|Greetings from reWoven! In this newsletter, the first in a long time, we want to update everyone about the current state of the project and our plans for the future.|
As many of you know, our founder Ryan Smith, along with his wife Lora and son Caleb were taken from us almost two years ago. In the wake of this incredible tragedy many friends of reWoven were left wondering what would become of this project, which created so many
beautiful rugs and helped the even more beautiful weavers whose hands had made them. We want to assure you that the amazing work that the Smiths began with reWoven will not only be preserved, but continued.
The summer of 2018 was a time of immense grief for all who knew the Smith family, including their friends in Georgia, and especially the weavers who had become part of the reWoven community. Ryan’s family, as well as his friends in Georgia, began looking for ways to ensure that the work Ryan and Lora had started would continue. Michael Chapman, a friend of the Smith family, and also an American living in Marneuli, Georgia volunteered to become interim director. He began to make regular trips into the villages, meet the weavers and familiarize himself with the working process Ryan had created. Before long each weaver was once again at work crafting beautiful rugs.
In 2019, working in conjunction with Ryan’s family in California and a group of supporters in Georgia, it was decided to formally constitute reWoven as a non-profit, humanitarian organization, and in February 2020 reWoven was officially registered as an NGO, with a board that includes eminent carpet scholars, tourism specialists, journalists and executives (see below).
It is our hope that, with the institutional framework of reWoven secure, and our weavers continuing to produce beautiful rugs, the legacy of the Smith family will be preserved. With the help of reWoven’s friends the project will continue to preserve the ancient textile tradition of the region, and directly help the women who weave these extraordinary rugs.
If you still believe in the importance of providing economic options for low-income Azeri communities in Georgia, if you still believe preserving the ancient cultural tradition of hand woven rugs is valuable, if you still believe in enriching the lives of our amazing weavers then you still believe in reWoven. We are still emerging from the tragedy that took our founder from us, and in order to lay a strong and sustainable future for reWoven we need your help and support now more than ever! There are three main ways you can continue supporting reWoven.
1. Sing up for our newsletter! Many of those reading this newsletter are already on our mailing list, but you can still help expand reWovens reach by forwarding this newsletter to friends and family. For those of you who are not already signed up and you would like to periodically receive reWoven updates please sign up here!
2. Buy a rug or commission a new one! If you or anyone you know is interested in purchasing one of our amazing rugs please browse the rugs that are currently for sale. Scroll down to see a wide selection of sold rugs. If you don’t see anything that fits what you are looking for, we are able to reproduce and customize any rug we have previously made. Once you have made your selection contact Michael Chapman.
3. Follow us on facebook and instagram! If you would like up to date stories from our weavers and see their beautiful creations follow us on facebook and Instagram. Like and share our stories with your friends and family.
4. Donate to our organization! reWoven sets aside a portion of its income to fund special projects aimed at helping its weavers and the communities in which they live. We collaborate with our weavers and local leadership to come up with meaningful and impactful projects. Some of our past endeavors have included purchasing school supplies for local students, providing funds for medical assistance and purchasing a large dish/silverware set for the local community center. If you would like to make a donation to help fund similar projects please contact Michael Chapman.
Over the last two years there have been many developments in the project, some to be celebrated an some to be grieved. It is with great heaviness of heart we report that one of our beloved weavers Shoret Musayeva succumbed to a long battle with cancer on October 18, 2019. She was one of our most famous weavers, and tours located to Kosalar were often hosted at Shoret’s home. She was a trustworthy leader and a blessing to our project for over five years.
reWoven was able to use the money generated by rug sales to fund Shoret’s cancer treatment, helping her family financially and improving Shoret’s quality of life until the end. We will miss her greatly.
