With some foot-tapping folk music playing, I had the chance to go into Rug & Relic to interview Steve and Tove Bormes. The time spent speaking with the Bormes was incredibly informing and entertaining! Right away when you walk through the doors, they make you feel welcome. It’s almost as if I was chatting with some long time friends that I hadn’t spoken to or seen for years, but still have such a fun connection with them. Even in conversation, they play off of each other’s strengths and make each other better. You can see they take humble pride in their work with Turkish art, and the local and regional artists displayed in the building. It’s clear that they are personable people that love to take the time to chat with anyone about what they love: art. I encourage anyone to stop by to take a longer look into the fantastic pieces presented here, or even just to ask some questions. -Hannah
How would you say that Rug & Relic is unique compared to other Sioux Falls stores?
Tove: “No faux.” Honestly, I think that’s what makes us distinct. I don’t do anything reproduction. I don’t do anything faux. If it [the products] looks like something, that’s what it actually is. If it looks old, it is old. It looks new, there’s a possibility that it’s old anyway. I think we have a world populated, these days, with things that are not what they appear to be. And I think authenticity matters. I think we live better, our lives feel better, when they’re real and not fake. That’s really the hallmark of what we do. Whether it’s original art, in the traditional sense: sculptures, paintings, that kind of thing. Whether it’s rugs. Whether it’s, you know, these old pots, they’re all utilitarian but they’re also all hand thrown. Potters come in here and look at some of the pots that are four or five feet across and they go, “how in the world is that hand thrown?” Then they get their hands inside of it and, “oh my, it is. How is that even possible?” But the Turks have been using those pots as storage and as refrigeration for 5,000 years. It’s a tradition that is dying, but it’s still alive today.
I’ve definitely heard a lot of great things about your space, so I’m glad I’m able to stop in. Along with that, how long have you been at your current location? Have you been located anywhere else before?
T: We opened here in September of 2004. So, we’ve been about 13 years. Prior to us opening here, I was a college professor. Steve had just sold his business. He’s an arborist and he was trimming trees. When he had his knee replaced, he went out on the road traveling with a guy from Turkey. We had just bought rugs, he said to me, “So what would you think if I went on the road for a couple of weeks? We’re going to go see my brother, Jerry, and then I can learn more about this. It’s just a really interesting art form.” I had said, “cool, that’s good with me. See ya’.” And three and a half years later, I said, “are you ever coming home?” Well, I made him a deal: you come home from traveling and I’ll quit teaching. Then we’ll move somewhere we could do what we ended up doing.
Steve: Yeah it was really fun. Imagine you’re in a city, Phoenix, Boston, L.A., Chicago, Rapid City–it doesn’t matter, when we go by a gallery we want to go in. I don’t know what’s in there, but I know it’s going to be a pleasant surprise. Who knows which artist is which. Well, here in America, when you buy a rug it has a claim of being one-of-a-kind. When you say that’s a little small, and it comes in all sizes, we understand that’s a print. No, I’m not interested in prints. I want originals. The same thing goes for when I buy a painting for the wall. I love that it’s an original. If someone came in and said, “oh, this same one is two sizes bigger…naw.” That’s what the rug world is like. So, we skip that. We want original art. When you buy original art, nobody has the other one; it’s yours forever. Same with the rugs that we buy here: when you see one, that’s it. We’re different than buying rugs in mainstream America. The one thing that we know here: a lot of times when you’re buying furniture at a furniture store you pay for the really expensive story of what might’ve been. But I can look at it and realize that there’s no story, they might not be telling the real story. Here, every rug has a story. And when you look at the rugs and like them, right away, I see the lady that made it and the place where it was made: oh, this village is going to feed us good, this one cooks their meat a little longer, and this village has the best raisins. Every rug has a story. Look at it and we tell you what she’s [the women that make them] like. She’s got three kids running on the porch. Just like when you buy a painting from a local artist whom you like, you like finding out who he/she is. You end up knowing all about the artist, that’s the same with the rugs here. We go right to the source, we’re buying from them. Our prices are nice, compared to “furniture price” where it’s a giant price to make you feel good like you’ve got a special piece. We know better.
