 miles south of Oakland. Over 30,000 of them had been attracted to Fremont by its Kabul-like climate and by the California coastal range of mountains nearby that reminded them of the Halvand Mountains outside Kabul. “Among 30,000 Afghans, surely,” he reasoned, “I can find one who can graph a rug design and others who can spin, dye and weave. But I can’t very well walk to Little Kabul, can I Sarah? I’ll need a ride. I believe I’ll call on my friend, Holden.” For he had purposely found an apartment within walking distance of his rug store.

handspun wool for oriental rugs

When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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