Lifestyle

Covering new ground

At top: Photos of the Central Asian people the Lundahls have met during their travels. Above: Years of diplomatic service with the Department of State has allowed Fred and Sharon Lundahl of Langley to collect hundreds of rugs from Central Asian, which they now peddle along with international awareness from their shop inside the Artist Co-op Gallery on First Street. - Cynthia Woolbright
At top: Photos of the Central Asian people the Lundahls have met during their travels. Above: Years of diplomatic service with the Department of State has allowed Fred and Sharon Lundahl of Langley to collect hundreds of rugs from Central Asian, which they now peddle along with international awareness from their shop inside the Artist Co-op Gallery on First Street.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

“Go ahead, walk on them.”

It’s an unexpected invite. But, when people step into Fred and Sharon Lundahl’s Music for the Eyes, it’s easy to get distracted and stumble upon the unexpected.

Color and texture are layered on the walls in a blurred mix of pattern that swirls orange reds into deep-water blues. Piles of Central Asian rugs are in every corner of the tiny rug shop nestled in the Artist’s Cooperative building on Langley’s First Street. The meticulously crafted rugs, pieced together with love, sprawl like lazy cats.

Walk on them?

“It’s OK, they’re floor art,” Fred Lundahl said. “They were made to walk on.”

At Music for the Eyes, it’s typical to receive a little coaxing toward the new — an unexplored culture or learning that walking on a finely crafted rug is OK.

Ask the Lundahls about rugs and they’ll describe at length the differences, but ask them about the people of Central Asia who made them and that’s when the lesson becomes their joy.

“They’re such warm people,” Sharon Lundahl said.

These are not precision-crafted rugs from a department store. Don’t look for the latest fibers and artificial dyes. The Lundahls like crooked rugs with character. Perceived flaws are nothing but records of the past. The rugs’ materials indicate the time period in which they were created, the crafter’s region, and even how wealthy they were.

“They’re all hand made — I don’t like perfect,” Sharon Lundahl said. “They are pieces of art with all their eccentricities.”

Exactly how many rugs the couple owns is hard to know. When the couple retired from their 35 years of diplomatic service with the Department of State and moved from Virginia to Whidbey in 2003, Sharon Lundahl photographed and logged around 1,000.

Even in their retirement, the Lundahls aren’t stopping to count the rugs. While they are no longer on active foreign service status, they do continue to accept contracted orders from the Department of State that send them on occasional two-month stints.

Between them, the Lundahls have served at embassies in 28 countries. When they return to Whidbey from their tours of duty, they are volunteer ambassadors for the nations they visity, spreading word of the beauty of the people, the landscapes and the hand-crafts.

Wednesday afternoon they appeared sluggish. The jetlag hadn’t worn off yet from their recent return from a six-month stint in Kenya. But their faces glowed despite the lag, and they enthusiastically talked to customers at Music for the Eyes.

“I loved it, I’ve wanted to spend my life in Africa,” Fred Lundahl said of the trip.

Lundahl studied political science and international relations at Amherst College, specializing in African studies. He remembers someone told him a guaranteed way to live his dream was to join the foreign service, so he did.

Sharon Lundahl fell in love with travel during a junior year abroad while studying French and education at the University of Washington.

“I just wanted a job where I could travel for free,” she said.

Shortly after graduation, she was on a plane for her first foreign service assignment. Her parents sent her off with the advice to not talk to strangers.

“I thought, how was I supposed to do my job if I couldn’t talk to strangers,” she said.

The couple met while at the State Department and have been married for 10 years. That’s about when Sharon’s rug habit started.

“It’s just like any other hobby. The more I learned the more interested I became,” she said.

During their foreign service careers, the Lundahls have completed just about every job in the foreign service work, from the desk work of processing visas for foreigners to assisting with workshops in developing countries. That’s Fred Lundahl’s favorite part.

“Before the Soviet Union broke up, I’d never really wanted to go because it was such an oppressive place,” Sharon Lundahl said. “But with the new countries it was different, it was a chance to be a part of a new start.”

They’ve often hosted visitors from Washington, D.C., and always make sure to take time away from their office work at the embassies to interact with the local people.

“Music for the Eyes,” which is named in reference to the variety of the rugs sold, is about more than just rugs. It’s about bridging cultures and introducing locals to the countries in which this duo has fallen in love.

Sharon’s worldwide shopping has brought tapestries, necklaces, beads, hats, paintings, and other artifacts. She has a prized collection of chapon, coats from the 19th century that in their authentic form, like the ones owned by Lundahl, were originally from Uzbekistan.

The ornate silk patterns, vividly wild pieces that mix and match trim and inner lining, were often worn by the Uzbek upper crust or royalty. They are still made, although not as valuable and rare as the vintage variety.

“I saw them and immediately saw the history,” she said. “I bought them as a way to guarantee they’d be loved and not just be discarded.”

The couple’s collections show favor to a group of countries referred to as the ‘stans: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which along with Afghanistan and Pakistan are nestled in Central Asia.

Sharon favors the rugs from Turkmenistan, but also items for the shop that are to help build economic stability for the crafters. Some of these include rugs created in felt, made by the Hunza people of Pakistan with center pieces of heirloom embroidery. She is also working with beads from the Maasai people she met while in Kenya.

While any sales at Music for the Eyes are nice, for the Lundahls, having the little business been more about seeding possibilities for growth in international understanding.

“There was a time in the 1960s, during the Kennedy era and beginning of the Peace Corps when America looked out at lot of new countries and were open to the possibilities in the world,” Fred Lundahl said. “Sept. 11 caused people to be afraid of foreigners. I want people to look outside themselves again and be a part of the bigger world.”

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