Looking to the future, it is a huge pleasure to announce that we have been able to add three new weavers to our team over the past two years. We will be introducing these newcomers and sharing their stories with you in the following newsletter. Over the last two years we have been able to host five tours to meet our weavers in
Kosalar, which generated a good amount of interest as well as some rug commissions! Tours usually range from eight to fifteen people and take about five hours beginning to end. Guests are taken on a tour of Kosalar’s new multi-million dollar mosque and then visit weavers in their homes, where they are all encouraged to try their hands at tying a few knots on one of our rugs. After learning about the Borchalo-Kazak
carpets indigenous to the area and viewing an exhibition of our rugs, the tours conclude with a delicious feast of Azerbaijani cuisine served in the home of one of our wevers. We hope to also include tours to our other weaving village, Karachop, in due course. If you are in Georgia and would like to experience reWoven for yourself, please contact Michael Chapman.
It is no surprise that the last couple of months have been challenging for reWoven. In mid-April the government, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, closed all roads to our two weaving villages. This has obviously been discouraging to the weavers and business has all but shut down for the time being. Thankfully, none of our weavers have contracted the virus and all are eagerly anticipating the roads being opened up again.
On behalf of reWoven and the board I (Michael Chapman) would like to thank you for your continued support. We hope that you are encouraged by the developments over the last two years and are excited about the direction that reWoven is headed! We are proud to continue building on the Smiths’ legacy–inspiring the world through the beauty of our rugs and bringing hope to the weavers who create them.
I just wanted to introduce myself to those of you who have had an interest in reWoven in the past and to those of you who are interested to know what the future looks like for reWoven.
This update is long overdue, but timing is something that can be difficult to determine in sensitive situations like this. Without further ado, My name is Mike Chapman. I am from Rochester, New York originally. I moved to Baku in 2010 as a humanitarian English teacher. I got married to my wife, Angela in 2012 and we moved to Baku and lived there from 2014 to 2017. It was a great time in our lives where we learned to speak Azeri fluently as well as developed a love for the people of the Caucasus. We had a strong desire to open our own English business and so in 2017 we moved from Baku to Marneuli, Georgia. Although I had met the Smiths a number of times while in Baku it wasn’t until this point that our families became close. Ryan and Lora became our closest friends and over the next year and a half we did life together. I fell in love with reWoven and saw how effective it was at not only preserving a beautiful art form but also at community development.
In 2018 tragedy hit and both Angela and I were completely devastated as were the many friends the Smith’s had in Azerbaijan and Georgia. One of the questions that quickly came to the surface was what would become of reWoven and the weavers who depended on the income generated by this business? It became clear that if anyone would step into the role of director it would have to be someone who could at the very least speak fluent Azeri and fluent English. I felt compelled to step forward and take the mantle for the foreseeable future. I did this because Angela and I wanted to see the Smith legacy continue as well as because we believed wholeheartedly in the mission of community development and preservation of this declining ethnic art form.
I, along with a handful of other friends, have been working hard for the last months. In this time we have been able to give the weavers of Kosalar and Karachopt 21 new carpets to work on. We held our first tour to Kosalar on May 4th (I will post pictures in a few days), and we are planning an exhibition in the Fall. A lot of great things happening in reWoven!
Although we are not able to say if this will be an interim role or a permanent role for us, what we can say is that we, along with a group of knowledgeable supporters, are committed to assure reWoven will have a future.
Please continue to support this project and its talented weavers! If you would like a beautiful carpet and want to give back to the people of this great country than please visit our website reWoven.net and take a look at our gallery. We can reproduce any carpet you find there in a few months time. Thanks so much!
*Like us on facebook, the best way to get the most current news and pictures from reWoven.
reWoven is alive with action. We currently have nine rugs on the looms, the most ever at one time! Each is unique creation and woven in a women’s home at her desired pace. We look forward to sharing the spectacular results with you!
Take another look at our gallery full of available rugs. Some have sold, but many are still available. Please contact us if you see one that you would like to take home. Thank you for supporting our project!
Investor.ge, a periodical from Tbilisi’s American Chamber of Commerce, recently published an article about reWoven. The article is a great review of the history and aspirations of reWoven. Give it a read!
Terlan (on right) must be a popular woman, because multiple people sent us to her door during our search for weavers over the years. But each time she could not weave for one reason or another. That is, until a couple months ago when she and her sister started their first reWoven rug. Despite their advanced age, they are young and spunky at the loom. Enjoy the brief video below.
reWoven has been in full swing over the past year, despite the lack of evidence on our website. We have been so busy gathering yarn, discover new designs, and weaving new rugs that we have not had time to stop and tell the world about it. But now is your chance to enjoy the fruit of our labor. We have a gallery full of new rugs. Some have already been sold, but many are still available. Please contact us if you see one that you would like to take home.
