Did people ask you why you chose to
Stocker: Of course. I'm asked the
question all the time.
So let's get right to it. Why rugs?
Stocker: Well, it goes back about
four years ago when I bought an old house
in New Hampshire that needed a lot of
restoration. I've been painting
ever since I studied at the Museum School
in Boston in the '60s, and with the new
house I began dabbling in
decorative painting techniques. You
know, stencils, floor paintings, that sort
of thing. I read a book on the subject,
and it said something that really
fascinated me. It was talking about
painting oriental rug designs, and it
basically said, "Don't try it; it's so
difficult that the results are usually
unsuccessful." Well, somehow that
really fired me up, and I took it as a
So you painted your first rug.
Stocker: I did indeed, and I found
it a very interesting experience. There
was a spot near the kitchen where I wanted
a rug. I knew almost nothing about
oriental rugs, so I started perusing
through books looking for a colorful example that was the right size
for my floor, and I found just what I was looking for in the book
called Oriental Rugs of the Hajji Babas.
What kind of a rug?
Stocker: It was a colorful little Kazak prayer rug full of
wonderful reds and greens. I believe it was Plate 11.
How did the painting turn out?
Stocker: I was very pleased with it in spite of all the dark
warning from the American crafts author. But it wasn't easy. I was
nagged by doubts while I was painting it, because I didn't want the
end result to look like a craft shop product. Basically, I just
painted what I saw. Then as I got into it, the process took on its
own life. While I painted, I started thinking about the weaver.
Where did she live? Why did she make the rug? Whom was it for? I
started realizing how little I knew about these things, and how much
I wanted to know. The painting turned out very satisfactorily, and
when it was done I knew I had just started something that I wanted
to keep going.
You said you painted the Kazak for your
Stocker; Exactly, m fact, for almost
four years it's been in the passageway
between the kitchen and the family room.
It gets lots of traffic.
How on earth do you protect a painting
so you can use it like a rug?
Stocker: It's quite easy. I paint with
acrylics after preparing the canvas with a
couple of coats of gesso, and I use a
heavy canvas, like sailcloth. At this point
it's stretched on a frame.
On the floor?
Stocker: No, no, not yet. It's not a rug
yet. Besides, I'm a disaster painting on
my hands and knees. I paint it on an
easel, the way you would any painting.
Then I urethane it. That's the coating that
gives it the protection it needs. With the
urethane dry, I remove it from the
stretcher and what I've got is a flexible,
well-protected floor cloth.
How durable is it? How long does the
Stocker: Well, one of my floor cloths, a
full-sized Borjalu Kazak, has been on the
floor of an architect's office in Boston, in
the heaviest traffic area right in front of
the receptionist's desk, for more than
three years. When I borrowed it to hang
it in the exhibition, it was in perfect
condition with no touchup needed.
But not all your rug paintings are floor
Stocker: Oh, no, many of them are
So what happened after you finished
your first rug painting?
Stocker: I was quite amazed at how
satisfying the experience had been. I had
wanted the painting to be pleasing unto
itself, to do justice to the original, and I
felt I had succeeded. The upshot was, I
immediately wanted to start another one.
Which you obviously did.
Stocker: Yes, but it wasn't easy. I knew
it was difficult to get to see good rugs
from my days as an antique dealer in
Boston. So I figured book illustrations
were my best bet. I went to the Boston
Library and took out some rug books, and
found to my dismay that most of the good
illustrations had been razored out and
stolen. Finally I discovered Jon
Thompson's wonderful Carpet Magic in a
store, and I was off and running. Not only
were his illustrations great, but his
writing spoke about rugs in such a
humanistic way that for the first time I
began to understand what the art form was
How many have you painted since?
Stocker: I believe I've done 26 or 27
paintings of rugs in the past four years.
All full size?
Stocker: Oh, absolutely. When you
reduce any rug in size its whole character
changes. It becomes something else. It's
important to me to retain the integrity of
the original rug. I always try to stay as
close as possible to the original.
How do people react when they see your
Stocker: Well, I think that's one of the
most interesting parts of all this. It's sad
to say, but in general people don't think
of oriental rugs as being art. Art to them
is paintings, sculpture, those sorts of
things, while rugs are just pieces of
furniture that you walk on. Even highly
educated people — the ones who are
trained to look at paintings in terms of
composition, content, color and all the
things that colleges teach — many of these
people draw a blank when they look at a
wonderful old rug. But, suddenly, they see
the rug in a painting and right away they
know how to look at it. It's one of the
most exciting things about doing these
paintings... seeing the way it helps
people discover the art of oriental rugs
that they would otherwise have walked
Would you consider doing rug paintings to order?
