The older pieces are made with no rush of time, materials, or efficiency. They are special because they resemble life itself.

Understanding carpets or kilims is a tricky business. Especially if you walk through a bustling bazaar when you travel to Iran, Turkey, or Morocco, carpet merchants will sell you all kinds of different stories. Unfortunately, many carpets that can be found in these bazaars are not that special. At least not for a “real” connoisseur and collector.

Special pieces
No, the really interesting pieces travel the world, are sold at auctions in places like New York, London, and Singapore at prices most of us can’t even imagine. These pieces are old, handmade, and rare. They are often found in, for example, a remote village, in Turkey in a house or mosque. People in these remote places often don’t even realize they had such an old and special piece.

Rugs and Kelims
A few years earlier, however, I did not know the difference between any rug or kelim. I tried to tackle that problem by using two effective tactics. Reading and doing interviews. The internet is great for this. Passionate, educated people are easy to find. One of these people I spoke to is Kenan Can. Kenan is the son of a Turkish carpet family who has been active in the carpet trade for years. He has first-hand experience of figuring out what makes some carpets more special than others.

Carpet store
Kenan has a lot of interesting knowledge of where certain carpets originate from. Different areas in the vast countryside of Turkey produce different carpets. The middle, north, and east all have distinct styles and colors. However, to me, that was not the most exciting part of his knowledge. 
What excited me about our conversation was Kenan’s stories of his father in the bazaar in Istanbul. Kenan states: ‘At that time, my father has got two shops. One was in the grand bazaar and the other is out of the grand bazaar. My father told me, ‘Kenan, you stay here and learn the repair of the carpet’. Then, I started to repair it. I learned many things from my father.’

Kenan Can | ByvandenBelt

Maybe one day
Before I could ask any other question, Kenan continued: ‘When he, [father] sometimes came to the shop, he was opening one carpet. He was looking and drinking tea. When he left, I close and put them away at the same place. One hour later, he came back and he was looking again. I said: why are you looking five times, ten times, to the same kelim. He told me: maybe one day you will understand me.’

Experienced carpet trader
I now realized that I had a conversation with an experienced carpet trader, who was here trying to sell a story. No, he was talking about his father and what he had learned from him. Kenan continued: ‘Then I ask: why, father, you are looking at the same kelim 5 times on the same day? N One hour later, he came back and he is looking again at the pieces. Then I ask: why, father, you are looking at the same kelim 5 times on the same day? Now I understand, because now when my daughter is asleep, I will open some of my kelims or carpet, on the floor. I drink espresso and I make to enjoy these pieces. Then I think of my father. He told me: one day you will understand me. Because this is art, Felix. 

This is art
And what is fantastic, can I tell you, Felix? In the Kelims, you know, sometimes we have kelim, a pair. In a village, a woman, she never went to school, she does not know a lot. But she started to make the kelim, sometimes every detail is the same in different pieces. This is very interesting for me. Today, when my daughter is asleep, I will open some of my kelims or carpet, on the floor. I drink espresso and I make to enjoy these pieces. Then I think of my father. He told me: one day you will understand me. Because this is art, Felix. This is art. And what is fantastic, can I tell you, Felix? In the Kelims, you know, sometimes we have kelim, a pair. In a village, a woman, she never went to school, she does not know a lot. But she started to make the kelim, sometimes every detail is the same in different pieces. This is very interesting for me.’

Father
The story of Kenan and his father seem simple and short, although it is hard to understand. An older carpet made in a village is not a carpet that should be romanticized, because it is somehow ‘authentic.’ No, it is special because a woman made it out of her interests. She made a carpet or kelim, simply because she needed one. Perhaps for a special occasion, to give to the local mosque, her husband, or simply for practical reasons. There, in her home or a tent, she simply used the tools, materials, and resources she had available to her. 

Special carpets
More often than not, these women were uneducated, they couldn’t imagine their pieces becoming so special and valuable in the global carpet trade a century later. These carpets are special, not because they are difficult to understand. They became special because they were made in a world, a social and cultural circumstance, that simply no longer exist. 

Emotion, time, skill, and passion
Nowadays, people go for the best resources and materials and most likely hire someone to do the job most efficiently. This results in beautiful pieces, don’t get me wrong. But the older pieces are made with no rush of time, materials or efficiency. They are special because they resemble life itself. The emotion, time, skill, and passion of a woman in a remote village somewhere in Turkey, Iran, or Morocco a century ago cannot simply be copied.

Photos: Kenan Can

Felix van den Belt

Felix van den Belt

Give Felix an assignment about carpets and he will go for it. He listens and asks questions. What is the history and what makes certain rugs unique? What can be said about social life around the carpets? Felix's passion for carpets prompts him to discover these questions like no other.

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