Arshia Fathali sat at his desk with Oliver, his 11-year-old canine friend, on his lap. Hand-woven rugs decorate the walls, cover the floors, and even the surface of his desk. It is no wonder that Fathali calls his space a gallery. The Fairhaven Rug Gallery is located at 901 Harris Ave. and was opened by Fathali in 2004. Today, he estimates that he has about 5,000 rugs in the warehouselike gallery.
Originally from Iran, Fathali moved to Vancouver, B.C. when he was 19 and was introduced to the business after taking a job in Seattle at small rug shop. It wasn’t long until he started developing a clientele of his own and learning the skills of finding and buying handmade rugs. “What I’ve been trained to do is to be able to see the work that has gone into each rug,” he said.
In order to stock his gallery, Fathali travels all over Iran to find rugs. “It is almost like hunting,” he said. “You can’t hunt the same animal in different places.” For example, Fathali explained that southwest Iran is known for its production of Gabbeh rugs, which have more simple designs. When he is looking for these particular rugs, Fathali said he might go through thousands of rugs in a couple days before deciding what to take home. “I’m very speedy, I can look at a rug for five seconds to decide if it is a yes, no, or maybe.” He can buy rugs finished, while they are still being made, and can even ask an artist to create a rug based on a certain design. Fathali said that he buys the rugs as commodities. Everything in his gallery is something he’d put in his own home. “I buy them as if I’m buying them for myself.”
After the U.S. trade sanctions of 2010 were lifted, Fathali was able to bring rugs back to his gallery for the first time in years. While he had still been traveling to Iran in the years between, he was forced to keep the rugs he purchased in warehouses in Iran. Last January, he said he brought back 17,000 pounds of rugs after spending three months traveling the region. For the most part, Fathali said he decides to go on buying trips based on communication with rug connections in Iran and, unfortunately, Oliver can’t accompany him. “He has to keep an eye on the shop,” Fathali said.
The beauty of handmade rugs is that there is no shortcut, Fathali said. Even with technological advances, these rugs still take between six and 20 months to create, depending on the size and design. It’s not hard to believe Fathali when he preached the importance of patience and skill in rug making. Silk rugs from the 1930s and 40s hang from the walls of his gallery in seemingly perfect condition. “Each rug is a piece of art that can be passed along through generations,” Fathali said. Even after years of exposure to this business, Fathali said he is still amazed at how artists create each rug. There is certainly something magical about it.
901 Harris Ave., Bellingham