At reWoven’s first exhibition just about one year ago, we had thirteen completed rugs from over a years worth of effort. Since that time, we have completed twenty-two additional rugs, and the majority of them are larger sizes. So we are celebrating the progress and momentum. And we still have many new rugs on the looms!
No Two Rugs are Created Equal
You will notice in our gallery that we unapologetically repeat our favorite designs. This is a centuries old tradition and why antique rugs can be grouped into distinct design families with numerous examples exhibiting the same patterns. Weavers would repeat designs embraced by their community. They would copy rugs that were already on their own floors or borrow a beloved example from their neighbor.
Even when we give two weavers the exact same pattern, their creations are far from copies. Each weaver can decide where to place certain colors, how thick to trim the pile, and how to modify the pattern to their own liking. Additionally, there are always the unintended misplaced knots that give each rug their character. Every reWoven rug is absolutely unique!
Following our successful exhibition at the Axhundov House, reWoven is back in the village weaving rugs and exploring new avenues to share this beautiful art with the world.
On a visit to Qarachop, the weaving village, after the exhibition, I gave out printed photographs from the exhibition to the weavers who were able to attend. It was such an honor and treat for each them. On one visit, Terlan shared with me a rug she had just woven for herself. She loved the stars in the border on the reWoven rug she wove (Chelaberd – #002), so she incorporated them into her own rug. It was fun to see that our project had helped to inspire a local weaver. Please also note the colors in her rug, which accurately reflect the color palette of the past decades. The harmonious colors of natural dyes were long ago replaced by synthetic colors, some of which are quite florescent. It is our honor to put naturally dyed yarn back in the hands of weavers. But we are happy to see the craft continue in any form.
We picked up our latest complete rug from our star weaver, Tukazvan. This is her third rug with reWoven, and it is absolutely stunning. The weaving is superb along with its classic “Star Kazak” design which displays interlocking geometric shapes with a myriad of colors. If you look closely at the upper cross bar of the loom in the picture, you’ll notice a small pair of hand-knitted socks hanging there. On my last visit to their home, Tukazvan’s mother-in-law, Janet, asked if she could have a little bit of yarn to knit some socks for the baby in my wife’s belly. Janet proudly displays her handy work alongside Tukazvan’s new creation.
Following the conclusion of our exhibition at the Axhundov House, our rugs have headed east along the Kakhetian highway to Sighnaghi. Enroute, the rugs passed their birthplace of Qarachop/Iormughanlo and continued east on to Sighnaghi, a quaint hilltop town with lots of history and beauty. We are honored to display our rugs at Pheasant’s Tears tasting cellar and restaurant (18 Baratashvili Street, Sighnaghi). The restaurant’s delicious dishes and locally crafted wines draw travelers from around the world who can now also learn about efforts to revive local handicrafts. The rugs show beautifully on the venues’ ancient brick walls. We hope many travelers will want to take home with them a piece of our woven art!
We are profoundly grateful for all of the partnership that culminated in a glorious exhibition opening for reWoven at the Akhundov House Gallery on March 19, 2014. We had two wonderful events on the opening day.
In the morning, we welcomed Tbilisi’s International Women’s Association to the gallery for a brief presentation about the history of rug weaving in the region and its preservation through reWoven. Following the presenation, the ladies enjoyed refreshments provided by the Akhundov House, while they viewed each rug and read about its weaver and history.
In the evening, the official opening include a wonderful variety of guests from many different nations. While we were honored by ambassadors and officials who attended the event, perhaps our most distinguished guests were the women who brought these rugs to life. We treated our weavers to dinner before the event, and honored them with gifts at the opening. We trust it was a special time for each of them.
All of our guests enjoyed tasting premium wines from Bineki and Georgian Royal Wines who generously provided their wines for the opening, along with delectable refreshments provide by the Akhundov House.
