of the many passions life inspires, collecting art intrigues me most. my devotion of assembling a collection of tibetan rugs began in a dark and dusty shop in lhasa, Tibet, but my love of art has been incubating since childhood, stimulated by the beauty of italian sculpture and cathedrals, and the land and sky of puglia, a region of Italy where i was born and lived for many years. an intensive study of rugs and paintings in London furthered my education, yet it was a move to Singapore in 1990 that finally spurred my desire to learn more about the cultural and aesthetic traditions of asia— a move that compelled yet another journey that was to provide access to an art form more visually rich, spiritually vibrant and intellectually satisfying than any i had previously encountered.
the memory of my first trip to Tibet remains vivid. i flew through Hong Kong and chengdu to lhasa, “land of the gods.” as the airplane approached the capital, i pressed my nose to the
window trying to get a glimpse of this remote land and its people through dramatic corridors of ice-encrusted mountains. my heart beat faster as we disembarked; not solely an effect, as one might expect, of the extremely high altitude, but rather due to the fact that i had spotted, in a carparked alongside the runway, several rugs rolled up and piled in the back. they reminded me of the caucasian carpets i had ardently collected several years earlier, and i was immediately drawn to their bold, brilliant colors.
i ventured out into the city of lhasa under blazing azure sky. the temples, the tanned faces of the people, the colorful regional costumes and the tibetans’ reverence for their religions impressed me deeply. as i viewed the jokhang temple, i felt an impulse to scout for rugs and soon discovered they were sold in the barkhor, the marketplace surrounding the ancient temple. the next morning, just as the shops were opening, i moved quickly to verify that the most interesting rugs exhibited a level of craftsmanship and chromatic intelligence commensurate with beautiful clothes, furniture and ornaments i had admired at the potala palace. i knew in this moment I was going to start a collection of tibetan rugs. good fortune led me to a shop where the owner spoke excellent english. i was able to question about the tradition and technique of knotting, which was totally different what i had seen in other rug weaving cultures. he took me into a back room where hundreds of rugs were neatly stacked, and i asked if he could date, describe and explain the design and symbolism of each one. he agreed. i proceeded to spend a delightful day perusing a collection of tibetan rugs far larger than i could have ever hoped to see in any european shop. overwhelmed with joy despite the dust, i chose 50 rugs for serious consideration, including one with a dragon and phoenix motif set against a midnight blue ground, and another with a green and lacquer red checkerboard design. the next day, i narrowed my selection down to 27 rugs—all worthy of attention in terms of beauty, design, extravagant color and exceptionally lustrous wool. although i was able to purchase only 16 rugs, it was on that day, in a small and dusty shop, that i commenced my exhilarating journey into the world of tibetan rugs. since then, there is no trip i have taken anywhere in the world where i have not searched for these rugs. collecting old tibetan rugs has offered me a rich experience, both visually and culturally, beyond anything i could have ever imagined. the collection has continued to grow…