Weaving Antiques for Tomorrow
Jan Kath, one of the most celebrated designers in the handcrafted carpet spectrum, is known for combining classic elements from the oriental carpet with contemporary, minimalist designs. He brought his collections to Qatar through Ali Bin Ali’s 21 High St, said to be one of Qatar’s favourite shopping and entertainment destination, where retail meets culture and art. By Mubeena Ali
Melding a contemporary and bold approach to traditional carpet making, Jan Kath is one of the world’s most desired designers of the hand-knotted carpets. Breaking conventional styles, the designer combines classic elements from the oriental carpet with contemporary, minimalist design. Inspired by his native place of Ruhr in Bochum with its archaic industrial culture and through his trips all over the world, the artist has created a signature style. Running a family business along with his mother and brother, the designer believes that the art of carpet weaving must be exhibited in museums rather than in a commercial space. This holds true when you see the rich artistic expanse of carpets he has created.
His works are appreciated and showcased at the Frankfurt Museum of Applied Art, Beijing International Design Triennial, Art Museum Riga Bourse, The Museum Fur Gestalt Zurich, Victoria, and Albert Museum in London. Setting up a photorealistic quality in his hand-knotted carpets, the designer has bagged several Carpet Design Awards and also the Red Dot Design Awards.
Recently his collection was bought to Qatar through a show presented by Samovar Carpets, ‘The stars, the moon and the sun – Carpet couture of the present’, a gallery of vibrant handmade works of art, made of the most exclusive highland wool and the finest Chinese silk. It was shown at Ali Bin Ali Holding’s 21 High St. at Katara Cultural Village Doha and the showroom was inaugurated in the presence of Chairman & President of ABA Holding Adel Ali Bin Ali, the Charge’ d’Affaires of the Embassy of Nepal in Qatar, Lakshuman Khanal.
Jan Kath speaks to SCALE about his inspiration and his dedication to keeping the age-old tradition of hand crafted rug weaving alive.
SCALE: Where do you seek inspiration for designing each rug?
Jan Kath: Inspiration can be found everywhere. During a flight back to Germany from Mongolia, I flew over Siberia and had the great fortune to see the Northern Lights. This colour spectacle made a deep impression on me and I translated it into textiles for my “Spectrum” collection. The “Jungle” collection came into my mind, during a hike through the rainforest in Thailand, while “Savonnerie Surprise” was inspired by old carpets made in France in the 17th century.
SCALE: Tell us about the lessons learned from your 30 years of experience in the rug industry? How did you bring the abstract touch to the classic oriental rugs?
JAN KATH: My father and grandfather were carpet traders. I was allowed to accompany them on their exciting journeys as a young boy. That is why high-quality traditional carpets are part of my DNA. Over the years, I have had to realize that the classic carpet is a dying art form. I could not and would not allow that to happen. In addition to designing modern collections, I have also started to breathe new life into classic patterns with my contemporary approach. This has resulted in the Erased Heritage, Polonaise, and Savonnerie Surprise collections. With this collection, age-old classic designs such as Bidjars, Konya’s, and Mamluks have experienced a renaissance. I am very proud of that.
SCALE: What makes the rugs sustainable?
JAN KATH: Carpet production, when done seriously, is sustainable in a very natural way. Only natural raw materials such as silk, highland wool, and Nepalese nettle are used for Jan Kath rugs, which are produced in our workshops. We also knot by hand using ancient methods that have hardly changed in the past 100 years.
SCALE: With such time-consuming craftsmanship, how did you fulfill the client’s needs?
JAN KATH: Indeed, this can sometimes be a conflict. Customers want high-end design and top quality, but at the same time, they don’t want to wait several months to roll out their new favorite piece. This is where we need to clarify and explain the fascination with “Slow making”. The hand-knotted carpet needs time. It grows slowly, knot by knot, centimeter by centimeter, just like in the old days.
SCALE: What makes the rugs so unique and luxurious?
JAN KATH: They are luxurious because we are very selective in purchasing our raw materials and everything is done by hand including the preparation and dying of the materials. Unique is our design concept. Our goal is to create the collector’s items of tomorrow. In addition, we make most of our carpets to customer specifications and incorporate individual wishes into the design. Colour, size, and material mix but also the design itself can be adapted according to customer specifications.
SCALE: Where did you gather such artistic weavers from and how did you encourage them? How do you make sure that the craft remains alive for generations more to come?
JAN KATH: Our designs are extremely complicated. That is why we need the best weavers in the world. The knotting craft in Kathmandu originated in Tibet and was brought to Nepal by refugees. They found a new home here and passed on their knowledge to their children. To keep the profession attractive for them in the future, we as employers must provide a good environment. The working conditions at Jan Kath are regularly checked by independent experts from the Swiss NGO Label STEP, the wages are good and we have set up kindergartens for the children of the weavers. For the adults, there are regular workshops where they can improve their skills. I see this as an investment in the future of our craftsmanship.
All Images Courtesy Jan Kath.