Catherine Bertulli Carpets enjoyed a soft launch in 2017; an intentional ‘beta’ launch to build interest and allow her time to refine development and learning prior to her company’s 2020 public launch. Designed as a pop-up shop opening for May 2020 at Boston Design Center, the launch was cancelled due to global Covid lockdown. ‘Pivot’, Bertulli tells COVER with quiet understatement, became her ‘key word’ for 2020. Unfazed by events beyond her control, Bertulli responded to lockdown like a basketball player whose hands are firmly on the ball with one foot planted while the other pivots to improve position. Her familiarity with the concept of the pivot captures the equanimity and tenacity that reflects a life and career that in common with all women who juggle home and career, required Bertulli to adapt to circumstances sometimes outside her direct control.
Bertulli reflects on how following her arts degree at Massachusetts College of Art, ‘I was having some real artistic success’, including ‘a fellowship at Radcliffe College and gallery representation’. Her trajectory diverted when she followed her then-husband’s career to New York City. She freelanced for her husband’s scenography career by painting his scale renderings for ballets, while working with historical fabrics and learning design concepts like mirror-repeats. All the while she maintained her practice as an artist. Her diverse experience ‘persuaded Stark Carpet to take a chance on me,’ she says, a position first offered to her husband. ‘I proposed to the [Stark] Showroom Manager that I could do the job.’ She got it. ‘When I started I hand-drafted designs in scale, and taught myself how to match colours to fabric and yarn poms—even though my art was already known for its colour, [the experience at Stark] taught me a lot more that I could then apply to my artworks.’
But back to the word ‘upstart’ used recently to describe Bertulli’s new company. Famously employed as a barbed comment in the 16th century to describe playwright William Shakespeare as ‘an upstart crow’ who stole ‘feathers’ from other writers, Bertulli (and Shakespeare of course) are the opposite of ‘upstarts’. The inaugural collections of Bertulli’s company feature handmade rugs—everything from kilims and dhurries to tufted and hand-knotted—designed by Bertulli or with artwork (‘feathers’) she gathers in partnership with contemporary emerging and established New England artists. The autumn 2020 artist collection includes Chittering and Chattering—a rug replete with a field of birds adapted from a lino print by Boston-based artist Lisa Houck.
‘My artists are very generous in allowing me to translate their work,’ says Bertulli. Thanks to her arts training, Bertulli instinctively understands the opportunities and challenges of translating works of art into rugs. In keeping with a bird and feathers theme, Bertulli described to COVER how the rug Chittering and Chattering came to be. Designed by Houck as a folk art-inspired blue and white linocut (a relief printmaking technique), Houck’s original image field included butterflies and a lower edge of land and water.
‘Some artists initially have a reluctance to adapt the design,’ Bertulli explains, but she laid out proposed changes with Houck and explained why they were necessary—sometimes it’s to create composition clarity while at other times changes are necessary to adapt the design to the weaving, tufting or knotting process. ‘I had a vision for Chittering and Chattering that removed the frame and butterflies and shifted the one-direction aspect by “mirroring” the lower edge land and water design at the top of the rug’. One bird was modified, while a palette shift from blue and white to blue and pink creates a ‘punchy and contemporary’ look, she says.
‘Affordable and exceptional custom rugs’ is the USP (unique selling point) of Catherine Bertulli Carpets. Shakespeare wrote about royalty but he also wrote for the general public—the ‘groundlings’ who paid to stand in the ‘Pit’ at London’s Globe Theatre while the gentry paid for seats. Each group saw the same quality performance. In a similar spirit of universal access, Bertulli is keen to ‘take it down a notch’ and prove that handmade rugs—including hand-knotted—can be made affordable to all. ‘I want to equalise it a bit,’ she says, referring to custom carpets while she continues to ensure GoodWeave and fair wages are an integral part of her business. Her new website and social media presence are works in progress, so stay tuned for pricing transparency that outlines for her potential customers the affordable but fair price range they can expect for her truly custom and covetable handmade rugs.