A Rug Dealer Fantasy

Loyce Houlton
Courtesy: discogs.com

One snowy evening in February 1995, just before closing, we had the distinct pleasure of serving an older couple visiting our shop. I remember the evening vividly because normally on a snowy day in Minneapolis we would have no customers let alone on a cold and snowy evening.

The couple specifically asked to see some Persian rugs. The woman, looking very tired and frail asked for a chair, which we quickly fetched for her.

My brother and I wanted to go home as the snow seemed relentless and was accumulating rapidly. But the couple displayed such a sense of kindness, care and respect, that their mere presence demanded service.

So there we were, rug peddlers par excellence, showing off our ware as the clock had passed closing time and snow kept falling.

The Dancer and the Healer

Our clients that evening were Loyce Houlton, an American Legend, a pioneer of modern dance, and her husband, the physician, Dr. William Houlton.

Loyce who seemed ill with some sort of kidney ailment was dosing off on a chair as Dr. Houlton, the ever attentive husband, held her hand. “I am loosing my kidney” she said to me. “Najarian is supposed to give me a transplant”, a refference to Dr. John Najarian, the famous transplant surgeon. “But” she said “I thought why not treat myself to a Persian rug.”

A Qashqai Jewel

After showing them only a few rugs, Loyce decided on a Persian tribal rug, a Qashqai from southern Iran. Woven by nomadic Qashqai women, this particluar rug was intricate and colorful, filled with geometric and zoomorphic motifs. Qashqai tribal rugs have always been a favorite of discerning eyes.

“That looks like fun” she said and purchased the rug. It was perhaps one of the quickest sales we had ever made.

We walked out of the store to place the rug in their car. Dr. Houlton holding Loyce’s arm as they walked slowly to the car parked on snow covered grounds.

Loyce Houlton passed away on March 15, 1995, barely a month after she purchased the Qashqai rug.

Ever since that evening I have asked myself what was the urgency for Loyce Houlton to purchase a rug on that cold and snowy evening? Indeed why a handmade Persian rug among all things?

Over the years I have come up with few answers but I think it was the fact that a genuine hand made rug must have seemed like a meaningful purchase for an artist at the end of a reletively short but fruitful journey.

The Dancer and the Weaver

A handmade tribal rug is as mysterious as the making of any art. It is then not surprising that a dance artist should be interested in a Qashqi rug. But how could she tell what layed behind those intricate designs? As William Butler Yeats put it, using the dance metaphor in the ending of his famous poem, “Among School Children”:

“Labour is blossoming or dancing where The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,

Nor beauty born out of its own despair, Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

To compare the almost ethereal art of dance with the very tangible feel of a handmade rug may at first seem contridictory. It is easy to give design elements in an “oriental”rug an exotic explanation. Yet what is a rug if not a collection of millions of knots(millions of seconds and minutes)that form an image, that convey an idea? What is intangible in a rug, even unimaginable, is the lives of those who labored on it, the hours spent, the things said, the lives lived.

Exchange Of Gifts

While Loyce Houlton gave us the gift of her choreography- she was best known for her version of the Nutcracker Fantasy-her art that was stored in no place other than her mind and body, she recognised the value of a handmade work of ethnographic art, representing the lives lived during its making and the hours laboured through patterns and motifs. Patterns that perhaps emulated movements of dancing figures.

On that snowy evening Loyce Houlton gave herself a gift well deserved.

About Loyce Houlton

Loyce Houlton (13 June 1925 – 14 March 1995) was an American dancer, choreographer, and arts administrator, centered for most of her adult life in Minneapolis. Founder of the Minnesota Dance Theatre, she maintained connections with many of the most prominent national and international dance figures and composers of her day. She was acknowledged to be one of the most significant American choreographers of the 20th century and one of the first American women to gain national and international recognition as a choreographer, teacher, and producer.

In 1964, her troupe performed its first Nutcracker Fantasy, Houlton’s adaptation of Pytor illych Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker. The continuing performances of this dance work remain the longest-running annual fine arts event in the state of Minnesota. She produced many important dance works until her death, in all over 90 of them.

Between 1980-1985 Loyce Houlton collabrated with noted video and film artists, for example the

documentary Loyce with Peter Markle and Swan Lake Minnesota with Kenneth Robins, Scott Killian, and Kim Sherman. She also appeared onstage at the legendary 1983 First Avenue concert at which Prince recorded the definitive version of his composition “Purple Rain.”