Stocker: An artist has to eat, doesn't he?
But, seriously, yes, I do take commissions. Sometimes the
best challenges happen that way.
Naturally, there are certain limits. I was
commissioned to do a rug painting by an
interior decorator whose only interest, it
turned out, was that I match the colors in
the client's living room. I maintained my
patience and managed to hold my tongue
until the client insisted that I paint a
fringe on all four sides of the rug, and
that did it. But I've done others that
were very rewarding.
What about, say, the Pazyryk rug? Would
you tackle that?
Stocker: I actually had a customer ask
me to paint it. But he wanted it in half
size, so I declined. It's such a marvelous
thing that it mustn't be compromised in
any way. Yes, I'd like to do the Pazyryk
What about painting fragments?
Stocker: One of the paintings in my
exhibition is of the famous 15th century
Dragon and Phoenix rug from the Berlin
Museum, the one with the missing right-hand border. I took the
liberty of painting it as a complete rug,
with the border and fringes in place. Of
course, that in itself is tricky business,
because there has been speculation that
the Berlin piece may be only one side of a
multi-compartmented rug. You can go both
ways when you deal with fragments.
How do you mean?
Stocker: Well, there are some wonderful
pieces pictured in the Kirchheim's
Oriental Stars collection and the Chris
Alexander book that I'm itching to paint.
But doing so calls for a lot of discretion.
Should I "fill in" the piece or just leave it
like it is? Sometimes I'm willing to fix
holes and repair wounds to the piece in
my painting when it's clear to me what the
weaver probably did in the missing spaces.
But in other cases where parts are
missing, I'm sometimes reluctant to
extemporize on somebody else's art.
Besides, many of those old fragments are
so beautiful in their own right that who
would want to mess with them?
If someone commissioned you, would you
be willing to take a great fragment and
turn it into a complete rug?
Stocker: Sure, if I felt I could do
the weaver justice and had enough evidence
to be pretty sure I was doing the right
thing. And, of course, the buyer would
have to accept it as my own personal
interpretation of someone else's art. It
would be very exciting to complete the
picture and get an idea of what the
original piece looked like. Yes, I would
definitely do that.
Do you consider yourself a copyist?
Stocker: Not at all. I'm not reproducing
rugs in my paintings, I'm documenting
them for people to see. I guess the best
way to describe my work is that I'm
doing portraits of rugs.
Do you need to understand the technical aspects of rugs —
construction and that sort of thing — in
order to paint them?
Stocker: To a slight extent, yes.
I'm not much interested in that, but you
have to know things like what are the warp
and weft colors because they affect the
appearance of the rug wherever there's
wear. Generally, though, I just paint what
Have you ever had the itch to put aside
your brushes and try weaving?
Stocker: Not really. I find the
weaving process to be too restricting. I
want to work the whole canvas at once,
while the weaver builds a rug from the
bottom up, one row at a time. I find it
mysterious that anyone could work that
way. It's wonderful, but it's not my way
of doing things.
What are the things you look for when
you're deciding which rug you'll paint
Stocker: Color, mainly. I want to
paint great rugs, and to me the most
exciting aspect of a great rug is its color.
I know there's a lot more to it than that,
of course. But while the graphic structure
of the piece appeals to the structure side
of the brain, it's the color that really
fires up the emotional side. And it's the
emotional appeal of great rugs that I'm really
interested in capturing.
So how would you sum up the contribution you feel you're making
with these paintings?
Stocker: What I'm trying to do is to
make the art form of oriental rugs
accessible to people who otherwise are
likely to ignore them. There's so much to
be gained by having someone say to you,
"Hey, look at this. Isn't it terrific?"
Sometimes your whole life can be changed
by someone else doing that for you. That's
what I want my paintings to do; I want
them to help people see oriental rugs
perhaps for the first time and discover
what marvelous art they are.
So what's next?
Stocker: More paintings of more rugs.
I'm really caught up in this thing, and
there are so many exciting pieces I want
to paint that the hard part is deciding
where to start. Right now I think I could
live to be 100 and still have not done it
all. It's a very exciting prospect.