Meet Hratch Kozibeyokian of Ko ‘Z’ Craft in Shadow Hills
February 10, 2022
Today we’d like to introduce you to Hratch Kozibeyokian.
Hratch, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.Before World War I, my grandfather was a travelling weaver in Old Armenia (now Turkey). He carried a portable loom on his horse and rode from village to village on a year-long route repairing [weaving] rugs for townspeople along the way. He and my grandmother (once she was widowed and living with her children in a Syrian refugee camp) taught my father the trade, and he also became a professional weaver.
As an elementary school child growing up in Lebanon, I helped my parents weave. Early on, I remember beginning by sorting colors of yarn and weaving tight knots for them, but I advanced quickly. Even at an early age, the shapes, patterns, compositions and iconography of the antique Armenian rugs captured me. One of the most frequently used and iconic symbols in rugs and other ancient art forms, the Armenian Wheel of Eternity, represents the sun, universe and the eternal motion of life.
Later, as my father became a more expert tradesman, he would take on only the more advanced and complicated weaving jobs, and as he learned, I learned. All along, I was deepening my understanding of the distinct symbolism in Armenian rugs as opposed to those from cultures in surrounding countries such as Turkey and Iran.
In the mid-1970’s, my dad was sponsored by an antique Oriental carpet gallery in Chicago to be a restorer. By 1977, I joined him at the same company.
Lured by warmer weather, in 1979, I moved to Southern California and began working at another rug restoration business. Over the following 40 years, I have run several sales/restoration companies, as I continued pursuing knowledge on the meaning of symbolism in antique Armenian rugs.
My education came from experience, studying Geometry, Astrology, Theology and Anthropology—each of these fields plays a part in deciphering the story-telling code of these special rugs. Fine antique rugs have a meaning—they “say something” —they don’t just look pretty.
During this time, I branched out from rug repair to rug design. In the 1990’s, after realizing how large the demand was for antique Oriental carpets, I developed designs/distressing methods for new rugs that allowed them to look hundreds of years older, but without the high price. For instance, I might use a mix of enzymes and sunlight to soften the colors (Americans prefer more muted shades) or I might sheer off the tops of carpets to give them a worn and uneven appearance. I was the first to bring this trend to the market.
I designed rugs for a manufacturer in Armenia, consulted with movie studios (on time-appropriate rugs), sold, and repaired and reshaped carpets for decorators to the stars, and even became the first to lecturer to teach a course in “Tapeology” (the study of rugs and carpets) at Cal State Northridge. When catering to interior designers needing custom-woven rugs, I prepared “strike off” samples before weaving the rugs from scratch. Partnering with manufacturers overseas, I also provided wholesale new rugs to dealers.
After business took off, we built enough repeat clientele (designers, dealers, museums, carpet collectors and admirers), and realized I could do this work anywhere. We then built a studio in the hills of Shadow Hills where my wife, Mira, and reside and work with a small staff.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?Not unlike many immigrants now, my most difficult struggles were a result of arriving in America, a totally unknown culture, as a refugee with no money or knowledge of the language.
In America, I had to build a reputation on only what I could show. No one knew who I was or what my capabilities were. For instance, a man who owned an oriental rug gallery, asked me about my restoration fees. I didn’t even know the minimum wage. I had to figure things out and prove myself in creative ways. In this case, I offered to work for free for a week and let him decide the wage. I continually found ways for us to become more profitable and began taking side jobs that led to increased contacts and opportunities.
Ko ‘Z’ Craft – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?Ko ‘Z’ Craft offers customized services for the care and restoration of hand-woven rugs and textiles. Specifically, we provide appraisals, restoration, design, cleaning, manufacturing, consulting and sales.
What sets us apart is that we take on the projects other restoration companies turn down because they are too difficult. In addition, with my in-depth knowledge of the iconology of antique Armenian rugs, I am one of the few experts in the world who is able to educate rug collectors and people who appreciate rugs about this rich history through consultations, public talks and/or museum exhibitions.
