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    Magic Carpet Ride
by Brook S. Mason
Savonnerie carpet fragment (detail)
France, 1666
at Francesca Galloway
Sevan Kazakh
Southwestern Caucasus
19th century
at Eskenazi & C.
Detail of a pair of "Cloth of Gold" architectural hangings
Central Asia
Mongol period, ca. 13th century
William Morris
"Garden Rug"
ca. 1879-1881
at Stephen and Valerie Bedford
Roundel made for the Emperor's fur coat
early 19th century
at Linda Wrigglesworth
There may be no such thing as a magic carpet, but the second annual London Hali Antique Carpet and Textile Art Fair almost convinced me otherwise. From June 10 to June 14, exhibitors gathered at Olympia, in Kensington, London, to show off their woven art -- the fastest growing specialty in the decorative arts.

Fairs in their infancy are generally problematic, yet this year Hali has surprised the skeptics and assembled a group of outstanding dealers with extremely high-quality offerings. The presentation, sponsored in part by the prestigious publication, HALI, The International Magazine of Antique Carpet and Textile Art, bears no resemblance to the more haphazard textile fairs we often see stateside. Some 60 exhibitors from such far-flung corners of the world as Turkey, New Hampshire, Indonesia and Israel participated, though the majority were from Great Britain, the capital of the textile world.

As to be expected, Bokharas, Persian carpets, embroidered Chinese and Indian textiles and Ikats were in abundance, though many dealers had very unusual findings. Singapore and Hong Kong gallery Plum Blossoms had a set of particularly rare 13th-century Mongol panels made of silk and gold thread. While fragments of this "cloth of gold" are on the market, such large hangings are exceedingly hard to find. This set, some 12 feet in length, was probably a palace hanging. The price is princely royal, too -- a cool $6 million. It's bound to be snapped up by a museum.

There may not be many $6 million shoppers, but Stephen McGuiness of Plum Blossoms is optimistic about his expanding collector base. Currently he has hundreds of clients seeking items in the $10,000 range.

London dealer Francesca Galloway sold up a storm of 17th- and 18th- century Genovese velvets. Newly popular in the textile world, the heavily stenciled pieces come in regal tones of burgundy and forest green. Measuring but a yard, the velvets cost between $688 and $3,440 -- hardly steep when compared to multiples by some contemporary artists.

Former Spink director, Jacqueline Simcox, who has sold a number of early Chinese textiles, sees a group of collectors that has doubled in number within the past five years. "New buyers are first attracted to image, color and design," she says. As their collections grow, historical context becomes more important. One index to the quality of her wares is a 19th-century ikat in iridescent purple with touches of lime green and blazing white, priced at $26,000.

Also notable is a William Morris "Garden'" rug at Stephen and Valerie Bedford of North Somerset, England. Small in size (3 x 2 feet), this rug bears a Persian floral design and was once owned by Prime Minister Clement Atlee. The $22,360 price tag speaks of its uniqueness. The Bedford's also had Bokharas, priced at $17,200 and under, which sold consistently.

San Francisco dealer Sandra Whitman specializes in textiles from the Far East, and more specifically, Ming Dynasty temple carpet fragments -- another fairly new category of collectibles. "Many first-time clients who collect Chinese porcelain or furniture are now dipping their toes in carpets," she says.

With generally brisk sales and growing collector bases, Hali was clearly a success. The majority of exhibitors this year have signed up for the year 2000 Hali fair, notes fair spokesperson Gay Hutson, so mark your calendar for next June.

BROOK S. MASON writes on art and antiques.