We could not have imagine a more successful start to a beautiful exhibition! Scroll down to view some pictures, and visit Akhundov House’s Facebook page to view many more pictures.
reWoven’s presentation to the International Women’s Association.
The beautiful 19th century refreshment hall that runs parallel to the gallery hall.
Guests enjoy Novruz Holiday themed refreshments.
Detailed information about each rug’s weaver and design history is posted beside each rug.
The evening opening begins to fill with people.
Chatting with Brazilian Ambassador Asfora (center) as he eyes the rug he’ll be taking home with him.
Weavers receive their gifts and are honored for their excellent work.
Left to Right: Fatma Mamedova (weaver), Misha (Akhundov House cafe manager), Sona Mamedova (Izzetxan’s mother, yarn spinner), Terlan Memedova (weaver), Lora Smith (Ryan’s wife), Rena Sulfiyeva (weaver), Izzetxan Mamedov (reWoven’s local manager), Ryan Smith (reWoven’s director)
Lela and Archil Bezhanishvili, Creative Ltd. Director and Akhundov House Art Director.
Ryan Smith, reWoven’s director, expresses his sincere gratitude to Mehriban Muradova who made the whole event possible.
reWoven is in a very exciting stage of its development as we prepare for our first exhibition beginning on March 19th at 7pm at the Akhundov House Art Gallery. This exhibition will be a culmination of more than a year’s worth of work. We wandered the streets of Qaraçöp village (Iormuganlo officially) searching for potential weavers. We offered them historic designs and hand-spun, naturally-dyed yarn in order to bring back to life the amazing rugs of centuries past. Despite its rich rug weaving history, this craft is all but extinct in the region now. We are so proud of the many weavers who took on the challenge and beautifully crafted new pieces of art for the next generation.
March 19th will be your first chance to view our collection of rugs, and to engage the stories of the women who wove them. We know that you will enjoy what you see. We also hope that it will be a special evening for the weavers. Many of them will be in attendance, and we look forward to honoring them for their efforts. We also look forward to meeting you.
See you on March 19th!
reWoven is in the final minutes of a half-time break, which thankfully will provide an opportunity to catch up on recording the events up to this point.
Perhaps I should briefly make some mentions of my own personal journey, which are central to origin of this project.
A passion for travel and a love for people of other cultures lead me from the USA to Azerbaijan in 2002. After a stint in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku learning the local language, Azerbaijani, and culture, I headed to a rural region to explore opportunities for community development.
My time spent in the rug markets of Baku’s old city had already filled me with an appreciation for this ancient craft. But moving to a remote region where the craft still survived inspired me to investigate the possibility of starting a rug weaving business.
It was a very steep learning curve for me as a foreigner in a distant land, trying to gather information and experience in the midst of the disappearing craft, and all in a foreign language and culture. An additional challenge was the level of deception and secrecy that seemed uniquely high in the rug trade. Perseverance, luck, and divine favor carried me forward to develop a small project called Dugul Looms. You can look at the website to learn more about the Lezgi people and their beautiful national textile called a “sumakh”.
Unforeseen circumstances forced me to leave Azerbaijan prematurely in Decemenber 2005, before the project reached sustainability. And I wondered if the unique rug skills I learned in Azerbaijan would ever have relevance in the future.
After returning to the USA, I worked, got married, and completed a degree. Then my wife and I had the opportunity to move to the Republic of Georgia. We were wonderfully surprised to learn that Georgia has a large population of Azerbaijanis, as many as 500,000. We moved into its Azeri region where my wife begin teaching English through a Georgian government program, and I began to explore the possibility of again using rug weaving to as a basis for a community development project. The project’s general goal would be to revive rug-weaving culture and income generation opportunities for women in the village.
I was optimistic from the start. The historic name of the region where we moved is “Borchali”. While insignificant to the general public, this name had immediate recognition for me. It is the name of a classic Caucasian rug design, one of which I had in my personal collection from my years in Azerbaijan. In fact, many of the Caucasian rugs found in museums and collections around the world were woven in the villages that surrounded my new home in Georgia. The names of these villages testify to this rich rug-weaving history: origins: Bordjalou (Borçalı), Karachopt (Qaraçöp), Fachralo (Faxralı), and Lambalo (Ləmbəli). With such a weaving history, and all of my rug connections in neighboring Azerbaijan still in tact for materials and expertise, it would only be a matter of time before our first rugs would be woven.
