Get to Know the Carpet Connoisseur

By | March 24, 2016
Portrait of James F. Ballard; Saint Louis Art Museum Archives

Portrait of James F. Ballard; Saint Louis Art Museum Archives

By the early 20th century St. Louisian James Franklin Ballard (1851-1931) had achieved great success in the industry of non-prescription medicines. His products included Campho-Phenique, a topical antiseptic still available today. The fortune generated by his medications allowed Ballard, a self-trained scholar, to amass an exceptional collection of Oriental carpets and two Persian pleasure tents.

Ballard dated his first Oriental carpet purchase to 1905 when a rug in New York caught his eye. For the next twenty-six years he would devote extraordinary energy to rug acquisitions. Ballard’s connoisseurship, his ability to discern harmony of color and design, along with his keen business sense, led him to acquire carpets overlooked by far wealthier collectors of his day. The cosmopolitan St. Louisan often went directly to the source, traveling the world by land and sea, observing carpets firsthand as well as establishing relationships with a range of expert dealers. A tireless self-promoter, Ballard orchestrated extensive newspaper coverage of his quest.

With the same zeal, Ballard organized exhibitions of his world-class collection in department stores and museums around the United States, and self-published catalogues to make his rugs better known. His residence at 4420 Washington Boulevard included a burglar and fire-proof gallery for his collection. This connoisseur wanted nothing more than for others to appreciate the beauty and history of the textiles he found so compelling. Thanks to James F. Ballard’s passion and enthusiasm, these incredible artworks can be appreciated today in the featured exhibition, The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs.