HE WEARS a plaid cotton shirt, over a blue T-shirt, and jeans. The hair is cropped short. It is not so much gray as heralding a time which it will be. He will soon turn 40. He grins, Teddy Roosevelt chops crowned by a moustache that grasps desperately at his lower lip.
"Look at this," he say. He sits and removes one of his shoes. Gumshoes, gleaming like plastic.
"These are police shoes. I just bought them. I bough a pair in Taiwan, once. They only lasted a couple of years. These are sturdy as hell."
Dirk Holger, a German designer of tapestries, is in an anteroom of the Textile Museum. (An exhibit of some of his wall hangings is now open in the Museum's temporary gallery.). They are still waiting to be hung. Several are draped over tables. A few are spread across the floor.
Holger walks over them, back and forth, as if to say, "You see how nothing will hurt my tapestries? They will last forever." Like a pair of police shoes.
Twenty years ago Holger was still designing sets for theater and such things when he visited the "Guerzenich," the exhibition hall in Cologne. "There," he says, "I saw [Jean] Lurcat's wall hanging 'Wine, Music, Poetry,' almost 100 square meters on a black background. Never before in my life had an art work so gripped and overwhelmed me. I decided then and there to make tapestries as well."
Three years later Holger Became the artist's last student. He spent two summers in Lurcat's castle workshop in central France. Later he brought the Aubusson method to the Gobelin factories in Munich and Nuremburg.
"We brought French girls to do the weaving because they were the best," says Holger. "The results were very funny. They were used to drinking two bottles of French wine. But they were not used to drinking German beer. After just one liter of beer, they were drunk. By the middle of the day, they were passed out under the looms."
Between 15 and 20 workers in France and Germany produce Holger's tapestries. He makes the designs and colorcodes them. The tapestries are executed on horizontal looms. The weavers read from Holger's instructions, which lie flat under the loom.
"You see," he says, pointing to another artist's tapestry in a catalogue. "He is a painter. He knows nothing about weaving. I apprenticed as a weaver. I must draw my designs backwards, because the weavers work from the back. These numbers here are like notes for a musician. The weaver and I, we can look at these numbers and, just as the musicians hears his music when he reads his notes, we see the finished tapestry, complete."
"If they want it done right, they should come to Holger. . . . The others should just stay away."
"here," he says, "feel the quality of this, You see how even the lines are? You feel how tight the weave is? This will last centuries," he says. "Tapestries are made to be touched. That's the only way the quality can be appreciated, I eat tapestries."
He lifts one of the tapestries and presses it between his hands. "Six thousand dollars," he says, giggling a bit awkwardly. "Six thousand dollars! . . . We will have to get some of the Rockefellers to this show. No, that girl who was with Rockefeller in his famous last half-hour. You know what we say about that in Germany?"
Much of the world according to Holger cannot be told in this newspaper.
Holger's pieces are on sale at the Textile Museum. Holger says he does quite well with insurance companies. ("They buy many at one time. They give some away to their clients and write them off their taxes.") This is his 10th show in the United States. "You know what my friends say? They say the reason I do so well in America is because Americans have such poor taste."
At least a few American fiber experts would agree. They would find Holger's tapestries better suited to a discount furniture house.
A bit later, Holger is drinking an Augustiner Brau at a nearby tavern. He is flipping through a catalogue that accompanied an exhibit of work from 90 fiber artists, sponsored last summer in Munich by the Bavarian Academy of Fine Art (Bayerische Akademie de Schoenen Kunst). Holger helped organize the show.
"I told the jury," he says, pointing to one piece in the show catalogue," 'This one is funny, but it doesn't belong in the show.' What did they do? They put it in the show." That was one of the "home-sweet-home needlework" pieces, as Holger likes to call them. Some, though not all, of what is not Holger is "home-sweet-home needlework.
"Tapestry," he says, looking over his shoulder for eavesdroppers in the nearly vacant pub, "has to be related to architecture or it is junk. Real tapestry in this world is unknown. All they know is fiber work. Your grandmother can do fiber work.
"Don't get me wrong," he says. "I'm not really against it. It's just not my bag."
Many of Holger's designs are broad-leafed plant forms half concealing a red sun. In others, flames leap into outer space, licking at unknown planets. "I love leaf design better than I like bottle design. But I like to drink out of bottles."
Holger grins. Then he remembers the story of a grand old woman who had loved her husband very much, but her lover even more. Everyone she loved had died, yet her love had not. "She said, 'Everyone, somwhere or sometime, must love someone or something.' Isn't that a beautiful expression? I love my tapestries."
Dirk Holger's tapestries will remain on view at the Textile Museum through Aug. 31. CAPTION:
Picture, Dirk Holger in front of one of his tapestries at the Textile Museum. By Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post