At Gleason Fine Art in Boothbay Harbor

Moroccan rugs: Woven storytellers

… “Don’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express … Don’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express they’re taking me to Marrakesh. I’m aboard that train ...” … CS&N, 1969
Fri, 09/07/2018 - 6:00pm

Story Location:
31 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor  Maine  04538
United States

“I had wanted to go to Marrakesh ever since I heard Crosby, Stills and Nash singing “Marrakesh Express,” Kathleen Jones said.

 ... “Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies ....”

And in 2006, she did - accompanied by friend, fellow artisan, and culture/travel enthusiast Diana Kerr. Since that trip 12 years ago, they’ve traveled to Morocco three more times, most recently in April. Morocco is their favorite destination (they’ve also visited Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and France), or, as they refer to it, their “happy place," specifically the village of Essaouria, a port city on the north African Atlantic coast.

Kerr and Jones are drawn to the cultures of the lands they visit. Since their trip to Marrakesh, where they began learning about the characteristics of traditional vintage rugs versus contemporary ones, they have become quite knowledgeable about them. They know the colors of a vintage rug are composed of vegetable or spice dyes, or both. Some of these natural sources are cardamom, henna, mint, pomegranate, coffee, hemp and saffron. The two have also become familiar with several of the various tribes within the country of Morocco, and the symbols the women within the tribes weave into their rugs – all of which make these trips intriguing and irresistible!

“We were novices. We dove right in, bought books and talked to people,” Jones said.

And then the travels and hands on learning began. Different rugs spoke to each of them. Kerr found herself drawn to the rugs of the Glaoua tribe – funky, brightly colored, patterned, embroidered rugs. These rugs are often reversible; one side is low pile and the other high pile to help ward off the cold either on the floors or walls or used as coats and wraps – either way the high pile is a means of warding off cold!

“You can feel the texture, sense the story,” said Kerr.

Jones prefers rugs in the traditional  flat weave kilim style.

“There is a story in every textile,” Jones said referring to symbolism depicting childbirth, or religion (the Star of David is sometimes depicted, but rarely) being the more obvious theme.

“It’s a process to choose these rugs. An infinite number of choices … we’d have a pile we’d think about, ones that were total rejects, and others that are keepers. And then you have to haggle for prices,” said Kerr.

But, while they are making rug choices, a dealer might tell them a story about a particular rug he has taken down while working his way to the rug Kerr and Jones want to see. This happened on their April trip. A most enthusiastic dealer told them about Talsint or Ait Bou Ichaouen rugs, handwoven by women in a tribe from the remote areas between the Atlas Mountains and Algerian border. The stories woven into these are inspired by the call to motherhood and the landscape surrounding them.

Another story told to them by a dealer wasn’t as cool and exciting: It will become harder to get vintage traditional rugs. The artistry of rug weaving among the tribes is typically handed down from mother to daughter, from technique to the symbols and patterns of their tribe. Many young women make their marriage rug as part of the teaching and learning.

“We are both artisans,” said Jones. “We believe strongly in the value of handmade art and appreciate this craftsmanship that, in many cultures, is dying, often because there’s no one in the family to carry it on.”

A beautiful example of such a rug can be seen at, the Moroccan Zanafi and Ait Ouarda Berber Marriage Kilim ( 2'9" by 7') of two different weaving styles. The Berber Zanafi tribe lozenge motifs in neutral colors is married to a colorful vintage Hanabel kilim by a weaver of the Ait Ouarda tribe. A marriage rug such as this one would become part of a woman’s dowry.

When it comes to defining that “keepers” pile, in addition to relying on their acquired knowledge, Jones and Kerr follow their intuition. Don’t miss seeing some of the rugs from their spring trip at Gleason Fine Art, 31 Townsend Ave., in Boothbay Harbor. The rugs are of various sizes from runners to 3’ by 5’ and 5’ x 7’; others are not of the dimensions we here in the U.S. are used to. Kerr and Jones bought smaller area rugs on this trip for the first time.

“If I’m passionate about a rug, there will be someone out there who will fall in love with it, too,"said Kerr.

All on board the train, all on board the train, all on board ...