Off The Wall

Keith Collins' larger -- than -- life designs

When Keith Collins told his family that he was going to make carpets for a living, they were sorely disappointed. His father, a radiology professor at UCLA, had much higher academic and professional hopes for his son. If Collins had had a fragile ego, he might have given up his passion. In the only college art class he had taken, his professor told him that he had no talent. But Collins, who was truly enthralled with this ancient art form, saw a future in it. At 19, the Los Angeles native sold his second — hand Porsche in order to purchase carpet scraps.

Thirty years later, all who doubted his calling stand in awe of his creations — and what he charges for them. Collins has a clientele that ranges from international business professionals to celebrities such as Jay Leno, Nicolas Cage, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Janet Jackson, and Will Smith. His tapestries also hang in several exhibits around the world, including the Matsushita Studios in Japan.

It all began in 1973, when Collins, then 18, moved into his first apartment and asked his aunt, whose hobby was making carpets, how to construct one. “She taught me how to make carpet squares and patch them together almost like quilt work.” He sold his first piece in 1975 for $200.

The intricacy of the work, the combining of varying textures, and the love of art drew his business, Artexture (www.artexture.com), in two creative directions: developing large wall tapestries that range in size from 3 feet by 4 feet to 18 feet by 40 feet and custom car mats, which he began in 1980 and have become the bread and butter of his business. “Some of my biggest clients are exotic car riders,” Collins explains. Car mats range from $400 to $5,000 a pair. Tapestries start at roughly $5,000 and can cost as much as $300,000.

For those interested in purchasing tapestries — whether constructed by hand or machine — Collins says it’s most important to judge the work by density and color richness, which is affected by the choice of fabrics. The most common fibers are wool and cotton; complementary materials can include silks as well as gold and silver fibers.

Tapestry making is an art that dates back to the 2nd century. Today’s technology has simplified the process, but all of Collins’ work remains handcrafted. “No two pieces are alike,” he says. “A lot of companies use machines, but I prefer to do it by hand. I like the personal touch.”

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