Rosemary Hallgarten has taken many turns in her life, from making jewelry in her native England to building a successful advertising career in the United States to her current venture designing contemporary rugs handmade in Peru. So it is fitting that the artist with ties to three continents should call her latest collection of home accessories Pathways.
“I wanted to do something that had to do with life’s little paths, and that translated literally into rugs designed with mosaic patterns usually found on a floor or figurative paths through a forest,” says Hallgarten, who makes her home outside San Francisco. Her new rugs, available through interior design showrooms and priced from $65 to $95 per square foot, were inspired by her sojourn through South America two years ago. One new design, Stone Forest, was based on a rock forest of the same name near the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa. “The rocks there look like trees,” she says, “but they are actually made of volcanic ash.”
Hallgarten has most of her designs woven from alpaca or New Zealand wool. “It struck me that alpaca is underdeveloped and underappreciated,” she says of the bristly fiber shorn from herds that thrive in the Andes. Fashion designers have been working with alpaca as well as camel hair, guanaco, and vicuña for years, but the luxury home market has been slow to follow suit because of what Hallgarten believes is a misconception about alpaca. Although it is as coarse as mohair when sheared, alpaca spins into yarn that is, she insists, “softer and warmer in many respects than cashmere.”
Hallgarten is the daughter of rug maker Gloria Finn, who interpreted the works of such contemporary artists as Alexander Calder, Milton Avery, Theodoros Stamos, and Hans Mueller into floor coverings in the early 1960s. Though Hallgarten believes she was destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she did so only when her mother retired and passed the tools of the trade on to her in 1997. “I started with hand-hooked rugs, which is a very old traditional technique, in order to produce a very textural and warm look,” recalls Hallgarten, whose early efforts produced two collections, Tappeti and Still Life.
It was the trip through the Sacred Valley of Peru and her discovery of the versatility of alpaca that led her to move her yarn sourcing and production to South America, a decision with both an artistic and philanthropic purpose. By marrying her abstract sense of design with the Peruvians’ generations-old weaving, tufting, and knotting skills, she has created a broader, more complicated range of products, including a new line of hand-embroidered alpaca throws, starting at $600, and pillows made of long-haired suri alpaca, priced from $330. At the same time, she has given something back to the Andean communities, whose only sources of income are farming and weaving.
“These are people with amazing craft skills, but no one has been working with and training them to use the skills in a modern way,” she says. These descendants of the Incas are among the most textile-oriented cultures in the world, and they are weaving perfectionists. “Sometimes I go through things they have tossed out and think, ‘This is fabulous,’ ” she says. Indeed, the smallest missteps often lead to new paths of design inspiration.