For the past 15 years, we have focused our efforts on meeting clients’ requests for custom projects.
A description of several cases will help illustrate Ko ‘Z’ Craft’s specialized services and craftsmanship and why I am so proud of our work:
Custom Stair Runner
Several months ago, an interior decorator approached me about designing a staircase runner. The homeowner wanted a carpet on the stairs with no less than 24 colors, finely hand woven in wool with silk highlights with a floral and curvilinear pattern attached—each stair would have a different pattern, but the stairs would have continuity, and the flow of the pile would have to run down the stairs and turn left at the landing. I could design such a runner and have it woven, but that would take 2-3 years and be extremely expensive. The client did not want to wait that long.
Instead, I located a 14’ x 22’ new Persian rug and cut the field into 18 pieces which could be resewn in a manner which met the design needs of the homeowner and covered two flights of stairs and a landing. Prior to hand sewing the carpet pieces together, I photographed the rug and rendered the proposed design, so the client could see how the completed piece would look on the stairs.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
When the Disney Grand’s hotel’s very large lobby rug began looking more shabby than chic, the Ko ‘Z’ Craft crew was called upon. First, I took several yarn samples from the worn areas and hand dyed new yarn to match. Then, one late night, I took a crew of four weavers to the site and we rewove the bare sections of the high traffic areas by hand. Afterward, we sheared the new areas so they would match the rest of the existing carpet. Doing so extended the life of the carpet for another five years.
The Armenian Orphan Rug at the White House
When the White House Visitor Center agreed to display the Armenian Orphan Rug in 2014, I was invited, as a director of the Armenian Rugs Society, to give the rug’s history at a Congressional Press conference.
After the Armenian Genocide, the rug was woven in 10 months by orphaned girls and presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as a gesture of appreciation to the American people for their support of the relief societies that provided humanitarian aid to children left without parents by the war.
I am often called upon as an expert to speak on the history of antique Armenian rugs. Currently, I serve as the President of the Armenian Rugs Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the identification, preservation and dissemination of knowledge of Armenian rugs.
In pursuit of this mission, we hold symposiums nationwide and maintain a data bank of hand-knotted oriental rugs, carpets, kilims, bags and trappings bearing inscriptions woven in the Armenian alphabet.
Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulf
Designers for the Ritz-Carlton contacted me when they wanted to replace the rugs in their hallways, lobbies and rooms with a cost-effective, durable, low maintenance, elegant solution featuring Ritz-Carlton’s gold and blue colors.
Within the designers’ specifications, I designed and oversaw the manufacturing of 43 new, custom area rugs for the rooms and to cover 16,000 square feet of hallways.
I was inspired by a drawing from a 13th Century Armenian illuminated manuscript to include a peacock motif in the Ritz Carlton’s custom rugs.
In 2014, I also consulted in the design of the very first American Armenian Rose float titled “Cradle of Civilization.” (See link to article and photos about the float below.)
I am most proud and grateful that this country has given me the opportunity to be who I wanted to be—to reach my goals—to be my ultimate self. I am proud to have built my successful business from the ground up.
Of course, my grandfather and father were my primary mentors. In addition, my wife Mira Assadourian, who believed in my dreams and supported me in all aspects of building our business, has been critical to our success.
In addition, I am guided by the teachings of the early 20th-century mystic, philosopher and spiritual teacher, George Gurdjieff. He has influenced both my outlook on life and business.
Gurdjieff believed that, in general, people live on automatic pilot, without unification of their minds, bodies and emotions, but that, for a more balanced and meaningful life, a person can work toward and achieve greater mindfulness and awakening.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?My measure of success is being able to meet my goals. From when I was young, I wanted to understand Armenian carpets—the mystery and meaning behind their symbolism and history. Due to decades of experience, research and scientific studies, I have learned how to decipher these codes and speak definitively on this extraordinary art form.