My optimism proved premature. Countless conversations and several forays to local villages quickly demonstrated the dire condition of rug weaving in Georgia. Despite a perseverance that pushed me up bumpy dirt tracks to remote villages, I only found one village with active weavers. The few weavers there were already weaving for a carpet shop in Tbilisi, and at very low wages. I considered the village off-limits to me because I did not come here to interfere with someone else’s enterprise.
I continued to keep my ears open, and I asked everyone that I met. But nothing materialized. I had heard about a distant village in another region of Georgia named “Garachirp” (Karachopt, Qaraçöp). Like “Borchali”, I also know this name as a classic rug design. I’d heard it was a ancient village where traditions persisted. But because of it’s 2-hour drive from my town, I had avoided investigating it. I had also heard that the village was filled with a fierce and independent people. I have since come to learn that “Garachirp” literaly means “Great Army”.
As is often the case, the beginnings of reWoven resulted from a chance contact. A local friend in Marneuli gave me the phone number of a buddy of his in Garachirp. That phone number stayed in phone for many weeks because of the hesitations that I mentioned above (primarily the long distance to the village). But in an attempt to put a final nail in the coffin of the hopes for starting a rug weaving project in Georgia, I made the call.
The man on the other end of the phone was clearly not an ordinary villager. Simkhan spoke with a clarity and sincerity that gave me a degree of confidence that if weavers could be found, he could accomplish it. We exchanged phone calls over the next several weeks as he came and went to Istanbul to buy inventory for his small clothing store, and to pursue other entrepreneurial activity.
During one call, he gave me the news I had been waiting for. He had found a weaver who wanted to weave. Within days, I headed to the village for the first time, about a two hour drive. I carried with me enough yarn to week two rugs, the same yarn I had hoped for more than a year would transformed into rugs. I drove directly to the home of my telephone contact, Simkhan. Conveniently his surprisingly modern two-story house was located at the entrance to the village.
After pleasantries and tea, he told me that he did not have time to accompany me to the weaver’s house. In his place, he would send his brother, Izzetxan. Shortly we left together, bumping across the unpaved roads of their village. I’m not sure what the word “village” conjures for you, but I was surprised by what I saw. The first surprise was the immensity of the “village”. I soon learned that Garachirp is the name of an amalgamation of 7 distinct villages, 6 of which merged together into one rural metropolis with over 20,000 inhabitants.
Despite its enormity, it is still very much a traditional village. Women carry water from communal spigots to their homes on their backs in ancient bronze long-necked jugs. While natural gas has recently been piped to all the homes, very few of them make us of it. The village’s primary income is herding livestock. The seasonal rhythm of the village includes taking herds to distant mountains in the spring, and shepherding them back in the fall. Winter has traditionally the season for rug weaving, when all the summer outdoor activity is complete, and people are bunkered down inside.
My destination with Izzetxan was the one village outside of the conjoined metropolis, his home village of Gazlar. Upon reaching the weavers house, I was excited to meet my first weaver. Would the hopes of the project that had languished for over a year finally come to fruition? If only it would have been that easy. Early in our conversation with the potential weaver, it was obvious that we had widely different expectations about the details of our relationship.
When Isimkhan and I had begun our phone conversation several weeks prior, I had specified the amount of money I was offering to pay a weaver. It was a wage higher than what I understood weavers were being paid in the one other weaving village I knew. This woman’s expectations were not even close. She said she would only weave for 50% more than what I was offering. I looked at some of her previous weavings, and I was not particularly impressed. Knowing that I was hoping to build a foundation for a future work, it was an easy decision not to move forward with this woman.
Another closed door. Another disappointment. But my new assistant was not so easily discouraged. We immediately went from house to house in the same neighborhood looking for weavers. With only finding a few doubtful possibilities, and darkness falling, we returned to Isimkhan’s house to regroup. I found myself as the overnight guest of a family whom I had only met that day for the first time. We spent an evening together filled with intriguing conversations about their lives, work, faith, and dreams.
