I have mentioned in the past that one of the joys of writing this blog is that I meet so many interesting people and get to ask a lot of questions about their area of expertise. It never fails that I come away from each interview with a little knowledge about a variety of subjects, my version of a self-directed urban studies class, if you will.
It has been my intention for some time to introduce you to Greg Halbert (right), proprietor of Halbert Rugs. I finally caught up with him one recent afternoon and convinced him to share his story. I'm so glad I did for I left the shop with a notebook brimming with information about Greg's shopping trips to Tibet, Afghanistan and India where the best rugs are made, and his first store in San Francisco, where he lived for twenty years.
Greg lived in the Castro, 1 1/2 blocks from his rug store, Orient. When most of his friends were leaving San Francisco to raise children, Greg came back to St. Louis to check it out. Originally from southeast Missouri, Greg hadn't been to St. Louis for quite a while, and fell in love with it all over again. He decided to take the plunge and open a rug store in the Central West End. That was six years ago. Halbert Rugs originally occupied The Vino Gallery space on McPherson at Walton, and has been in its current location 4733 McPherson for two years.
In Afghanistan Nepal, Tibet, and India, Greg's rug-buying destinations, he has worked with the same village producers for years (I've added links to both here and here). The producers organize the villagers and facilitate production of the rugs. After all costs, excess money is used for education and other projects, and continued rug production. A reforestation project was funded by the Tibetan rug project and was so successful the Chinese government adopted the model. According to Greg, the Chinese government has also begun to follow the Tibetan project's school model because it's students consistently score higher on testing than theirs. Interestingly, the schools founded in Afghanistan are co-ed.
Greg says that the romantic idea of a lone weaver sitting in the middle
of a desert making a rug simply does not exist. It takes many villagers
to produce a rug, and each individual has his or her own specialty. Some
villagers raise sheep and, naturally the higher the quality of the
wool, the higher the price. Others do nothing but card (comb) the wool
in preparation for spinning. Then there are the people who specialize in
spinning wool, or the rare dyers who know how to dye using 100% natural
plant dye. There are the weavers, and even those who
specialize in finishing work.
Tibetans seem to be the most organized. An 8x10 Tibetan rug takes about 5 months to complete from point of order to delivery. Tibetan knotting ranges from about 40 knots per inch to about 150 knots per inch and the knotting technique is unique. No other weaving culture uses the same knot structure.
Because Tibet was so isolated for so long, Greg says, we are not that
familiar with traditional Tibetan designs the way we are with Persian or
Turkic. But the Tibetans do produce
many contemporary designs as well. see above. The Tibetan Project makes just two production shipments per year. Custom orders are air freighted as finished.
Halbert's rugs range in price from approximately $1400 for a 5 x 8', $2400 to $3200 for an 8 x 10', and $4300 and up for a 9 x 12'. Greg says better quality rugs are found in smaller stores, such as his. His opinion is that most of what is offered in the chain stores isn't true to old designs, and has been modified for mass appeal. Greg recommends people make their buying decisions based on what affects them, not on what the magazines declare is the "current" look. In the long run they will be happier and the rugs will stay more interesting. He also does not recommend buying a rug based on knot density alone, as different knot counts are appropriate for different style rugs; he says buy the one you fall in love with.
Tibetans started weaving colorful folk life rugs (example on wall) years ago as a way to use up extra yarn. The weavers put what they know into the design so no two rugs tell the same story. The 5 x 8 folk life rug shown above is $1400. In case you wondered, Greg's poodles, Bellatrix and Narcissa (named after Harry Potter characters), are not for sale.
Greg's customers include people who are visiting SLU, WU, or BJC, and just happen upon Halbert Rugs while wandering the neighborhood. You might want to check out Halbert Rugs' website, though Greg describes it as pathetic. He says it is extremely difficult to show a rug's true colors in photographs. (He is probably thinking my photographs are pathetic too.)
Halbert Rugs, 4733 McPherson, Weds. thru Sat. from 11-6 and Sun. 11-5, (314) 361-9990.