T: In their defense too, they have several layers of people between them and the person who weaves it. So my weavers make probably double what most weavers make, but my rug is half. That’s because there’s four people in the middle that aren’t there. [As far as business purchases go.]
S: Our weavers, too, they have a different mindset. This is their art form. All the paintings and things around here, is all museum quality–it’s all nice paint and the frames are perfect. These are meant to last. It’s not mast produced with something like, “they’ll never know we’ll put it on a cheap canvas, they won’t that after a month they warp half way off the wall.” Our ladies in Turkey aren’t thinking like that. They’re using fantastic wools. Whereas some areas are using sheep, some goat, some hemp. Depending where you are in the country, they’re using different things. But their mentality is to make a beautiful original piece, because people like us are coming to take a peak. We want to snag her piece, like an artist when you get a great piece, “I want to put this in front of somebody. I know this is going to sell.” That’s what we’re looking for, those pieces in Turkey. And those ladies are still producing them for us, luckily.
T: I’m going to add a bit to that.
When we started, we were first all about rugs. We were doing pretty much exclusively rugs and a number of different local artists. It was just Steve traveling in the beginning, but the farther that he got out into countryside there was just so many incredibly interesting things. We did our first container full of artifacts in 2005, and that kind of opened a whole new direction for us. Before that we were called, Warp and weft, which are rug terms. Warp is vertical, where weft goes “weft” and right. When we were expanding and we relocated, we decided that we need to rename ourselves to broaden what we’re doing. Again, some of the rugs we sell are fine arts, more of them are folk art (a lot of the older pieces would be more folk art than fine art.) Like I said, out in the villages you see stuff like beautiful doors. This big panel, [pointing to a short door standing on the floor] that’s a panel for a kitchen in one of those houses. It’s all hand carved. The way Turks live is a lot the way we used to live, but we don’t anymore. Even the most utilitarian things in their homes are beautiful. A bag for holding feed for their horse, who would embroider that? Well, remember our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers embroidering all the dish cloths that used to be used in the kitchen? I remember the first time I used one that was from my grandma, and I got a stain on it. I about died. You know, you just can’t use something that beautiful, but they all did and they used it all the time. That’s just a way to enhance your life. Your life was simple, but it was beautiful. That’s very much what you see in the village homes and the things that they’re building even for the most utilitarian purposes. I mean, the barn doors are spectacular, absolutely gorgeous. Who does this? The Turks do. Good art holds up.
How long have you two, in a personal sense, been interested in this type of work?
T: The Turkish thing started when we bought our first rug. Buying rugs is like an addiction, there’s no question about it. The first time we bought art was when we got married, so maybe 30 years ago.
S: It was just buying art, having fun. Now 30 years later, it’s a pretty cool collection. Most of it is from local or regional artists, besides the Turkish things.
T: Art is one of those passions that once you get it, it’s real hard to settle for less. We’ve collected in some of the strangest ways. One of our weirdest stories is probably 25 years ago. I got a birthday card from somebody that was a picture of a woman walking a bulldog. I absolutely loved the art that was on this card. So, we flipped over the card and called the company and asked who did it? They told us who did it, called her to see if it was okay if they gave us her contact information. Then we got a hold of her, Erica, and said, “you’ve never met us, we’re in South Dakota, but we love your work. Would you consider doing a commission for us?” So she did. Her stuff is pretty well known. And she thought we were hilarious because these two little kids in South Dakota went, well, all she could do is say no by asking. She sent it to us and then called and went, “did you get it?” I’m like, “yeah, I love it!” And she goes, “oh! I was so worried because you’re really pretty but that picture I drew of you isn’t very pretty.” I’m like, it’s art, Erica. I don’t need to be pretty. I mean, acquiring art can be a really fun thing. You get to meet interesting people. Real art inquires all sorts of things, especially when you’re connected to the people. I think it places certain qualities into the art that makes it more intensely personal. Better than it being just a pretty picture, you know.
