IN SEARCH OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

SO, I’M TRYING TO GET out of Tehran. As required by law, I’m covered from head to toe with only my face and hands exposed. My suitcase is so heavy it took two guys to lift it into the taxi.” (This is Nese Zinn, owner of Zinn Rug Gal-lery, telling me one of her delightfully scary stories about her days as an antique rug importer.)

“There are two inspection lines, and they are thoroughly searching the gentleman in front of me, even squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube. I thought to myself, ‘Nobody will ever hear from me again.’ When I was motioned to move by the inspector, I picked up the suitcase by the handle and wheeled it with my small finger as if there was nothing in it. The inspector didn’t even check it,” she says.

Laughing, she tells me another one: “I was the first woman rug dealer going into Azerbaijan to establish sources for antique Caucasian rugs when the USSR dissolved. Once, I found a beautiful rug on the way to the airport and, without space in my backpack, I wrapped it around my waist.

There were soldiers with machine guns all around me. I got on the scales where they were weighing luggage and said, ‘Oh, I’ve gained so much weight from the delicious borscht.’” This is extra funny because Zinn is roughly the size of a hummingbird. They laughed and let her through.

Zinn’s willingness to risk her life for antique rugs is fueled by a fierce dedication to people who make art.
“It’s important to invest in beautiful things that are made with love and intention,” she says. “This way, no matter what happens in your life, you will be supported by your surroundings.” For Zinn, antique rugs vibrate with love and life, radiating energy that nurtures their caretakers on a daily basis.

Today, Zinn and her daughter, Lale, show their rugs by appointment from three private locations. In each one, the impressive inventory is stacked neatly and sorted by size. “I can still look at a rug and remember where it came from. My inventory of rugs is a record of my life, of how I spent my days, and how I spent my time in search of something beautiful,” she says. “I am always touched by the fact that when a villager sits down and weaves a rug, they’ve made the dyes, and then they’ve carved out time to create it in between taking care of their households and their families.”

She tells me the story of the rug she sold her dentist: “The woman who made this rug took silver and gold threads from her wedding costume and wove it into that rug. Every time I go to the dentist, that rug fills my heart in the same way it did when I first saw it.”

The fact that Zinn brought such a fantastic treasure trove of antique rugs to our small city is nothing short of amazing, when you consider that most antique rugs in America and Europe have gone into private collections. Turkish and Persian rugs are once again popular with Middle Eastern families, so global supply has become incredibly limited.

Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about antique rugs, Zinn will happily educate you—and you will thoroughly enjoy the process. Her roster of repeat clients and the list of designers that trust her implicitly speaks for her impeccable reputation in the industry. Zinn Rug Gallery has a large selection of Turkish, Caucasian and Persian rugs that are hand knotted and handwoven. The rugs are authentic semi-antiques and antiques, and have never been unnaturally altered from their original states.

Zinn still travels the world, but these days only for fun. “I was really brave at one time,” she says. “I think I like punishment. But only for the sake of art. Not for just any rug, but for the most
beautiful rug.”

Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.