Does sending a mid-1800’s Navajo wearing blanket all the way to Western Turkey for restoration sound odd? At one time, It was a strange idea – but not anymore.
Textile restoration is skilled hand work. It requires the right materials and a technical understanding of the weaving being restored in terms of structure, fiber, materials and dyes. Good results are a collaboration of connoisseur-ship and technical expertise that embody a knowledge of the weaving and an understanding of the owners wishes. Regardless of what is being restored, be it a French tapestry, an early Turkish rug, or a Southwestern blanket, the process is surprisingly similar. Restoration techniques and materials may vary, but fundamentally all projects begin with the same analysis of structure and materials. This is followed by the collection or creation of matching materials via spinning, dying, etc. Then the materials are tested to see how well they integrate. Textile restoration is not only a skilled craft, but an art form in itself.
In the early 1990’s, it was common for US and European rug dealers and collectors to bring rugs to Turkey for restoration. At the time, it was technically illegal to do so due to Turkish regulations that prevented the importation of handmade rugs. So rugs were hand carried into the country in luggage and brought back out the same way. At the time, I worked as a production consultant for Woven Legends, a company that produced handwoven carpets in Turkey and other carpet-producing countries. I was asked by George Jevremovic, one of the companies owners at the time, to write a business plan for establishing a restoration facility within a free-trade zone in Turkey. The idea being that rugs could be shipped to Turkey for restoration and returned to their owners legally if operations were within a free-trade zone. I was skeptical, suspecting that quality control, customer relations, and cost factors might make such an operation too difficult to establish, but after a few days study it became clear that such a business model could work.
Woven Legends asked me to implement the plan, they invested money, and together with their Turkish partners, a business was established. The company began advertising in Europe and the US and rugs began to arrive in Izmir, Turkey for restoration. In the beginning, restoration work was mainly comprised of collectible and decorative antique rugs from Turkey, Iran, and the Caucasus, but as time went by and skills were developed, the facility began to restore antique Chinese rugs, European rugs and tapestries. With a change of ownership in the early 2000’s, Woven Legends became Antique Textile Conservation (ATC) and branched out to include the restoration of Navajo and Southwestern rugs and blankets.
Every step of the way was an adventure and a challenge. Restorers who were mostly familiar with kelims and pile weaving, had a long, slow adjustment to the demands of restoring European tapestry (due to the delicate shading, blending of colored yarns, complex designs and degraded materials). Tapestries presented many new technical problems, which the skilled experts at ATC took on, acquiring the new skill sets necessary for this kind of work.
Twenty years ago, when I proposed ATC take on Navajo rug and blanket projects, the response was: too hard and too unfamiliar. We began putting one foot in front of the other and it was not long before what seemed a great challenge became simply another set of techniques and solutions learned and mastered. A skilled collaboration between restorers, knowledgeable dealers and collectors make Antique Textile Conservation (ATC) the premier facility for the restoration of the rarest and best Southwestern blankets and rugs today.
Much of textile restoration work is a matter of problem solving. You may have just the right materials, but do you have the right technique or approach? The ATC staff and myself are experienced restorers and we study problems together. Collaboration yields the best results. The accumulative experience of a group of experienced professionals working together is usually ‘smarter’ than one working alone.
Since the 1990’s, my work with ATC has allowed me the pleasure and privilege to visit our facility in Izmir, Turkey several times a year. In late 2019, Covid interrupted that tradition. The staff at ATC and I have worked together for a long time allowing for excellent communication when we have to work remotely (we started with phone and fax – remember those days?). But it wasn’t until I couldn’t visit regularly that I understood how important those visits are. With the advent of my recent trip to Turkey in June of 2022 , regular visits have now resumed.
Antique Textile Conservation (ATC) is located in the ‘Aegean Free Trade Zone’ of Izmir, Turkey. The Zone is like a small city with nearly 30,000 workers involved in various businesses. ATC is ably run by brothers Hasan and Ahmet Opcin, with their partner Armand Deroyan. All three partners worked as restorers earlier in their rug careers and are experts in their fields. Ahmet Opcin is the facilities director in Izmir. Armand Deroyan operates a well known gallery in Paris and is a fixture in the International rug/textile trade. Armand and Hasan represent ATC for Europe and the rest of the world. Robert Mann Rugs represents ATC for North America and has since the company was established.