In the months of May and June, Ellen Amirkhan and I led a group of Master Rug Cleaners to Turkey where we saw the cultural highlights of the country and, in particular, rug weaving (and rug shopping).
The trip really was a once-in-a-lifetime journey, as several key individuals were available to join us and we were able to experience a lot.
Our tour guide was Robert Mann of Robert Mann Oriental Rugs in Denver. Robert has traveled and worked in Turkey for the last 35 years and he opened doors to visit some very special places that otherwise would not be available for a group of American and Canadians to stop by.
Our trip started in Istanbul with Robert giving us a tour of the antique Turkish rugs in The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Robert’s encyclopedic knowledge and insights gave the group a real appreciation of traditional Turkish rug weaving. The colors, design and execution of these 13th-to 19th-century rugs are on par with the best Persian weaving. Unfortunately, export demand in the 20th century caused traditional Turkish weavers to gradually lose their way, giving in to trendy colors and designs. But they still make world-class rugs, as you will see.
We also visited the top sights in the city, which included the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Basilica Cistern, Spice Market and a trip to the Asian side of the Bosporus for a great meal at the restaurant Ciya.
Robert took us to rug shops of his old friends: The Brothers in the Grand Bazaar owned by Zakei Opcin and Murat Ayhan, (See Image 1) and Cocoon owned by Seref Ozen in the Arasta Bazaar (See Image 2). The Brothers focus primarily on antique kilims and textiles. Seref specializes in antique rugs, weaving tools, pottery and antique and modern Central Asian textiles. He is considered to be one of the foremost authorities in the world on Central Asian textiles. Cocoon is synonymous with quality textiles and rugs among collectors around the world. Mr. Ozen has exhibited at all the major tribal art shows around the world including the HALI fair in London and is a regular participant in ACOR and San Francisco at the Caskey Lees Tribal Art show every February. Seref has also contributed various articles to HALI and represents the magazine in Istanbul. Numerous exceptional pieces were purchased with confidence at both stores
While in Istanbul, some of us took a side trip to visit a rug washing equipment manufacturing company, Tektem. It was interesting to see what a small world it is when it comes to rug cleaning.
The next stop was Izmir, where the main attraction is the restoration workshop of Antique Textile Conservation owned by Hasan and Ahmet Opcin, brothers of The Brothers in the Grand Bazaar! This repair facility is the finest in the world. With about 80 employees in the duty-free zone of Izmir, they restore the best collectable textiles in the world. (See Images 3 & 4) While there, we saw the oldest extant complete Persian rug dating to 1450 (carbon dated), 15th-and 16th-century tapestries and 19th-century Navajo rugs. Unfortunately, close-up photographs of the rugs are not allowed as the owners, collectors and museums, for security reasons, do not want images of these textiles in the public domain. Words cannot describe the level of expertise that these weavers have. They custom dye hand-spun yarns with an inventory of over 17 tons of different yarn types. They reproduce exactly the materials, spin, color and technique so that the end result cannot be detected, except perhaps by the highest level of expert.
Rugs are shipped to ATC from all over the world. The rugs are in a duty-free zone so they are not technically in Turkey. The fees for repair are very competitive and worth investigating if you have a large restoration project. Robert Mann Oriental Rugs in Denver is the U.S. agent for ATC.
Later that day, we paid a visit to another rug washing equipment manufacturer Donertas, which translated from Turkish means “rolling stone.” Owner Ms. Arzu Yildiz gave us the “cook’s-tour” of the facility and endless cups of Turkish tea. She has a very impressive facility and sells equipment to 27 different countries, including automatic rug washing units and centrifuges. I met her two years ago at the Amsterdam Interclean Expo and promised to visit her when in Izmir.
One cannot go to Izmir without seeing the ancient Greek/Roman city of Ephesus that is one of the Seven Wonders of the World (See Image 5). The day ended with a great meal at the Kordon Korfez restaurant with the Opcin brothers overlooking the bay in Izmir. As one member of our group said, “It was the best meal of my life”.
In my next article, I’ll continue to describe the trip and our visit to the Woven Legends facility in Malatya and rug weaving in remote villages. Read "Rug Touring in Turkey: Part II" now!