The following day, Izzetkhan and I picked up where we left, making phone calls and knocking on doors. It felt we were on the hunt of some rare white tiger. We’d find clues, but trails would go cold, only to stumble onto another lead. Somebody on a corner would tell us about their aunt’s sister-law’s niece. But she’d be out with her livestock in their winter quarters.
Just before I needed to leave for a meeting in the capital, Tbilisi, we found a weaver who agreed to our terms. But I did not have the time to explain everything about the rug and weigh out her yarn. We promised to return the following day. After spending the night back home in my own bed, I headed back to the village early the next morning. Izzetxan called me on the way, but I only later found out that our latest lead too had grown cold. She had backed out the evening before. Regardless, we continued to hunt. We zeroed in on a neighborhood with remnants of rug-weaving culture.
Eventually, we connected with two sister-in-laws, each who had woven recently and were agreeable to weaving a rug for us in the their respective houses. We did not complete these conversation until early evening. So we agreed to meet again the following day to give them the yarn and final instructions. After spending another night with my gracious hosts and weighing out the yarn in the morning, we headed to the weavers’ homes to hand-off the yarn and design pattern, along with communicating our desired density for the rug.
I spent 4 days and two night in Garachirp, a village that I had never once visited before. I entered as a stranger, but left as a friend. I had arrived with yarn, but I left with only hope. As I drove away, I had muted optimism that I would one day return to see my skeins of naturally-dyed, wool yarn transformed into a beautiful village carpet. All of this took place just days before my wife and I were leaving to the US for six weeks. This unplanned separation made it easy to release the outcome into the hands of the weaver, and the divine forces that brought us together.
The first sign of rug-weaving progress was a middle of the night phone call in the US from Izzetkhan in Georgia. Our two locations were exactly 12 time zones apart, a perfect am/pm flop, on completely opposite sides of the globe. Having been isolated from the Azerbaijani language for the past several weeks, never mind that I am hardly coherent in any language in the middle of the night, I slowly began to grasp the message being communicated from the other end. “We’re almost out of black yarn.” Wow, that means a rug is taking form! Other than talking to my yarn supplier in Baku, Azerbaijan, there was not much I could do to solve the problem from the other side of the globe. But it was a problem that I rejoiced in having. And perhaps even more so, that Izzetkhan was connecting with the weavers and monitoring their progress. He was committed to the process.
Within days of my return to Georgia, I headed to Garachirp to assess the situation. Consistent with my journey up to that point, and with what was to come, there were both progress and disappointments. The shortage of black yarn was the result of one weaver’s activity, while the other weaver had not yet even begun weaving over the past two months. But something is always better than nothing, and the half-finished rug was a very beautiful beginning. The rug’s vibrant colors on its simple wooden loom could easily have been a scene from centuries past. Not one detail betrayed the mystery that the rich naturally-dyed yarn was coming to life in a classic Caucasian rug design today.
One weaver and a half-finished rug. Not an explosive start by any evaluation. But then again, this project is not, and never will be, a race. Rug weaving is a time-intensive craft. Knot by countless knot, the rug slowly takes form. Just as the progress of a rug is painstakingly slow, how much more so the revival of a whole weaving culture. Inspiring weavers who have not woven for decades. Procuring materials from distant lands. Redrawing historic designs. Assembling looms from dilapidated parts. Only a steady long-term approach has any chance of success to overcome these nearly insurmountable hurdles.
Over the weeks and months that followed, a total of 11 women, and a handful of helping friends, embraced this challenge. They each accepted a bag of yarn, a design, and an assignment and turned them into a reflection of centuries past. Each woman’s personal story intersected with their community’s ancient tradition to birth a new treasure with their fingers. From the ashes they raised designs and colors which had only survived in faint memories.
Against all odds, it is happening. Woman are practicing the art of their ancestors. They are bringing hand-spun, naturally dyed wool to life by reweaving historic designs, creating antiques for the next generation. This is reWoven.
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