Wow. You’re hitting that right on the nail. Art, to me even, is supposed to be personal. Yes! So, do you have any other interesting things that you would like to add?
T: I have two artists, well, if we count Steve, three on staff. I think that shows in how the gallery presents itself. I am not an artist. I like art, I’m a lawyer by training, but I love it and I appreciate it. We try and stay connected into the local arts community as much as we can. Rugs and folk art from Turkey is really our big thing, (this sounds so sappy) but I think it’s important that the local arts community be supportive of each other. Art is a positive thing, even if it’s about a negative subject, it’s a positive thing. It’s about drawing people together, and you can’t do that in a spirit of jealousy or disharmony. It’s true, positive energy draws positive energy, and negative energy drains you. That’s something we try as best we can to be supportive of the local arts community, and Laura Jewell has been showing with us since before she graduated from USD; she’s our gallery manager now. We have Amber Pate. I absolutely love her work. She’s been with us probably for five years. So we do the best we can. We have a show coming up for somebody local in the next few months.
S: Don’t tell yet…
T: I’m not going to tell…but, he’s flipping amazing! He moved here recently and we saw his work and went, “Oh my God! Who are you? We want a show!”
S: I’ll give you one clue: not only is he a great artist, but he salsa dances.
T: Yeah, there’s so much talent in Sioux Falls. It just blows me away! We’re kind of lucky because we draw from so many smaller towns around here that have pretty decent art programs. So everybody ends up in Sioux Falls, and we’re the better for it, I think.
Other than just stopping in and talking with you, how can people find out about different events, like the surprise artist, that’s going on?
T: You know, I use Facebook a lot. Probably one of the most fun things I do with it is post pictures of our trips to Turkey. The last time we were there I posted almost 200 photos, some were of a guy throwing and painting the large pots. Facebook is a really good outlet to find out what’s going on with us. We’re on Instagram, as well.
How would an artist, such as local artists, get involved with the gallery here?
T: I’ll tell ya’, and I’ll say this as a general rule for galleries, it’s a really good idea to come in and take a look around the gallery to see if it looks and feels like you, because galleries are very different in what they do and how they present things. We’re a little more quirky than most. I will say this is true, do that walk through, then go back home and sit down and write a letter. Say, here’s who I am, here’s what I do, throw a disc, and either walk in and hand it to somebody or put it in physical mail. So that somebody has the opportunity to sit down when they have fifteen minutes, grab a cut of coffee, and review what it is you do. It feels professional to the gallery; they have more confidence in who you are as an artist. I need to know that you care enough about your work and that gives me confidence that you are a producer. It’s like, “I take myself seriously, so please take my stuff seriously.” And that goes a long long ways. That doesn’t mean you don’t make great connections in just spur of the moment, but as a professional gallery, it makes my life a lot easier. So, that would be my recommendation. Is it a little more work? Yup. Does a gallery wanna see and repeat your work enough to do that? Yup.
S: For me, if you submitted something and we realize that we don’t have the space, or we’re not the right fit, but look at what you did. This is so cool, then now I know the person you should talk to.
T: Absolutely true. I’ve seen some gorgeous work that I’ve gone, “wow! This is incredible…but it’s just not us. It’s just not what we do.” If I’ve got something in front of me that somebody’s presented to me in a way that makes me believe that they’re serious about what they’re doing, that gives me the desire to go, “okay, who do I know? Who can I connect you with?” It’s just that I feel compelled to find a way to help them. I don’t know if that’s true for everybody, but it’s true for us.
How willing are you to look into new artists, or is it mainly artists that have been around for years?
