Press release: Exhibition will highlight carpets and tents from the Ballard collection

By | January 11, 2016

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 11, 2016—The Saint Louis Art Museum will present 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 will be on view from March 6 through May 8, 2016.

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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 will highlight 51 carpets and two tents from the Ballard Collection. While the holdings clearly demonstrate strength in Anatolian material, the exhibition will begin 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 will also be highlighted in the exhibition. Until recently, they were the only examples of such works in American museums.

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition will include an essay on Ballard as a collector by independent scholar Thomas Farnham and an essay and entries by internationally acclaimed carpet historian Walter B. Denny, distinguished professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Denny will introduce the rug varieties and place the collection in a larger art-historical and historiographical context.

Denny, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on Islamic carpets and textiles, will deliver an opening lecture in The Farrell Auditorium on Friday, March 4, at 11 am. The lecture is free, but tickets are required. They are available at the Museum’s Information Centers, through MetroTix, or—if available—at the auditorium box office on the day of the lecture.

All tickets to The Carpet and the Connoisseur are timed and dated. Admission is free for Members. For the general public, tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $6 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children age 5 and under. Tickets are available in person or through MetroTix. Tickets purchased through MetroTix incur a service charge.

The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs is guest-curated by Denny in collaboration with Philip Hu, associate curator-in-charge of Asian art, and textile conservator Zoe Perkins.

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493,