The road to Hratch Kozibeyokian’s hilltop studio is rutted, and a visitor’s ascent is accompanied by a chorus of roosters and dogs. Any doubts about having misread the map, though, disappear as a pair of room-size patterned carpets come into view. Spread out on the pavement between the spacious house and workshops, they look like palatial welcome mats.
As owner of Kilim in West Hollywood’s design district, Kozibeyokian was a well-known dealer and restorer of fine Oriental rugs. Ten years ago, he and his wife, Mira Assadourian, decided to devote themselves exclusively to restoration, selling the store and building Ko ‘Z’ Craft, their aerie in the San Fernando Valley community of Shadow Hills.
Rug weaving is one of the world’s oldest arts. The Ko ‘Z’ Craft website, Ruglink.com, describes an example found in a Siberian tomb that has been carbon-dated to the 4th century BC. Wool woven and dyed in the traditional manner is meant to stand up to generations of hard wear, but damage does occur.
Here on the hilltop, the shades of red in one rug glow in the winter sun. Too many shades, Kozibeyokian says, pointing to a dark rectangle near the center. It’s the footprint of a piece of furniture that sat in the same spot, blocking light, while the rest of the design faded. Like mattresses, he says, rugs should be rotated once a year.
Kilims are flat woven, but this relatively modern piece was created from individual strands of wool knotted onto the cross threads, or warps. Kozibeyokian pushes back a patch of the thick pile to show the deeper color beneath. Using “mechanical scissors,” a rectangular tool that contains both a stationary and a rotating blade, his assistant will shave a small amount of pile off the entire rug, thus returning the whole to its original red. The process, he says, “is like trimming split ends on hair.”
The shaver is high tech compared with most tools here. The adjacent rug was treated with nothing more than an application of vinegar mixed with water, a time-honored disinfectant.
Rugs run in Kozibeyokian’s family. His grandfather traveled with a portable loom from village to village in Turkish Armenia and made rugs from yarn the villagers had spun. When wars disrupted the region, the family fled to Syria. There, his widowed grandmother joined other women weaving carpets in a refugee camp.
Kozibeyokian grew up in Lebanon, where his father was a tailor and furrier. In the 1970s, war again turned the family into emigrants. The family settled in Chicago but soon moved to L.A. at Kozibeyokian’s urging. He was in his 20s, loved motorcycles and hated the cold.
If it were summer now, he says, many more rugs would cover the pavement, a terrace behind the workshop, and even the roof. In the winter, they take “only the emergency things, the things that cannot wait.” Work, however, doesn’t stop. In the high ceilinged office, where a modern computer sits by century-old rugs dated and signed in curving Armenian script, Assadourian and her sister ply their needles on opposite sides of a long table. The jobs can be as straightforward as chain stitching along the damaged edge to keep a rug from unraveling, or as painstaking as repairing tears in an antique Navajo piece.
For this project, brown, gray and white yarn that matches the traditional Two Grey Hills pattern was purchased from a tribal cooperative in the Four Corners region. Using a 6-inch needle with its tip filed to prevent snagging, pieces of untwisted wool are threaded alongside undamaged warp threads where they can be pressed flat. As they emerge in the space where the warp is missing, they’re given a firm twist by a knowledgeable hand to make them stronger. Then they’re woven in, flat again, on the other side of the hole.
Assadourian also grew up in Lebanon, the daughter of a goldsmith. When she was young, she knew Kozibeyokian as an actor in her older sister’s theater group. Twenty years later, they re-met at a picnic.
“I was comfortable with her,” Kozibeyokian says. “I thought, the more things we have in common, the more difficult it will be to break up.” Adds Assadourian: “He’s been a Scout, so he knows how to tie the knots really well.”
The interweaving of their domestic and business life clearly suits them both. The homegrown walnuts and pomegranates on the coffee table aren’t only an attractive decoration. In the spring when the weather warms, their husks and skins will be used to make a rich green dye. One secret of the couple’s museum-quality repairs -- and of Kozibeyokian’s custom rug designs -- is their ability to re-create the soft colors of carpets made before the introduction of commercial aniline dyes in the late 1800s.
Home-dyed wool in a subtle rainbow of shades fills an entire wall of one workshop. Each indigo-, madder- and onion skin-tinted skein is actually a mix of dozens of blues, roses or golden-browns. The variations -- essential to matching the fade patterns of older rugs -- are obtained by different strengths of dye and durations in the dye bath.
Most of the coloring operation takes place in outdoor vats kept simmering over a propane burner. For large quantities, though, they have an underground oven on the patio. Four feet deep, it can keep a large pot warm for a week -- time enough for the desired colors to emerge from the plant material and then permanently bond with the wool’s core. The underground oven also roasts their Thanksgiving turkey.
A gallery contains pieces waiting for repair, including a lustrous silk rug with one corner now buzz-cut. “The dog ate my homework” may be a myth, but “the dog wrecked my carpet fringe” is a sad reality.
A more frequent culprit, Kozibeyokian says, is an improperly wielded vacuum cleaner. The machine always should be run parallel to the end of a rug, never across it. Even if the fringe survives, the beaters will fray knots holding the weaving in place.
Above the open window at the end of the gallery, twirling in the breeze, are a dozen fancy handkerchiefs, part of Assadourian’s collection. Her husband removes a brilliant antique robe from a cabinet and helps her into it. Then he puts on another, also from Uzbekistan, pointing out the slub of the hand-woven silk and the intricacy of the ikat pattern, whose threads are tie-dyed before weaving. As they stand framed by the view of rocky hills and the citrus orchard they’ve planted, centuries and continents blur.
“It’s not like any other business,” Assadourian says. “There’s some kind of pride in it. To bring an old piece back to life, to preserve it. That’s something you cannot buy with money. You’re rescuing things that otherwise would be gone forever.”
FEB. 13, 2010
”Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Woven Art” Conference at CSUN
February 13, 2022
NORTHRIDGE, CA — The Armenian Studies Program at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) will host a conference on the theme of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Woven Art. The event will take place at the Oviatt Library conference room on Saturday, March 29, from 1:00-5:00 p.m. It is cosponsored by the Armenian Rugs Society and the United Armenian Council of Los Angeles.
This conference aims to illuminate the Armenian Genocide from the perspective of the woven art in its widest scope: rugs, embroideries, lace work, handkerchiefs, textiles, and so on. The artists were widows and orphans, survivors who from the massacres in the mid-1890s through the decades following World War I maintained their sanity and dignity by keeping busy with gainful occupations. In a sense, traumatized as they were, they mocked life’s unfairness and cruelty by producing what was beautiful and ennobling. Their manufactured articles reached Europe, the United States and elsewhere. People purchased them out of humanitarianism, but by doing so they also enriched themselves with valueless artworks.
The following speakers will participate: Gevork Nazaryan, “Armenian Weaving Centers in the Ottoman Empire on the Eve of the Genocide”; Harold Bedoukian, “Armenian Orphans and Orphanages: Their Contribution to the Carpet Weaving World”; Vahram Shemmassian,” The Industries at the Armenian Refugee Campof Port Said, 1915-1919”;Hratch Kozibeyokian, “The Revival of an Ancient People and Their Crafts in Post-World War I Aleppo, Syria”; Susan Lind-Sinanian: “Stitching to Survive: Handcrafts of Armenian Widows and Orphans, 1896-1930”; Bared Maronian, “The Newly-Discovered Hajin Orphan Rug.” Dr. Hasmig Baran will introduce the speakers.
CSUN is located at 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, California. The parking structure is B3 at Darby and Prairie streets (the information booth for parking tickets is on Prairie). For further information, contact email@example.com or (818) 677-3456.
07 March 2014
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