Gallery Istanbul CEO Volkan Onay sits among his wares, including a love seat upholstered with remnants of a Kilim rug in traditional Cossack patterns from the Kars region of Turkey. On the wall behind him is a carpet in the "Flowers of the Seven Mountains" pattern from the Oushak region of Turkey.
Like the fibers in fine wood products, Oriental rugs also have a "grain" that can be seen in the way the folded halves of this silk carpet appear darker and lighter in the reflected light.
Story last updated at 6/24/2009 - 10:46 am
There may not be a road out of Juneau, but Gallery Istanbul has brought the fabled Silk Road to the capital city. The Oriental rug dealer opened its South Franklin Street shop in May with an inventory whose provenance reads like Marco Polo's itinerary.
What started as a thousand-item inventory includes rugs from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, China, India, Pakistan and the Central Asian countries known as "The Stans" - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan.
"That old Silk Road was and still is the best handmade carpet countries," said Michael De Sadeleer, general manager and marketing director and a new Juneau resident.
Looking for an Alaska location to balance the ebb and flow of business in its Cozumel, Mexico outlet, Gallery Istanbul chose Juneau over Ketchikan and Skagway. "It's a perfect opposite market to make your focus. A lot of the best ships come up here," De Sadeleer said.
Juneau also offer better prospects for year-round business, said Gallery Istanbul CEO Volkan Onay, who emphasized his desire to become a part of the Juneau community.
"We are looking how we can be of help here and not be a touristic carpet store," Onay said in a June 16 interview.
From outside its 406 S. Franklin location, Gallery Istanbul looks merely like a carpet store. Inside one finds history, geography, sociology, biology and a little investment counseling, all steeped in a rainbow of colors. Oriental rugs tell the history of a region illustrated with its native plants, animals and colors.
In ancient times a family that grew prosperous would commission a rug to tell its story. Sultans would have rugs woven to commemorate historical events in their reigns.
"If a sultan was a great sultan his design would continue," Onay explained.
Commonly a province or region of a rug-producing country develops seven to ten designs incorporating its well-known flora or fauna. Some designs still being woven originated with the start of the Ottoman Empire.
Traditionally a single family produced one rug so that the size of the knots and tightness of the weave was consistent throughout. Knots are the blocks off which carpets are built. Wool rugs may have 150 knots per square inch while a silk product can have 400 to 1,500 knots psi.
With only slight modernizations the same methods are practiced today. In Turkey carpet wholesalers will contract with a village to produce rugs. In areas that need economic development the contract includes the establishment of a "rug school" that eventually becomes a self-sustaining industry.
It will take four people about four months to weave a six by nine-foot rug, but the time on the loom is less than half of the production period, which starts the sheep. The most highly prized wool, "baby wool," comes from lambs that are eight months to one-year old, according to Onay. Wool trimmed from the neck is the most valuable because it is the most fine and most protected from the weather. "The sun doesn't see it," he said.
Only about 40 percent of the total production from a sheering is selected for rug weaving. The raw wool is hand-washed and dyed with colors made only from natural plant, animal and mineral dyes that are themselves made from regional products. "Just by seeing the color we know from which area the carpet comes," Onay said.
The human eye can see some 700 shades of color. Dye makers for Oriental rugs claim to be able to produce at least two-thirds of them, but don't ask how. "This is a carefully guarded science known only to a few locals," Onay cautioned.
Designers also choose the colors for their carpets products. "Formal" carpets, with more intricate and detailed patterns, may include 25 or more colors. Those with simpler designs often contain as many as ten colors.
An original design is enlarged on graph paper to the actual size of the rug and a loom master takes over the actual production. When weaving is completed a rug is sheered to the desired pile or thickness, hand-washed several times then blocked on a wooden frame to dry over the next couple of days in the sun and bring it to its proper rectangular or round shape and size.
"On the loom they don't watch for squareness, only the number of knots per row," Onay said.
Taken off the blocking frame, a carpet gets a final hand-trimming with scissors to remove loose threads and the ends are tied in the traditional fringe edging.
The value of an Oriental rug is based on several factors but Onay said they share increasing value and durability. In wealthy New Orleans homes flooded by Hurricane Katrina, Oriental rugs were often the only home furnishing to survive, noted De Sadeleer, who boasts five Oriental rugs in his personal collection.
Onay advised using baby shampoo to clean the body of a rug and chlorine bleach for the white fringe but he said, "The best system is snow. Throw it in the snow and brush it with snow."
The oldest known Oriental rug, housed in a New York museum, was woven over six centuries ago, Onay said. Gallery Istanbul deals in used rugs acquired from owners who want to "trade-up" or simply want a change of home decor. While it brought none to Juneau, Gallery Istanbul offers one hundred-year old rugs at its Cozumel shop.
Onay acknowledged that the price of quality Oriental rugs may be off-putting but he said it's wrong to view them as an extravagance: "A carpet is a need in my eyes. It's not a luxury." Beside providing warmth and sound control, "the carpet is a picture for the floor," said Onay, whose family has been in the Oriental carpet business for generations.
He said factory produced, eight-by-ten rug from a reputable manufacturer like Karistan costs about $2,000. "For a bit more it has got tradition and it lasts forever," he suggested.