Soft underfoot and luxurious in look, carpets are often the preference of homeowners for a number of living spaces. But ask any carpet connoisseur and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing quite like a handwoven Persian rug.
Persian rugs are handwoven by as many as five people each, and 10 years to make. Instead of using synthetic dyes, these carpets get their deep and brilliant hues from natural ingredients, such as walnut skins, pomegranates, and acorn cups.
Just as Alex Helmi, owner of the rug shop Damoka in Westwood, Los Angeles. In his shop, Helmi has a number of Persian rugs, including a nine-foot ivory rug commissioned by Iran’s Ministry of Culture in the 1930s. The nearly century-old rug was made to honor the Persian poet Ferdowsi, whose poem “Book of Kings” is considered to be Iran’s national epic.
While typical handwoven rugs can last as long as 20 to 30 years, Persian rug owners often go to great lengths to preserve them, making them last for hundreds of years.
For Helmi, the rug is not only a priceless heirloom, but a vital connection to his cultural roots and homeland.
“We have been doing this for thousands of years,” Helmi says. “This is part of our history.”
But in the broader context of politics and commerce, the Persian rug market tells a bigger story of the turbulent relationship that Iran has with the United States.
In 2010, an embargo on Iranian-made rugs made it virtually impossible for American-based rug dealers to obtain rugs. Instead, the carpets were caught in what Los Angeles Times calls “a clash of diplomats, geopolitics, and nuclear brinkmanship.”
However, the international nuclear agreement that transpired this past summer has made importing rugs a possibility once more.
“This is an art, not just an industry,” Helmi says. “To me, sanctioning an art is like saying don’t bring French paintings to America.”