Dutch collector puts on display over 100 carpets in Veliko Turnovo

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Carpets, mostly from the Bulgarian lands will be put on display in an exhibition called “Colours, ornaments, design” which opens at the Rafael Mihailov gallery in Veliko Turnovo tomorrow, 14 June. The carpets, more than 100 in number, are from the collection of Jaap van Beelen.

Jaap van Beelen from the Netherlands first set foot in Bulgaria half a century ago. Hitchhiking to Istanbul, he was so captivated by the natural beauty of the country and its warm-hearted people that he forgot about his final destination entirely. He started making regular trips to Bulgaria, and 20 years ago settled here – he bought a house by the sea, lived in Kotel for a while, and has now made a home for himself in Veliko Turnovo. The house he lives in is next door to the home in which prominent writer and poet Petko Slaveikov once lived (“My friend and tutor”, as he calls him.)As he fell in love with nature, he started collecting Bulgarian carpets depicting the hues and ornaments of the plant and animal kingdom.

“The public in Veliko Turnovo will be able to see a magnificent exhibition of carpets from Eastern and Western Bulgaria,” says Dr. Anita Komitska, curator of the exhibition and director of the Museum of History in Chiprovtsi. “Jaap van Beelen collected his carpets in Bulgaria, but also in countries close by and far away, that is why there are carpets from Chiprovtsi and Kotel, but also from the Balkans and the Caucuses. The exhibition is arranged in an intriguing way in the 8 halls – chronologically or based on the ornamentation. For example by presenting a popular theme with Chiprovtsi carpets - chickens and the way this ornament has evolved through the years. The earliest carpets included in the exhibition go back 250 years.”

Jaap van Beelen has more than 200 carpets in his collection, the most valuable of which are not to be found even in national museums in the country. Anita Komitska says that the most valuable items of the Chiprovtsi carpet weaving school have ornaments with chickens and vines.

“The oldest items in the exhibition are the Chiprovtsi prayer rugs called “bakam” and “garibaldi”,” she adds. “They are woven using a vertical loom and the ornamentation is geometric, structured from a central field and one or several borders. They are made using natural dyes and that lends them an incredible softness and beauty of hues and makes the carpets themselves more durable. We, as representatives of the Museum of History in Chiprovtsi are especially thankful that at this year’s festival of Chiprovtsi carpets Jaap van Beelen gifted us a very old and valuable “bakam” rug. He bought it in Konya, Turkey and he made the kind gesture of bringing it back to the place it originally started form. In the years of Ottoman rule thousands of square metres of prayer rugs were being woven in Chiprovtsi, “bakam” being one of the varieties of these rugs.”

Is the carpet weaving tradition still evolving in our day, is the weaving technique being upgraded, the ornaments and colours diversified, or is the tradition in this ancient craft strictly adhered to?

“The carpets – at least in Chiprovtsi and Kotel – are still made using the ancient technique,” Anita Komitska says. “With the carpets from Chiprovtsi a vertical loom is used and the result is a smooth carpet with two faces. Locals still weave their carpets in this way, replicating designs from different periods in history and using only natural dyes.”

In 2014 UNESCO put the carpets from Chiprovtsi on its intangible cultural heritage list. This boosted prices, but also intrigued many foreigners who have been buying ancient Chiprovtsi carpets to decorate their modern homes. One of them is Jaap van Beelen who is set on rescuing Bulgarian carpets and showing them to the public.


English version: Milena Daynova

Photos: library


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