Textile Artist Rosemary Hallgarten
April 20, 2017
Fiber artist Rosemary Hallgarten’s organic, hand-woven rugs, fabrics, and other home accessories are a celebration of texture.
Text by Maria LaPiana
Rosemary Hallgarten always wanted to earn her living making beautiful things. “I knew that as long as I could keep doing that, I’d be happy,” she says.
The British-born textile artist, who lives in Westport and has a showroom in Fairfield, is well known in the design world and among lovers of contemporary crafts for her deliciously textured rugs, fabrics, and accessories.
They’re all quite beautiful—and she, quite happy.
The story of Hallgarten’s success is as organic as the fleece that’s shorn, sorted, spun, and carded into fibers that are woven into her unique, functional works of art. Since starting her cottage industry in 2001, Hallgarten has relied on an acute tactile sensibility and her intuition to grow her company apace with her life—slowly and deliberately.
Although she was first drawn to jewelry design, it’s no surprise she found herself on a path laid by her mother, the renowned fiber artist Gloria Finn. In time, Hallgarten found she couldn’t resist the feel of alpaca, Tibetan wool, and natural plant fibers, including hemp, jute, and sisal. She loved that they were all sustainable. And once she discovered that she could help support artisans in under-developed parts of the world, there was no turning back. Most of her products are handmade in Peru, Nepal, and Brazil, where craftspeople do the intricate work of dyeing, knotting, and weaving in their own homes.
“For the first couple of years, we made just one kind of rug,” the artist says, but as she sourced new materials, new products emerged. “While I was in Peru doing rugs, I fell in love with alpaca fabric, but didn’t know what to make with it,” she remembers, until she experimented with luxurious throws. And once she fell for bouclé, she added pillows to the line.
While rugs still make up half the company’s business, fabric is at about 40 percent, with accessories rounding out the mix. Everything she designs has a luxurious, rich, modern sensibility. The one constant: “It’s always been very much about texture and contrasting fibers,”
Hallgarten was living in San Francisco with her then-husband and young son when she first ventured into the field of textile design. In 2006, the family moved east to be closer to New York, where her work was garnering attention. She was expecting the couple’s second son when they moved to Connecticut. It was a practical matter: “If I had to go into the city, I was a train ride away,” she says. And as she developed relationships with the artisans who made her rugs, she adds, “It was much easier to travel to South America and Europe from the East Coast.”
Rosemary Hallgarten, the company, started out with no employees, then one, and now there are six—plus a few part-time workers. It operates twelve showrooms, including one in London and one in Paris.
Hallgarten travels to Peru at least once a year. “Every time I go, I meet with every artisan who works for me, weavers, the people who dye all of my things,” she says. “I’ve come to know them, their family stories. We’re very connected.”
She’s vigilant about working conditions and adamantly supports GoodWeave, the nonprofit dedicated to ending child labor in the carpet industry throughout the world.
It’s hard to be creative while running an international company, but Hallgarten does her best to stay involved. “Sometimes I just send my ideas over, and suggest playing around with different yarn. Sometimes we’ll sit down and work on something together,” she explains. “Sometimes I have an idea that’s so exacting, then I see it and it’s not right . . . it just doesn’t have the soul that I want it to have.” In that case, she’ll shelve it for a while.
She sells to the trade only, but wants to keep growing, so she’s open to new avenues of business. “I want to make things available online,” she says. “My line is pretty couture, so I’d like to introduce fabrics and rugs that have the same feeling, but are a bit less expensive.”
Still, as her company evolves, one thing will always stay the same: “My inspiration hasn’t really changed over the years,” she says. “It will always be about texture and color and light.” •