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How Arlette Bollag and Toni Hutmacher contracted the «kilim bug» and how it changed their lives...

In winter 1969, Toni Hutmacher, a young architect, left for India in an old Citroën 2CV, driving over snowy passes and through deserts in Turkey, Iraq, Baluchistan and Pakistan – meeting tribal folk, and strolling through bazaars, looking at colourful rugs and kilims. To buy any was out of the question – the little money he had was reserved for spare parts for the clattering but sturdy little car that made it to India and back through Afghanistan.

In 1971 Arlette, travelled by bus and train very much along the same route and spent hours in the bazaar, listening to the bazaris, admiring the beauty of rugs and kilims she could not buy for lack of funds and a camel to transport them on.

We met in 1973, and our combined nostalgia held fast and even increased over the years. Collecting on a small scale, and a growing passion for nomadic culture and textiles led to a first big exhibition in 1979, called NOMADENSCHÄTZE (nomadic treasures). Being daring greenhorns and still very young then, we opted for the exclusive Palace Hotel in Gstaad, and put up an old Kirghiz yurt in the elegant exhibition space. It was a big success with the sophisticated clientele, who loved to drink their wodka there, reclining on antique balisht. («He looks like Roger Moore.» «It IS Roger Moore.») On show were antique rugs, kilims, Sassanid vases, Uzbek suzani, ikat panels and ikat coats.

A few months later, we exhibited a complete ikat tent from Bochara in Zurich, and from then on did three to four major exhibitions a year, both in Zurich and in a 14th century mill in the countryside. Outside the mill was an Uzbek yurt where many a leg of lamb was roasted over the fire to the delight of friends and visitors. During exhibitions concerts and lectures where held in the mill. Among the many exhibitions we‘ll name just a few: Kurdish rugs (1983), Baluch weavings (1984), Weavings of the Shahsavan (985).

Travelling in Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early eighties to collect great kilims, Lakai embroideries, felts, suzani and Baluch rugs, and with curiosity being the best teacher of all, our knowledge grew. Seeking information, we listened to tribals and scholars alike, read books, spent hours in museums and bazaars. We realized we had become serious rug and kilim dealers well after everybody else did.

In 1991 we decided to return to our hometown Zürich to open the gallery NOMADENSCHÄTZE in the heart of the old city, concentrating on exceptional kilims and antique beads. It was located at Kirchgasse 36, then, in 1994, on Kirchgasse 25, in a wonderful big space with a beautiful garden. It was the same street where we had held our first Zurich exhibition in 1979, which we considered a good omen. The welcoming atmosphere equally attracted young newcomers as well as collectors and nostalgic travellers. A comprehensive, vast library could be consulted by visitors. Over the years, it became a kind of oasis for many.

In 2002, our gallery lease ran out and we had to find a solution. Arlette‘s father, Max G. Bollag had stopped working in his art gallery at the age of 85. It would have been a pity to discontinue the family‘s tradition in the art business (four generations since 1899). NOMADENSCHÄTZE needed a new location. So we decided to renovate the big space near Bahnhofstrasse and exhibit art and kilims in turns, feeling that these two art forms should not be mixed without good reason. (see NOMADENSCHÄTZE on show, see BOLLAG GALLERIES on show)