Friday, February 9, 2007

A New Moon rises

Rug project in Nepal yields good jobs, good products

Express Staff Writer

John Kurtz visits some of the workers in Nepal. Photo Courtesy photo New Moon

Other than warm sand on a beach, what's something you want to feel under your undressed feet?

How about soft, luxurious artwork, the kind found in imaginatively styled and created rugs? Tribes Interiors in Ketchum is hosting next weekend a trunk show of such rugs created by New Moon.

New Moon is the label created by rug historian and antique rug dealer John Kurtz, former host of "Art Underfoot," a PBS series that ran from 1988 to 1992. Fourteen years ago, he was asked, in his capacity as a rug designer, to be part of a trip to Nepal, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, an independent agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world.

"I was sent to see what would make the Nepalese rugs better for the U.S. market," he said. "I met a woman, Sulochana, who is now our partner there. It seemed to me we could lead by example. It seemed we could make the rugs."

At the time, Kurtz found that the rugs that were being produced were of inferior quality. "They were knock-off, tourist copies," he said. "They were making boring things for Germans and were not playing to the decorating trends. That's how it came about."

Kurtz creates all the designs, from traditional to contemporary, for the rugs. He said his partner is the one with the "terrific back-story."

Sulochana Shah, a well-known Nepalese human rights activist and businesswoman, became an important link for Kurtz. All New Moon rugs are hand-woven in Kathmandu by a women's cooperative, using 100 percent Tibetan wool and Chinese silks. Not wanting her employees to work in dark, cramped quarters, Shah opened the healthy, sunlit workshops at her own home, one of the largest privately held residences in Kathmandu. With a lush landscape in which to work, the workshops yield an extensive high-quality product.

"(It shows) the quality of what can come out of Nepal," Kurtz said.

New Moon and Shah were also among the founding members of RugMark International, which has certified hundreds of carpet factories in Nepal and elsewhere. The RugMark trademark certifies that factories use no child labor, pay according to the cost of living index, offer health insurance and make it mandatory for younger children of workers to be in kindergarten and older ones to go to school.

Kurtz, who is based in Wilmington, Del., believes in having art underfoot.

"Rugs have historically been an anchor of comfort and beauty in the home. And, they are sustainable—they last, which means you won't have to toss one out every few years," he said. "Most importantly, rugs and carpets play a deep and powerful aesthetic role in that you can create your own sustainable environment. Buying well-chosen rugs is a multi-lifetime investment."

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