“This is the ultimate sustainable product,” said Blake Wilson, pointing to a large, striking rug. “No animals were killed to make it — the sheep were shorn. All of the dyes are vegetable-based. It was created by a family of weavers 100 years ago, and it will last indefinitely.”
Wilson, who with his brother Richard, co-owns the Art Bank and Oriental Rug Center on North Tejon Street, was standing on the rug as he spoke.
“How much is it?”
“$24,000,” Wilson replied.
“And we’re standing on it?”
“That’s what it’s for,” said Wilson. “People have been standing on it for 100 years — you’re not hurting it.”
Preceded by their father Walter Wilson, the two brothers have been in business on Tejon Street for 35 years. The business has expanded from a small storefront to a 12,500 square-foot, brick-and-mortar retail business.
Blake Wilson used to travel frequently to Afghanistan and Pakistan to buy rugs, but those trips are now too dangerous.
“We still buy from the same people,” Wilson said, “but now we have to go through middlemen. We know where the rugs are made, we know who makes them and we know that there’s no child labor or slave labor involved in their creation.”
Not all of the rugs are expensive masterpieces. A small area rug, woven in a rural Afghan village, can be purchased for $285.
“It’s amazing that we can sell it at that price,” he explained. “It’s hand-woven, and we’ve been there. We’ve seen the dyes — the indigo, the madder. We know what we’re selling. That rug will last a lifetime and more.”
To stay in business for a third of century isn’t easy, especially during an era of rapid change in both the fine art and Oriental rug markets.
“The Internet really changed everything,” he said. “People started buying Oriental rugs online, thinking they were getting bargains, and they usually weren’t. Retailers like us were at a disadvantage — we pay sales tax, real estate taxes and maintain large inventories.”
The brothers’ inventory includes hundreds of rugs, as well as artworks ranging from a 200-year-old carved wooden door from Rajasthan to scores of spectacular paintings by historic Colorado artists.
And although brick-and-mortar merchants of all kinds face increasingly stiff competition, Wilson believes that a physical location has its advantages.
“We have a large inventory that our clientele can physically see, touch and feel,” he said. “Customer service is a priority for us. We offer free in-home trials of our products, expert rug cleaning, rug repairs and I am one of about 50 certified rug appraisers in the United States.”
Time hasn’t been kind to other high-end retailers on the Tejon Street corridor.
“Bryan & Scott, the Chinook Book Store — those were landmark businesses and they’re gone,” Wilson observed.
Neither survived changing markets, but the brothers have adapted. Theirs is the only art gallery in the Pikes Peak region specializing in works by early Colorado and Colorado Springs artists. It’s a surprisingly substantial market, one supported by a steady stream of buyers, sellers and “pickers.”
“We get at least four or five people every day with artworks they want to sell — maybe inherited or bought for a few dollars at a garage sale,” Wilson explained.
The two also provide a market for “pickers,” people who haunt antique stores, estate sales and yard sales searching for that overlooked rare treasure to buy at a great price.
“One day an older couple came in with some pieces,” he said. “They didn’t have any value — just reproductions. I explained to them what we’re looking for, gave them a list of the artists we’re interested in. They thanked me, left and called me an hour later — they were sure they’d found something.”
Wilson was skeptical, but he told them to come by that afternoon.
“I have some good news,” he told them after examining their find. “It’s an original watercolor. And I have some better news — it’s by Gerard Curtis Delano.”
Delano (1890-1972) is an important Western artist. Major works bring hundreds of thousands, and even a small watercolor is quite valuable.
“I’ll give you a check for $5,000 right now,” Wilson offered, “or I’ll pay you half of what you paid for it, be your 50–50 partner, and we’ll split whatever I can sell it for.” The couple chose the partnership option.
“We paid $100,” said the man, “No, wait a minute, we got a senior discount. It was $90 … so write us a check for $45.”
“A few weeks later I wrote them a check for much more than $5,000,” said Wilson. “Since then, they’ve been back several times with other things, and we’ve bought some small pieces — nothing like the Delano, though.”
Such serendipitous finds might not happen often, but the brothers’ deep community roots and expertise in weavings, antiques and fine art bring partnership opportunities.
“We’ve arranged for the sale of some extraordinary pieces,” Wilson said.
“You might have something worth six, even seven, figures. We can manage that, and make sure that you get the best price possible.”
The Art Bank and
Oriental Rug Center
Location: 610 N. Tejon St.