“It is a much more beautiful world when we work together and share resources.”
Artist and designer Amy Helfand does not describe herself as either— she thinks of herself as a collector and apprehender of things, images, ideas, and materials. Despite her graduate-level education in photography from the Art Institute of Chicago, Amy has found herself drawn to 3-D mediums and the sculptural qualities they possess.
In 2003, Amy was invited to participate in an art show in the Bronx, and had a moment of realization that her photographic works, patterns, and collages might translate well to woven rugs.
With the help of the nonprofit GoodWeave and a New York certified GoodWeave manufacturer, she had her first Nepalese rug produced and instantly loved the way her design clung to the lush, soulful texture of the fibers.
Through the collaboration Amy learned about rug making, which sparked an ongoing conversation with the rugmaker and ultimately led to a shift in her craft. She later sold the piece and decided that rugmaking was something she was meant to pursue.
Where She Finds Inspiration
Today, Amy finds inspiration in the things she gathers and finds. Often, it’s a texture or solid material she finds when adventuring (most recently, a series of rocks she found during a trip to L.A.) and uses as a guiding force in her design. In this sense, Amy is able to keep the natural world close at hand in unexpected ways when creating concepts for new rugs.
Amy has also spent time in Nepal working collaboratively with those who make her rugs by hand and feels a distinct connection to the land and it’s people. While she has encountered challenges with working internationally (especially in a country where utilities such as electricity are in short supply), she notes that “I always experience a sense of awe every time I unwrap a new rug—and always feel gratitude for the people that translate my artwork into an object of such integrity, under conditions that we may not typically deem ideal.”
The Rug Making Process
Amy’s process of designing rugs is endlessly dynamic. “Typically, I start with knotted strings and fibers, which I then transform into a 3-D sculpture crafted from wire. These sculptures can be used to generate more drawings, more patterns, more building,” she says. The process is generative and abstract— no two rugs originate from the same sequence of events. Eventually, concepts come together in a way Amy deems as interesting or new; she composes designs from there.
In terms of collaborative works, Amy dreams of designing a collection of rugs for a building such as the beautiful US Embassy in Kathmandu. “I love working on single projects that contain related pieces and creating a story through this medium,” says Amy. “I believe the beautiful bold patterns attributed to classic Indian artistry perfectly compliment the rugs.”
Still a Man’s World
“As a woman in the rug making industry, I appreciate the support and guidance that I have received from colleagues across differences in gender and/or cultural background,” says Amy. She feels she has been well-respected by her manufacturing partners, and has benefited from ongoing praise for her craft.
On the business side of the industry, however, things can become complicated. Amy prides herself in her ability to ask for help, and has learned to seek supportive and useful consultants when needed. She has also learned how to deal with less-than-supportive business contacts, and, over the years, has gained expertise in areas that were otherwise unknown to her.
For artists looking to pursue rugmaking as either a hobby or profession, Amy suggests “doing research and finding industry folks who are willing and able to help you unearth all of the processes.” As with Amy’s design approach, rugmaking is dynamic and complicated, but having a vision is always the first step.