Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email email@example.com with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.
Rugs aren’t only for sitting on, just ask Amy Blanchard. The long time Winnipegger has spent years living in India with her family, in addition to time visiting Pakistan, where her husband, James, grew up. For the last three years, she has managed Rubia Darya (102-132 James Avenue) in the Exchange, a gallery and shop specializing in importing and selling 40-150 year old rugs, which are so beautiful they can easily hang alongside any painting, photograph or sculpture.
“Friends had asked us for these rugs, we kind of have a connection, a family of Afghanis that we got to know in Pakistan,” Blanchard says. “What they are actually is tribal rugs that were made by the women and families living nomadically. That was really for hundreds of years, but it ended more in the ‘80s. For Iran, more for modernization, in Afghanistan because of the war.”
For the women creating these rugs by hand, it was a communal experience. Mothers and daughters would spend months (or years) creating the pieces, and as most were in nomadic tribes, they would have to pack up the loom, cease the work, and pick it up again when they had settled (and after they had taken care of the young and aged).
The rugs also acted as a creative outlet for all involved.
“The men were the ones shearing their own sheep and doing the dying, it’s a family thing that they did, they would make them for themselves, use them for weddings and ceremonies,” Blanchard tells. “Otherwise, they had more simple things on their floors. They’re all original pieces, all made with heart. The women were making them to bring beauty into their environment.”
For Blanchard, selecting the rugs has also been a family affair. Her sister and brother-in-law are her business partners (they also run Cornelia Bean at 417 Academy Road) and her husband, who works in Public Health, still goes there and, working with a family, carefully curates which pieces to import.
“We’ve hand-picked each of these pieces, we didn’t say ‘Send us a bunch of rugs’.” she says. “He would meet with this family, they would have tea and dinner, and he would see 100 (rugs), and send us pictures, and we’d have to decide. We can’t take them all. It was a pleasure to see so many beautiful things, then we’ve picked them and brought them here. Their beauty to me is awesome.”
It’s the details of the pieces that Blanchard enjoys most, with each piece’s little surprises and inconsistencies.
“The family members would all be working on a big one, which is fun because you’ll see on one side they decided to add white things and the other side decided not to do that, so they’re not like other carpets that are new now – they don’t want it to be perfect. They are imperfect because by nature you can’t just build this thing up to the top. When she gets to the top of the loom, she might have to start to squeeze these medallions, at the bottom maybe they’re this big, and she’s getting to the top she’s almost run out, and that makes them smaller, and more fun to look at. Every time you look, you’ll notice something. ‘There’s a little goat right here, I didn’t notice she put that in!’ They’re quite fun.”
Blanchard says that owning a business in the Exchange makes her feel lucky to be a part of such a creative, risk taking community, noting that her husband occasionally hosts free film nights and seminars about certain tribes in an attempt to share the rich culture behind the carpets.
“It’s exciting to see how things have grown (in the Exchange),” she says. “I go to Tiny Feast, the art galleries, and I’ve lived in Winnipeg a long time, seen lots of changes. I really love that the old buildings are being restored. People are able to open up interesting things, and Winnipeggers, more and more, are hearing about things. I’m proud to be a part of those things. It makes Winnipeg a richer place to live.”
Rubia Darya is located at 102-132 James Avenue, and is open Thursdays 12-8pm and Saturdays 12-5pm (or by appointment). Visit rubiadarya.ca for more information.