EDEN — Seconds after city officials and artist Teresa Talley Phillips unveiled a mosaic replica of a famous Karastan carpet Monday morning, children knelt on a gazebo floor and traced their fingers over the cool glass tiles that create its ancient pattern.

Their delight in the intricate weave that represents the city’s flagship industry, as well as a community commitment to cultural enrichment, is testament to the goal of public art – to engage.

The project for Grogan Park’s gazebo floor was commissioned because “people here believe in the value and power of public art to make connections,’’ said Talley Phillips, who collaborated with Karastan designers and archivists to render the mosaic interpretation of the company’s best-selling pattern 717 Kirman carpet.

She utilized nearly 38,000 tiles in 20 colors of vitreous glass, a matte-finish material with variegated hues, to fashion the tribute to textile workers at Mohawk/Karastan and other area factories for their contribution to the community.

Karastan celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2018, and is the only U.S. maker of spool Axminster rugs, such as the famed 717 it first rolled out in 1928. Axminster rugs can contain up to 50 colors and the looms were developed from original jacquard weaving technology developed in Axminster, England during the Industrial Revolution.

Artist Talley Phillips, who worked about six days a week since February to complete the mosaic, invited the community to help her build the kaleidoscopic glass rug with patterns taken from shawl makers' bright designs from the ancient Persian Kirman region.

To include the public, Talley Phillips held open studio events at Eden City Hall, UNC Rockingham Health Care, the Mohawk/Karastan manufacturing plant, and at her home — inviting members of the community to place a few tiles in the grout.

“Bearing witness to this project has been the best part for me,’’ Talley Phillips said, explaining she wanted Karastan workers to have a hand in making the 6'4" x 4'3" piece.

“I think every employee showed up and placed a tile or seven. I thought it was important for them to be there from the very beginning … the people who have worked on this rug … some of them for more than 50 years,’’ Talley Phillips said of the popular 717, fashioned from New Zealand wool.

A key helpmate was Ronelda Hale, a longtime pattern “setter” for the 717 at the Karastan plant. “I was setter from 1985 to 1996,’’ said Hale, who attended the unveiling of the mosaic, along with dozens of current and former Mohawk/Karastan staff. “I bought the first 717 I set and gave it to my son Steve Hale and his wife, Kathy,'' said Hale, whose trained eye could spot an error in a rug's weave just by looking at the back side of the product. 

“Mrs. Hale was a setter for the 717, and it was a real honor to have her come by and place one of the last tiles,’’ Talley Phillips said.

Funded with $5,000 from Eden’s Strategic Planning Commission, the installation is but one of several public art works at Grogan Park. The committee also funded a $10,000 menagerie of wire animals for the park that were completed in the fall.

Cindy Adams, the city’s coordinator of tourism & special events, hatched the plan for the mosaic about two years ago, one of many projects she's spearheaded, including Eden’s popular Grown & Gathered farm to table dinner events.

"We are blessed to have phenomenal artists in our county. We are fortunate to have Cindy Adams whose creativity has added to much of this park and has led us to this day,'' said Sylvia Grogan, city council member and widow of Grogan Park's namesake, longtime mayor Johnny Grogan. "We are all witness to a piece of Eden’s history,'' Grogan said to a crowd of about 75. "And those whose hands created this carpet will for our lifetime be honored here today.''

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Susie C. Spear is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. She can be reached at 743-333-4101 and on Twitter @SusieSpear_RCN.​

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