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Rosemary Hallgarten

September 29th, 2007

Daniel Pontius

A conceptual piece being considered by Rosemary and her dog, Flip. Argentina, wallhanging.


We are sitting in Rosemary Hallgarten’s studio at The Barn, Westport, CT where she lives with her husband and two children. The original Hyde Barn was built in 1798. Rosemary worked with a local architect to come up with the plans for the conversion and the new addition. Now, at the end of completion, she has the matter of fact view of one who has lived with the constant flow of workers for the last year and a half: “Who knows when it will be done.” The outlook is hopeful –it’s mainly painters. As Rosemary shows me around, it seems that when the rugs are down and the furniture is placed it will be a showcase immediately wanting to be photographed.

One enters The Barn through a central silo structure where the two sides–old and new–come together. Inside, Rosemary had the concrete floor carved with her twig motif. Up the stairs and past her husband’s office and down a hallway, one finds her studio. It’s a large open room with light wood floors.

The studio is bright and open. The desks are simple. In one corner is a small desk for her assistant. Rosemary’s is on the other side: two long work tables neatly arranged with samples of fabric and rugs: some favorites and some new and some she is developing. There are also stacks of different colored Alpaca samples on the ground in a clear plastic bag that looks like they are ready to be distributed to clients or to one of the showrooms that represents her across the country.

Adjacent to Rosemary’s desk there is a low console table replete with mementos. Like a table of curiosities, they are items picked up from her travels: beads, bracelets a piece of pottery. There are photographs: one from an ad shoot for her Alpaca Double Pile rug, Crocodile: a pair of strappy high heels have been dropped on the rug and look as if Rosemary herself could walk in and slip them right on. There is also a photo of her mother’s former rug studio in Italy. It’s a dreamlike image–an almost fantasy structure in a rich textural landscape.

Rosemary is drawn to color. Her house is full of muted tone on tones that are juxtaposed with bold saturated color. Her powder room is a brilliant reddish raspberry; in the play room (next to her husband’s full size squash court) a wall is a lovely yellow-green, and the kitchen, blue.

Back in her studio, I am lounged on a chaise–pedestal base contemporary Italian lime green–it looked highly uncomfortable at first but once in it, I don’t want to get up. I twirl around and look out the many windows and see the blues and greens and whites of the landscape.

“I’m reading My Life with Picasso, do you know it?” Rosemary asks. No, I shake my head. She tells me it was written by Francoise Gilot who was the mother of several of Picasso’s children. She must have been following him around with a notebook scribbling down everything he said. One thing he said was that the reason we are attracted to nature is because of all the layers of texture, which I think is true.

This is certainly seen in Rosemary’s work. Rosemary is attracted to a variety of textures and it shows in her work. Rugs from Brazil: woven raw silk, cotton, sisal, leather that contrast with the silky shine glamour of her suri fur pillows.

“Time is a great filter.” She says going on to tell me that when she was starting out and hand tufting the rugs herself in California–along with several local women whom she was teaching to hand tuft–someone she knew gave her an alpaca yarn pom. She didn’t know anything about it except that it was from Peru and she loved it.

She held on to it, and as these things go, Rosemary eventually would meet a woman from Poland living in Peru who worked with the artisans who used that exact Alpaca. When they finally met, Rosemary told her that she wanted to work with her, but it probably wasn’t now, and it might not be for awhile, but she knew they would. That was years ago; she now works with a collaborative of 15 artisans that make her fine Alpaca hand knotted rugs.

And that is how Rosemary works–she holds on to things she finds in her travels (her next trip in November is an intense focused 4 days in Peru) she observes and she creates. It’s been something she’s done her whole life. As a follow up to the interview I asked Rosemary how she viewed herself and to clarify her idea about time:

Definitely an observer, always. Professionally I must be both an artist and a businessperson. I have always made things, inspired by what I see around me. I like taking one thing intended for one purpose and turn it into something else. I used to spend hours in hardware shops when I was a kid. I made necklaces out of
telephone wires, or once I made a necklace and bracelet out of a children’s toy
called a Tangle, still around in the MOMA shop.

Time, I was saying, in relation to the creative process, I get ideas and let them sit with me like characters in a novel. If ideas keep coming back, then I know they are good or at least something I must explore. In that way time is a great facilitator of the creative process. That’s how I still work. I go out and explore and get the rare goods and bring them back and put them in my closet and there they sit until I have the right outlet for them. Or, if they are just too expensive to do anything with, they are still beautiful and I hold on to them.

This is one of the reasons why I wanted to come out and see Rosemary: to see what’s in her closet. She pulls out amazing things. The pillow from Brazil made out of the cut remains of bathing suits: strips of Lycra woven together like a crazy shag carpet. There are also, patent leather bags, chartreuse crushed velvet pillows from Argentina, white furry hides that woven together in strips and woven jute and leather rugs. As well as new mock ups of rug colorations and pillows. Things waiting to see if they will stand the filter of time.

In Gilot’s book, Rosemary tells me Picasso says that one can be either for or against their movement, but they are always part of it. Rosemary is for hers. As we discuss this, Rosemary’s interest is temporarily peaked when we talk about the hot topic of the day, Green Design. “Most of my things are Green,” she says looking around the room. “But that is not the only important thing.”

Rosemary’s reveals that her concern is not just if something is recycled or reusable. She is interested in how using a particular raw good will affect the people who produce it. She is interested in how using a product with help or hinder the local economy. Her passion is people and this is what attracts me to Rosemary’s work.
As her website states she: weaves ancient craft with modern sensibility.

And it’s this sensibility to which I am attracted. It’s not just modern in it’s style, but also in its outlook that one can make a difference for people. It seems that is not just enough to provide a fine product, but it is also essential that the products we purchase carry a suitable meaningfulness. This is what Rosemary gives her clients–a beautiful product with a rich narrative that continues to develop in it’s many varied layers and textures.

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