NotesThe 'Creation' rug is testament to the extraordinary life of an exceptional Australian woman. Joice NanKivell Loch (1887-1982) was born into one of Australia's wealthiest families during a cyclone on a Queensland sugar plantation. The abolition of slave labour saw a reverse in the family fortunes and, determined to escape a life of poverty, Joice wrote children's stories and became one of Australia's first female journalists.
Joice met her husband, Sydney Loch, a Gallipoli veteran and writer, when she reviewed his Gallipoli book 'Straits Impregnable'. They married in 1918 and travelled to Ireland where they were commissioned to write an anti-IRA book. To escape the ire of the IRA, they travelled to Poland where they worked with the Quakers, rescuing countless dispossessed people from disease and starvation. In 1922, Joice and Sydney went to the refugee village of Ouranopoulis in Greece to work with the thousands of Greek Orthodox refugees fleeing Turkish persecution. They made their home in the tower of Prosforion which was built, in the shadow of Mt Athos, by a Byzantine emperor.
Joice and Sydney were deeply committed to alleviating poverty in Ouranoupolis. While visiting an elderly patient suffering from malnutrition, Joice became aware that the village women might use their weaving skills to earn income. They had been weavers in Turkey and Joice saw this as an opportunity to make the village self-sufficient. She sourced wool and cotton, had a loom built and formed a women's weaving cooperative, Pyrgos Rugs.
Being aware that anti-Muslim sentiment meant that rugs featuring Turkish designs in a Greek market would not sell, Joice based the designs for Pyrgos Rugs on ancient Greek motifs. She saw her rugs as 'art history' and also drew from prehistoric designs on cave walls in Australia, Africa and Europe. With perseverance and patience, Joice was able to persuade the women to weave rugs featuring Byzantine and other non-Turkish designs using natural dyes. Three of the very first Pyrgos Rugs designed by Joice won first prize at the International Trade Fair in Thessalonika. The success of Pyrgos Rugs was assured.
Other examples of Joice's courage and humanitarian efforts include working as an agent for the allies during World War II. For example, she organised a train trip and rescued Jewish children from Nazi death camps by dressing them as Gentile daytrippers - it was given the codename 'Operation Pied Piper' by the British Foreign Office. Joice NanKivell Loch received a total of 11 medals from Greece, Poland, Romania and Britain for her humanitarian efforts and courage. She is Australia's most decorated woman and has been acknowledged by the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Oxford, as 'one of the greatest women of the 20th century.'
The 'Creation' rug was one of five Pyrgos rugs donated to the Australia Council. In 2005, the Council agreed to donate one of these to the Greek people for display in the Byzantine Museum in Ouranoupolis (formerly the tower Prosforion which was Joice and Sydney's home.) Two rooms of the museum are dedicated to displaying Joice's work. The Council subsequently offered one of the remaining four rugs to the Powerhouse Museum; the rug selected was chosen as it best represents the Byzantine designs for which Pyrgos Rugs are renowned. The other three rugs have been retained by the Australia Council and are on public display in their Sydney offices.
Reference: Susanna de Vries, 'Blue ribbons, bitter bread: the life of Joice Nan Kivell Loch, Australia's most heroic woman', Pirgos Press-Tower Books, Sydney, 2006