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Berber Rugs

A love of any particular art form connects you to others who share it. So from the moment I met Ishmail and Soufiane, who are brothers and rug merchants in Marrakech, we clicked. Through the boisterous warren of the medina they led me to the unmarked door of their showroom, and when we entered I was swept into a woolly and astonishing world. The sheen of the carpets, the simple yet soulful designs, and the unmistakable craftsmanship stopped me in my tracks, as I have often seen happen to the visitors of Archeo. It’s like you need a moment to absorb the unfamiliar beauty. The brothers served me mint tea in little glasses, as is the custom. They showed me “pompom bedspreads” (available at Grace on Frances) and bragged about the celebrity who’d visited the day before (Gina Gershon). As the rugs unfurled, I found myself comparing and contrasting them to gabbehs. In both traditions, women do the knotting and in both, rug-making is everyday work. Differences include the types of knots––single in gabbehs compared to the double, so-called “Berber” knot. Berber rugs are also shaggy, and feature ornamental fringe and, sometimes, sequins. But back to similarities: my favorite is the how the artists leave leave marks, or signatures. Gabbehs, for example, incorporate a “love knot” of contrasting color, or a solitary symbol. Berber rugs leave random, un-cut tufts of shag. These deliberate irregularities tell you a person, not a machine, made the piece. The two of you may never meet or sip mint tea together, but you are connected through the knots of a rug.