If you ever wander into the booth of rug dealer Peter Pap at, say, New York’s Winter Antiques Show or his gallery on Jackson Street in San Francisco, you’ll find a bespectacled, modest, nicely dressed fellow with the air of an Ivy League academic, quiet and unassuming. Yet show interest in any of Pap’s offerings, and he immediately will spring into his role as one of the most respected rug dealers in America, happily offering a full discourse on the item’s origins, design, craftsmanship, condition and rarity.
That said, with Pap’s merchandise, the rugs often sell themselves. Whether workshop, tribal, nomadic or village, the rare pieces are universally appealing but all in very different ways. So captivating are they, you may find yourself falling in love with a specific rug without even knowing why, unaware of what it is and what makes it special and precious.
Pap, the son of a Swiss-born Yale professor, learned his trade the old-fashioned way. For his first job, at age 20, he served as a stock boy with an Armenian rug dealer in Boston. He worked his way up from the bottom, and, by the time he went out on his own a few years later — he now has galleries in San Francisco and Dublin, New Hampshire — he was able to make a living by relying on his own taste, scholarship and erudition. But it took guts. “It didn’t seem that daring at the time, but it was,” he says now.
Today, he continues to love what he does, sharing that enthusiasm with everyone he encounters, whether expert clients or curious amateurs. And, now, he is spreading the excitement with “Art in Bloom,” a special selling exhibition that is on view in March at Kentshire Galleries, in Manhattan. “Art in Bloom” features approximately 100 rugs and textiles from his clients’ private collections, amassed over the past 40 years. The selection includes mid-19th-century Caucasian prayer rugs, early Anatolian and Turkmen carpets, bags, trappings and nomadic textiles. Prices range from $5,000 to $50,000. “It’s not like fine art,” Pap says. “You can still buy the ‘best of type’ for less than six figures.”
“It’s not like fine art. You can still buy the ‘best of type’ for less than six figures.”
Among the irresistible rugs on offer you’ll find an exceptionally vibrant “vagireh” (sampler) from southwest Persia, made by members of the Qashqai tribe as a guide for nomadic weavers; a luscious indigo Tibetan “khaden” (sleeping rug) with stylized peonies inspired by Ming designs from China; and a Karabagh prayer rug made in the Caucasus but in the design of a south Persian velvet ikat, with a central cypress tree flanked by smaller trees topped with birds. These three examples, like the majority of pieces in the show, are from the 19th century.
Pap says now is a good time to buy fine antique Oriental rugs. “Great rugs are coming on to the market as there is a changing of the guard,” he explains. “A lot of people who were collecting rugs over the last 35 years are in their seventies and eighties and deciding whether to sell or donate their collections, particularly when their children don’t want to take on the responsibility. And now that the auction houses no longer hold regular sales of rugs,” he continues, “collectors are approaching me to disperse their collections — many of which I advised on to begin with.”
In other words, carpet diem!
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