One carpet design grew out of tree-bark decorations by Amazon Indians, another was suggested by prehistoric cave paintings of southern France. The loom used was like those of ancient Persia and the knotting was by young women of Ecuador. But the rugs are all originals by Olga Fisch, 81, a lady with wavy silver hair who was born in Hungary, studied in Germany and lived in Morocco and Ethiopia before receiving asylum as a Jewish refugee in Ecuador in 1939.
Fourteen of her luxurious, deep-pile wool rugs are on display at Washington's Textile Museum. Most are 6 x 8, with colors ranging from neutral earth tones to the vivid shades of Latin America.
Trained in the traditional German academic way in Dusseldorf in the 1920s, she is a painter of the realist school. Called the mother of Ecuadorian folk art, she discovered the beauty of Ecuadorian Indian textiles in the 1940s, when others regarded them as crude and worthless. All her life she has been a collector of objects made by villagers, and believes that similar conditions create similar folk art the world over. As a collector and critic, she encourages the preservation of the traditional forms; as an artist, she makes free use of them.
Olga Fisch's talent lies in a surprising, personal transposition of designs, techniques, colors and textures. Geometric labyrinths seen on a pre-Inca pottery shard reappear in a rug sculptured in Chinese style; the colors are beige and gray; the mood is contemporary and contemplative. Another rug, named after the Salasaca tribe, is a cheerful fiesta of people and horses, peacocks and goats, lariats and guns. The background is a sandy gray; the figures, in brilliant greens and oranges, reds and purples, stand out as if embroidered. The rugs are for sale, at about $60 per square foot.
"I don't copy," Olga Fisch says with a Hungarian lilt that carries over into her Spanish, English, French and German. "I look at designs, and then let the design inspire me. When I draw I leave reality behind. I am on my own. I always go my own way. A little bit from here, a little from there, but most of it is absolute fantasy."
A tribute to the breadth of her artistry is that her rugs are exhibited in New York's Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Primitive Art. She has designed rugs for the Metropolitan Opera and the UN Headquarters; last year the Renwick Gallery featured her collection of Indian ritual garb, titled "A Feast of Color: Corpus Christi Dance Costumes of Ecuador."
Her favorite colors are light rust and dark brown, and she draws her designs on graph paper as large as the rug will be, indicating every knot. There are 65,000 knots per square meter, which provides employment for about 25 people, most of them Indians.
Her own fingers no longer are supple enough to tie those tight knots, but the designs still come freely to her supple mind. She aims for balance, not symmetry, although some of her rugs are so balanced as to appear symmetrical.
She suggests that people walk around her rugs: The patterns, even the colors, change with the vantage point. Olga Fisch's world always turns. THE SPIRIT OF ECUADOR -- At the Textile Museum, 2320 S Street NW, through July 14.