Here is the story of a 15′ x 11’6” Mahal Carpet once belonging to the Langdon family, how it came to me, and how it was restored through the generosity of Charlotte and Leo Landhuis.
In 1988, I was cleaning and restoring carpets for Elmira College. A former employee of the College was volunteering at Quarry Farm and asked if I would offer any advice on the rugs and carpets in the main house. Among the rugs that I reviewed was a 15′ x 11’6” Mahal. A Mahal rug is often defined as an incredibly decorative and ornate carpet, something that is almost an object of art unto itself. Unfortunately, this rug was in dire condition – large areas were glued and taped together, large tears were everywhere – but the worst was damage caused by water. The wet threads were so rotted that the rug was coming apart in my hands. The folks at Quarry Farm wondered if the carpet could be saved.
During my tour of the farm, I saw a number of impressive carpets that came from the nineteenth century. While I gave an appraisal for all the carpets at Quarry Farm, I knew that the damaged Mahal was rare and probably made before the 1850s. I suggested that because of the connection to the Langdons, Mark Twain, and Quarry Farm, the carpet was worth saving.
Gretchen Sharlow, director of CMTS at that time, asked if I would put the carpet into storage with the hope that some interest could be generated to fund the repair. The carpet came to my studio where it was labeled and placed in a closet. It remained there for 29 years.
Last fall I planned to retire and send the carpet back to Quarry Farm. At that time, my husband and I took a trip to Niagara on the Lake with Charlotte and Leo Landhuis. In conversation, the Quarry Farm Mahal carpet was mentioned and Charlotte expressed an interest in funding the restoration. Charlotte is from Elmira and her aunt used to sit on the porch of Quarry Farm. Charlotte, herself, used to play on the grounds when she was a little girl.
I have been sending rugs to Turkey for repair and restoration through Gady Yesilcay of Orientalist Home, an organization specializing in antique and vintage carpets, and their repairs. On a visit in early December 2017, Gady inspected the carpet, offered a price for restoration and Charlotte Landuis covered the restoration costs. The carpet was then shipped off to Turkey.
When the work was completed, Gady delivered it to my study in May 2018. Gady believes that the carpet was made before 1850. A knowledgable collector in Rochester, New York looked at the carpet and confirmed Gady’s opinion. He pointed out that the design is archaic and belongs to an early period of carpet weaving. The irregularity of the size (it’s not completely rectangular) indicates that it was not made by a large establishment, but most likely in a village setting.
It is a beautiful, rare carpet and the association with Quarry Farm makes it even more unique!
I am thankful for the generosity of Charlotte and Leo Landhuis and to the weavers of Orientalist Home for the skill of their restoration.
Frances Millard is an independent art historian, textile arts expert, and carpet & rug appraiser.