Words from Caroline Baum
in Designer Rugs Blog
5 Jan 2012
When I moved to a quiet beach on the south coast of NSW ten years ago I stumbled on a natural phenomenon that I’d never seen before: intricate patterns created by sea snails foraging for food on the rocks at low tide. I called them Snail Songlines, because they reminded me of Aboriginal art and were also maps of these creatures lives.
They were washed away at high tide but regularly redrawn, like a mysterious ancient calligraphy renewed with constant variation depending on interactions with algae, seasonal changes and weather.
After a couple of exhibitions of photographs of the Snail Songlines I translated some of the patterns on to a range of silk chiffon scarves and then started to dream about a larger canvas. But I could never have imagined that those tiny modest creatures - turbinate molluscs, if you want to know their scientific names , so called because of the turban shaped of their shell- would find their way from the rockshelf all the way to Nepal, where their hungry doddles would be re-interpreted and woven into rugs.
If Yosi Tal had not come in and bought a couple of scarves it would never have happened. Yosi immediately saw the potential of the snail patterns and invited me to submit some images to translate into rugs. He introduced me to senior designer Lia Pielli whose practised eye quickly identified three images that she thought would register best and have the maximum impact due to their pattern and colours.
Using computer software she created a grid of the images that would become the map for the weavers in a small village in Nepal, where they have perfected the slow, labour intensive hand-knotting technique that would be used. This meant I would not see the results for several months. A test for me, as I am not patient! But then the snails work slowly, so it seemed appropriate that human rhythm match theirs.
The next stage was to select the colour palette. Lia’s workspace is filled with boxes of swatches and samples which we played with until we found the right combination. We added silk yarn to create lustre and capture the element of light in the images, and to add visual complexity and softness underfoot.
And then we waited. One group of weavers gave up on the designs, complaining they were simply too complicated to follow. But Yosi is not a quitter and simply found another set of highly skilled artisans who were prepared to take on the challenge.
After two months there were samples to look at and they offered a tantalising glimpse of what the finished designs would look like, But they didn’t give any hint of the impact of the finished rugs. The way that light catches the silk. The subtlety of how the patterns have been reinterpreted, the drama of seeing the images in three dimensions.
My personal favourite, Red Ripple, creates an unexpected optical illusion. Look at it one way and the tide seems to be going out. Look at it from the opposite direction and the tide is coming in. To see that rhythm captured in a rug is like magic.
The whole collection has exceeded my wildest hopes. It brings the organic beauty of the rock shelf, a thriving eco system of small creatures, into the home on a grand scale.