Ask anyone in the know about interior design and carpets and the first name on their mouth will be Fort Street Studio. The company, known for its luxurious, hand-knotted carpets is the brainchild of artists Brad Davis and Janis Provisor and is the leading name in carpets.
The story of Fort Street Studio started in 1989, when Crown Point Press, a fine-art etching press based in San Francisco invited the artists to China to make prints in the traditional Chinese Watercolor Woodblock technique. Always interested in Chinese art but never able to visit, Davis and Provisor jumped at the opportunity.
In three weeks, they went to Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Huang Shan. “While in Hangzhou, we had a sense that we would return one day to spend more time there, and in 1993/94 the opportunity arose for us to do so,” says Provisor. “We decided to take a year’s adventure away from NYC, grabbed our young son who had just turned 6, and away we went to Hangzhou and Hong Kong.” In the book A Tale of Warp and Weft : Fort Street Studio, Davis says everyone thought they were crazy, because at that point he and Provisor had significant art careers, showing in the United States and Europe.
Due to the 1993 recession, the art world in the US had turned to conservatism, and it was the perfect time for an adventure. China, meanwhile, was beginning to open up. “One felt that you could do and make almost anything,” says Provisor. While neither of them can point to any specific influence, Provisor believes there was no doubt that the experience of living there; meeting people, and encountering daily life had its impact. “Artists are like sponges, soaking in what they see, smell, understand, and translating all this stimulation into their work,” she says.
At the beginning of their artistic careers, working with fabric and textiles was not something they both thought they would ever do.
Provisor says that while she had always been fascinated by fashion, it was not something she ever thought she would dip her toes into. Davis, who was part of the Pattern and Decoration style movement in the late 70s and 80s, used fabric as merely a decorative border element on his paintings.
Their interest started when Davis met a retired manager of a state-run carpet factory. Davis then asked Provisor if she was interested in collaborating on a carpet for their loft in New York. At the time, they were based in Hangzhou, the center of the silk industry. In their small studio area, they made watercolors, which could be translated into a silk carpet.
“We had no idea how difficult this would be. We were setting ourselves up against a time-honored tradition of how to design for a carpet to be woven,” Provisor says. But artists are always ready to take on a challenge and are nothing if not solvers of problems, she says. What began as a one-off developed into something far different than anything they anticipated.
The duo was inspired by an art deco-era carpet they both had that featured a flower with a bleed-through shade from one color to another, and they sought to replicate that effect. “That was the first real intuition about how we could make a carpet that looked like a watercolor,” says Davis in A Tale of Warp and We.
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