Woven into the hearth and soul

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 1995, 12:00am

ONLY the savviest of connoisseurs - and those with plenty of spare cash - would conceive of spending $1 million on a carpet. Certainly it's that sort of person who will relate to Rehman Mir's venture.

For the next week, the finest and rarest rugs from Persia and the Caucasus will be on public view in a first-time exhibition at Mir Oriental Carpets in Wyndham Street.

About 400 exceptional rugs and carpets have been selected from a collection amassed over the years by fifth-generation trader Rehman Mir, in what he bills 'a treat for all true carpet-lovers'.

In Hong Kong, there are 'thousands' of people ready to pay a six-figure sum for an exceptionally rare Persian or Caucasian carpet, and who treat it like the work of art it is, he said.

Broadly defined, the rugs on display are 19th and early 20th-century pieces, sourced from Iran and parts of the former Soviet Union such as Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some were bought at auctions held by the late Ayatollah Khomeini's regime after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.

Entirely hand-knotted in village and tribal weaves, the carpets are essentially examples of craftsmanship that one is hard-pressed to find today.

According to Mir, many specimens were made by master weavers who once owned 'ateliers' in Persia. While commercial workshops have existed in Iran since late last century, the courts of its ancient rulers had their own craftsmen. And because the princes stuck to tradition, carpets have remained an integral part of the decor of their palaces.

Over time, much of the painstaking handiwork once accorded to carpet-weaving has been lost, leaving behind only priceless examples of this work.

Restrictions on the export of Persian carpets have forced importers to have them made in China.

'In this exhibition, every piece is a masterpiece,' said Mir, holding up a small rug made in 1920 in Kashmir that would have taken the weavers between 15 and 20 years to complete. The tightly-woven Pashmina wool, unusually fine chin hairs taken from Ibex goats, has lent a sturdiness and richness to the carpet that has survived the wear and tear of decades, hence the $2 million price tag.

Rarity factors, like the disappearance of the carpet-weaving nomadic tribes of the Caucasus, have enhanced the value of rugs from this region.

In his book The Atlas of Rugs and Carpets, David Black writes: 'Caucasian carpets today are among the most treasured of all Oriental and tribal work, for their golden age has passed. Where other countries may still weave traditional designs . . . in the Caucasus most of the tribes have been settled and the identity of their traditional designs, symbols and patterns has been lost forever.' But precious carpets can be treated as everyday items; spill something and soda water gently applied takes it right off. Even million-dollar carpets are user-friendly, said Mir.

Mir unfolded a succession of precious carpets: a 19th-century piece depicting the reincarnation and life of Buddha; a stunning 28-foot pure silk piece from Tabriz that once graced the Shah of Iran's palace and is valued at $10 million. It's for serious collectors only - but looking is free, says Mir.