Idaho Arts Quarterly » Central Idaho

West Meets East

Hugo Avila weaves cultures at Davies Reid

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At Davies Reid importers on First Avenue in Ketchum, it is possible to enter another world. The rambling three-story complex built by Terry Reid and Sharon Davies in 1999 is a veritable caravanserai, finished with carved antique lintels and corbels from central Asia. Its balconies are topped with bronze lions and the entry is often bedecked with colorful kilims, sumacs and pile rugs which have been collected by Davies and Reid during decades of travel from the Bosphorous to the Himalayas.

[mage-1] Below the penthouse apartment occupied by the proprietors, you will find a vast collection of Asian antiques and cultural artifacts, which Davies and Reid have been importing and selling since the 1970s, expanding from their original store in Boise to others in Ketchum, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Maui. You will also find stacks and stacks of thick pile woolen rugs, the mainstay of Davies Reid's commercial success.

Within the aromatic interior of Davies Reid are Camas rugs made by Turkman families who once lived in refugee camps near Peshwar, Pakistan. Once known for their traditional weavings made from quality, high-mountain wool dyed with natural colors, the Turkman people Terry Reid encountered in the 1990s were in dire straits, many having fled military conflicts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Reid already knew their talents were in demand back home in Idaho, where he and his wife had been sizing up the market for Asian rugs for quite some time. Reid approached Mohammed Kamil in Khorossan, Pakistan, about putting two and two together and creating some prosperity for them both.

Kamil now manages Davies Reid's operations in Pakistan, where workers can earn nearly three times the average daily wages in the area, creating rugs for western tastes. The rug factory or karkhana in Khorossan has been a boon to the refugees working under Kamil. Proceeds from the Davies Reid "Turkman Weaving Project" have been used to dig wells, build a school and revive ancient traditions in a war-torn land.

The Turkman weavers of Khorossan use only the hardiest wool and the finest and most durable natural dyes, made from pomegranates, madder root, insect shells and other sources of traditional colors. Davies Reid's signature Camas rugs are less decorative than traditional Asian weavings, reflecting American tastes for rugged quality and spare designs. Terry Reid believes the designs were brought to the New World by Spaniards who settled the American West centuries ago, bringing Muslim design influence to Navajo weavers.

As world travelers and self-described hippies-turned-entrepreneurs, Davies and Reid have seen the world in all its chaotic beauty and complexity, following the strands of rug-making from old Asia to the New World and back again. For one Mexican immigrant to the United States, this adventure has landed him where he could never have guessed. For Reid, it signifies a return of the weaver to his origins.

In 2000, Reid hired former insurance salesman Hugo Avila from Aquascalientes, Mexico, to deliver rugs and help around the shop.

"He has a great eye for color," says Reid, who soon offered Avila a try at repairing one of the many antique and damaged rugs, which find their way to his stores. After Avila repaired his first rug several years ago, Reid asked him if he would like to travel to Turkey and learn more. Avila said yes.

"I was very excited because I knew nothing about Turkey," says Avila, who is now 29, married and living in Sun Valley. He has become a specialist at rug repair, expertly tying small knots into the complex patterns of antique rugs using clumps of spun wool. "I would like to return someday to see friends I made while I was over there. They were very nice to me. Istanbul is a very nice city. Like old Mexico in some ways, but very different."

Avila traveled with Reid to Istanbul last year during the month of Ramadan, a holy time for Muslims, staying for one month in a quarter of Old Istanbul while Reid went on to India. Avila studied the craft of carpet repair with Reid's friend Mustafa, refraining from food, drink and smoke during the daylight hours along with the rest of the Muslim community. "There were many mosques and cobblestone streets," Avila recalls. "In the evening, everyone in the shops would put out plates of meat and vegetables and deserts and listen for the singing from the mosque. When the singing ended we would all eat together. Good, spicy, fresh food, but no pork."

During the day, Avila watched Mustafa at work, quickly learning how to match colors of wool and how to tie knots into the many kinds of rugs sold in Asia--rugs from Baluchistan and Turkestan; Mahendras from India; Persian rugs, Afghan kilims and rugs from the Caucasus region. For one month, Avila lived and worked in the teeming cosmopolitan city of Istanbul, visiting museums that housed the arts and armor of Byzantium, socializing in cafes and even trying a pull from a hookah loaded with apple-flavored tobacco. "Not for me," he says with a grimace. While visiting the mosques, he watched the ritual cleansing of feet and hands in fountains before prayer, but refrained from praying himself.

When Reid returned from India and consulted with Mustafa, he found that Avila was fully trained to repair carpets. "I think Mustafa knew only one man who learned more quickly than me," says Avila, proudly. "He is a deaf-mute living in Turkey who learned everything by seeing."

Back in Ketchum, Avila works at a corner table on the second floor of Davies Reid surrounded by wall hangings, brass pots and furniture reminiscent of his travels to the Near East. He keeps one eye on the stairway to the showroom floor below while tying a series of tiny knots in black wool along a frayed medallion design in a 100-year-old rug from the Kuba region of the Caucasus.

"The older rugs are more difficult to repair," Avila says. "Because in addition to the warp and weft, there are knots tied throughout the pile of the rug."

Avila uses wool he dyed himself in old Istanbul, where he once heard the Muslim call to prayer from nearby minarets. As well-heeled tourists browse the showroom stacks below for the right colored rug to match the decor of a vacation home somewhere, Avila makes deft repairs to the next rug at hand, perhaps connected to the rich history of his craft in ways that few of us ever will be to our own.