T: Oh no, no. We’re always open to, especially, emerging artists. We have a heart for that around here because I understand what it is when you’re trying to open doors for yourself. And opening those doors is not an easy thing. We do maybe two or three shows a year where we do somebody for a month or two months that’s new into the scene.
How regularly do you have space available?
S: Usually about twice a year.
T: Yeah that sounds about right. I think we did two or three shows last year. Even having a short show can help people build a resume.
What are some of the top goals with your business?
Any time you’re working in a retail business, you’re looking to grow. A lot of our opportunities come from outside of South Dakota, which makes it very odd we’re located where we are. I don’t want to live somewhere else. I like South Dakota. This is where I want to be. We’re here on purpose, we chose Sioux Falls on purpose. That presents its own set of challenges because we have to present ourselves on a national level rather than purely just on a local level. From that, we have a huge website. We have about 2,700 pieces on our website, which is an enormous catalog of products. So I’m in the middle of doing a revamp of that. We’re doing a rebuilding and going to launch a new platform this year. That’s a huge undertaking. That’s really our push for this year.
Who are the traditional artists that you’re working with right now in your gallery space?
T: Well, Steve, obviously, Laura and Tim Jewell, Amber Pate, Debbie Curtis, Chris Vance, and then the show we have coming up.
What general advice would you give to artists?
T: It’s really simple, take yourself seriously. Believing in yourself and taking yourself seriously, if you take yourself seriously, then others will take you seriously. And confidence is not the same thing as arrogance. Arrogance is confidence built on belittling somebody else. Confidence is just having a positivity that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Push with that.
S: And hang out with other artists, whom you can trust, and share your ideas and like what they’re doing. If you dig it, say you dig it. Don’t just blow it off because it’s human nature that I want to be doing something really good. It’ll all work out for you.
T: You’ve got to be positive about what you’re presenting.
What do you look for when looking into artwork?
T: I’ve had realists that have been with us, but we tend to be a little more abstract, a little more quirky. We’ve had a real eclectic mix of artists that have shown here over the years, very eclectic.
On your website there’s a lot of mention of Turkey being a large inspiration, how come primarily?
T: Why Turkey? The simplest way to put this, the rug world is not a very pretty picture. In Turkey, I can guarantee no slaves, no prisoners, and no children making what I sell. And that is not true for the rest of the world. Most of the rugs that are sold in America are made in conditions that, I think, if most people knew what the conditions were they wouldn’t be comfortable buying it. But they don’t know, and it’s pretty well hidden. There’s been a real movement in about the last 15 to 20 years to change that, and I hope they’re successful. It’s poor quality made in ways that I don’t find morally acceptable. So, my ladies are my ladies, they’re my friends. These are people we know and we care about and are treated with respect. And treated with the respect that they deserve, they’re artists. They’re not nothing. That’s why Turkey. It’s an incredibly friendly, open principle culture. This point in the game really some wonderful, some of our closest friends are there.
What, as a business, do you hold most important to you?
S: I try to do business when I’m chatting, as if my mother is standing over my shoulder listening to my every word. So, I want to make her proud.
T: I would boil that down to honesty. The people that buy from us, I consider to be our friends, if that makes sense? I mean, they are supporting me and I appreciate that. I appreciate it enough to be scrupulously honest. That’s huge to me. We build relationships.
S: First you build the relationship and the rest comes easy.
T: We’ve had people that come for seven years. They stop in three times a year to see what we’re doing, and then they come in and go, “okay, we’re finally ready.” Well, they arrived here because we spent seven years building a relationship with them. We’re friends, they trust us. They believe us, in what we’re doing, and in what we’re trying to promote enough to give us their money. To me, that’s a sacred trust. That’s the only way I can do business.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
S: Here, when we talk about artists, we try to help them find their way. Whether it’s here or somewhere else. We give them any advice we can give them and we set them free.
Can you give three words that describe you and your business as whole?
T: Sustainable, purposeful, ethical.