DOBAG is the acronym of a natural dye research and development project – in Turkish “Dogal Boya Arsatirm ve Gelistirn Projesi”, started in 1981 by the German chemist Dr Harald Boehmer who held a teaching post in Istanbul since 1960. A collector of antique Caucasian and Anatolian rugs he was attracted by their beautiful colours but puzzled by the horrible synthetic dyes used in recent examples and so his passionate journey resulting in the DOBAG project began.
Antique nomadic rugs are famous for their powerful designs and wonderful natural colours. But over the last 120 years synthetic dyes and commercial pressures have displaced the traditional values and techniques. Today new Oriental carpets are almost exclusively dyed with poor synthetic colours, made worse by damaging chemical treatments. Patterns and colours change according to fashion and each design is produced in multiple numbers, turning the once exclusive Oriental Carpets into mass produced furnishings of no lasting value.
It was against this background that DOBAG was started in 1981 to see if genuine carpets of original design and quality could once again be created. Run as a co-operative by the village women, a successful cottage industry was established where, at its peak in the late 1990’s, 350 families from 35 tiny villages were members producing around 1500 pieces a year.
During this time some very beautiful and totally original pieces were woven. Signed and sometimes dated by the weaver(s), these rugs had superb hand spun wool, dyed with perfect natural colours, each one unique as no cartoons were allowed. DOBAGs were hard wearing, colour fast and stunning rugs that could be repeatedly washed, like antique rugs, and therefore set to last for generations.
It is now 38 years since DOBAG was started and many radical changes have taken place since its peak. Financially these families are now much better off and able to send their children to high level education. As a result, virtually no young villagers have any interest in pursuing a career weaving carpets, despite being paid considerably more than in the past. At the end of 2018 the annual production has fallen to a mere 30 pieces, mainly woven by older weavers who have a waiting list of 3 years should you wish to order a rug from them. In the Ayvacik district the production has come to a complete halt.
Therefore I am now focusing on finding “old” DOBAG gems which, if looked after properly and given regular cleaning, have acquired a wonderful patina. I have no doubt that the best old DOBAGs are future collector’s items and that the DOBAG project, as predicted, has been a short lived but very important part of carpet history.