Friday, 20 November 2009

Present day Common Shaggy Rugs: The Ground Level of Creativity and Cultural Recognition, or How to Duplicate Scandinavian Rya Research from Ritva Puotila and Gunilla Lagerhem-Ullberg without Limits

If you look on the internet today for any cultural information concerning shaggy rugs, you will find an overwhelming number of commercial sites that will promote the fantastic decorative possibilities of these products for your interior. In the stores, sellers might well have difficulties in answering precise questions. Globally, you will find relatively few areas of information about their origin or history. A misleading comparison with the Greek flokati is sometimes presented, but in reality the development of the shag texture in floor covering is to be found in the Scandinavian tradition and the rya weavings that became popular in the late 1950s.

French magazine advertisement for a shag rug, woven by Balsan, Maison & Jardin, 1965. The Carpet Index Library

In Finland, Norway and Sweden traditional weaving generally had a composition that entailed borders and motifs. They were intended to be used as tapestries, covers or sitting mats, but not as floor coverings. In the 1960s and 1970s Danish manufacturers began to integrate plain rya rugs into their catalogues, using rectangular and circular shapes such as Ege Rya and their Island collection. This example was very quickly followed by many others, which enabled the development of the shag into many different product lines including wall to wall carpeting. These shaggy rugs were generally woven mechanically using the Axminster technique and were either made using wool or synthetic materials such as nylon or acrylic. Their commercial success in the US and Europe for example, was visible in the Sears' catalogues and in the advertising campaigns of the manufacturers, see illustration. By the 1960s they had already been able to mix colours within the pile, the wool having been treated for protection against moths, and certain backings were also treated in order to avoid slippage.

After the 1970s, industrial production decreased rapidly but research among textile designers continued. Finnish artists such as Maija Lavonen and Ritta Makinen, were the first to consider the use of different fibres such as linen, artificial silk, or even sisal mixed with wool. In 1987 Ritva Puotila further developed this research and produced, with her company Woodnotes Oy, the following collections: Woodnotes (using paper fibre) and Aapa. For Puotila, walking on her rugs produced the feeling of walking on soft sand. Later in the 1990s, the Swedish designer Gunilla Lagerhem-Ullberg developed for the Kasthall manufacturer, new lines of rug design such as Moss, Tekka and Fogg, which can still be purchased today.

All these products offered a large variety of colours and took their inspiration from Scandinavian traditional rural culture, with its respect for nature. Today when you purchase the coloured 'new' shaggy rugs in the shops or through the Internet, all of these aspects are treated as negligible. The cheap products exported from China, India and the Middle East bear no designer's name, and not even a manufacturer is mentioned. In the best case the quality of the fibre for the pile is noted, but concerning the backing which is hidden by a glued textile, no specifications of the chemicals used are provided, neither is a description given as to how the rug was looped or tufted. With time, the backing might well dry out and then the cleaning of the rug will become impossible. In comparison, the Finnish ryas are both hand woven and knotted, and use natural dyes. As a result the product will be both long lasting and the pile will be strong and resistant.

With the cheap mass manufactured rugs the quality is ultimately sacrificed. However, it is clear that in our 'modern' world economical model, there is almost no means for a European artist to have their creativity protected from Asian or any other type of copyist. Perhaps the most difficult attitude to explain is that of the silence engendered by public authorities that seem willing to accept this state of the present market as natural, leading to the ultimate demise of any form of local European production. This situation clearly reveals that attitudes within Europe concerning the decorative arts has come to such a low level of estimation and respect towards creativity, that today the context is very much one that is not at all favourable towards any form of creative product for the floor.

The invasion of cheap rugs will, in the long term, be devastating for all concerned. It is really a short term approach to imagine that the customer will not react at all. At the present time the trend in France seems to be one whereby the customer considers the purchase of a rug as being part of a fashionable act, and therefore must not be too expensive because of the constant changes in fashion. However, if this short sighted system does not change the result might well be one where we see the disappearance of the desire to own a rug and the incapacity to identify quality when it appears because the product will have so much depreciated as a creative entity, that the dream of owning a quality rug will have gone forever. With the absence of creativity the low quality and prices may well progressively impoverish this sector and discourage any design newcomers and carpet lovers into entering the profession. To illustrate my point I recently purchased in a Parisian sale at the beginning of this year, a modern hand woven rya from Ritva Puotila produced in the 1990s, measuring 1.4m x 2m for only 200 euros! The rya is like a Rothko painting, mixing linen and wool in blue tones. For me it represents the reflecting sun on the water of the Finnish lakes.

With this article I wanted to highlight the need to protect both designers and their creations, and in order to show that there is something fundamentally wrong with our model of the world economy, something in fact that is making this field of creativity completely ineffectual. I refuse to remain inactive and want to wholeheartedly support innovation and quality, irrespective of whether it comes from either East or West, but absolutely excluding all copyists.

News and Auctions
1)November 21 2009, Damien Leclere, Marseille, France: Ivan da Silva Bruhns, lot 30 (370cm x 4025cm); Paul Follot.
2)November 23 2009, Cornette de Saint Cyr, Paris: lot 10 Pupsam (David Puel and Thomas Libe) single woven by Cogolin and Corneille.
3)November 24, 2009, Dorotheum, Germany: a circular carpet, very rare, by Gabriel Englinger for Studio Aran.

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

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