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Exhibition at Saint Louis Art Museum highlights carpets and tents from the Ballard collection
Small Octagonal Pavilion Tent, probably late 19th or early 20th century; Persian; silk, cotton, and metallic yarns; 11 feet 4 inches x 13 feet 4 inches x 13 feet 4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of James F. Ballard 132:1929a,b.

SAINT LOUIS, MO.- The Saint Louis Art Museum is presenting The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs, a major exhibition highlighting the extraordinary range of Oriental carpets assembled by an early 20th-century American collector who set a new standard for collecting and scholarship. The ticketed exhibition is on view from March 6 through May 8, 2016.

At the turn of the 20th century, prominent St. Louis businessman James F. Ballard became one of the country’s foremost collectors of Oriental carpets. Celebrated for his approach to collecting at a time when most other rug connoisseurs were acquiring classical and Indian carpets, Ballard traveled the world, purchasing Anatolian carpets directly from provincial centers in Turkey.

In addition to his passion for collecting, Ballard was also a patient teacher, inveterate traveler and, above all, the first student of Oriental carpets to acknowledge the importance of Turkish influence on the history of the pile carpet. Ballard’s scholarly approach continues to advance the field of Oriental carpets today.

Ballard ultimately divided his collection of carpets between the Saint Louis Art Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The larger component, which includes many of the best rugs, came to the Saint Louis Art Museum as gifts from Ballard in 1929 and 1930. Another group was donated by his daughter, Nellie Ballard White, in 1972. As a result of those two gifts, the Museum has 110 Ballard rugs in its collection.

“Fascinated by the allure of rugs, their extreme beauty, and their symbolic and historical importance, James Ballard set a new standard for carpet collecting,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “His bequest was among the first major gifts received by the Museum, and continues to be a pillar of our collection.”

The Carpet and the Connoisseur highlights 51 carpets and two tents from the Ballard Collection. While the holdings clearly demonstrate strength in Anatolian material, the exhibition begins chronologically with three Cairene rugs, a Spanish rug, and examples of “Lotto” and small-pattern “Holbein” carpets, all important examples from the late-15th- and 16th centuries.

Two pleasure tents that were used for outdoor gatherings also are being highlighted in the exhibition. Until recently, they were the only examples of such works in American museums.

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