In Living Color: Design Journey of Alicia Keshishian ‘74

by Tim O'Keefe

Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Residing In: Petaluma, CA
Education: BFA plus post-graduate work & certifications
Occupation: Creative Director and Designer

How did you choose a career in rug design? 

I was ready for a career change from my job as Senior Art Director for Papyrus and was considering my future. I’ve been a designer for so long but wanted to be responsible for my own projects, not a company’s idea of creativity. I’m third generation in the rug business with my grandfather Mark Keshishian starting the business in the early 1900s, including providing rugs to the White House for many years. So rugs have been swirling around my entire life. One day in New York I pointed out a rug store and said to my friend “You know, my family’s been in the rug business for generations.” We walked into the store and I felt like I was home and I knew designing rugs is what I wanted to do.

What’s your creative process?

My job with Carpets of Imagination is to meet a client, then look and listen. Quietly, I process all the information I take in. Often it’s simply observing their personal style and what they have to offer consciously or unconsciously. What is the intention? What is needed? What room will the rug live in? Is the room a sanctuary? Does the space need energy? Then I go through the process of interpreting the information into a story which then translates into a color direction and later a design. Are there pets? Is it an active room? And the considerations go on…

When creating a design my first consideration is color. Early on it became clear to me that clients have a strong affinity toward color. Everyone has a personal color palette. Once the color direction is established we can move on to the pattern, which always follows as a distant second element. The pattern won’t register until they see it in a colorway they relate to. Playing with pattern is just a vehicle for color.

How did CRMS play a role in your professional, personal, or community life?

I think the values that I carry through my life and into my work are a reflection of a way of thinking that has roots in CRMS. Understanding accountability. Honesty. Perseverance. Responsibility. And Excellence. One personal aspect of my business is not as obvious. When I was working for other companies—Papyrus, for example—we had to create designs that were expected to sell 10,000 units because that was the minimum order per design. I really didn’t like adding to the piles of “stuff” in the world. By designing custom, one-of-a-kind carpets I fill a specific need. I don’t carry inventory. I’m not interested in building an empire and having rugs made to serve my ego. I don’t want to contribute a pile of stuff with no home. If someone needs a carpet I can provide a unique and personal option which is my own private form of conservation. The rugs are all handmade in Nepal and I love working with other cultures. 

How has your experience at CRMS influenced what you are doing now?

I was drawn to CRMS originally because of the extensive arts program. The ability to be in an environment that valued creativity at such a critical age in development was paramount to my ongoing creative life. I had stopped the arts in public school because I just didn’t feel the spark. But then I saw… The weaving hut. The jewelry hogan. The Adobe. YAY!

One aspect that I think about ALL the time—those of us lucky enough to attend a progressive boarding school in the mountains of Colorado were given an extraordinarily rare opportunity. There’s a deep gratitude that accompanies my memories of CRMS and hope that current students can understand the gift that’s been bestowed on them. It should not be taken lightly especially considering what’s going on around the world.

You clearly love color and creating beauty through your work. What are some of your other interests? 

I want to be outdoors ALL the time. Though I liked being outdoors before CRMS, that desire was cemented while there. I travel. I read. I want to swim in warm waters every day. I dive. Physical activity is crucial to wellbeing and we were well versed in that while living in Colorado.

Do you have a favorite memory of a CRMS faculty or classmate? 

What I know is that my closest friends to date are friendships forged at CRMS. We shared such crazy developmental experiences. One, still very close, friend conducted my marriage 30 years ago. One friend and I travel the world together every couple of years. I saw another friend last weekend…etc.

There are tons of stories… I do tell my Wilderness session story often. As I recall it was the first year that program was initiated. A little shy girl from Washington, D.C. lands with strangers in the mountains of Colorado. I expected a few days of acclimation, however early the next day we load up the buses and are dropped at a trailhead in lightly falling rain. That rain turned to snow and by the end of the first day, we were snowed in with just our tarps and a posse of strangers. I had inadequate clothing and supplies. We were stuck there for two days. Then a few days later we had to cross a mountain pass while lightning was cracking all around us. Then our solo altitude in the Rockies in September, and I couldn’t get my seven matches to start the fire. We had only what was on our backs… no tarp or sleeping bag. You know the story because everyone has their own version. What a way to start that journey. 

What advice or piece of inspiration would you like to share with students today?

We need to lead our own life. We should not lead the life everyone around us thinks we should lead, and that is particularly true when it comes to love and career. As a teenager, so many people are invested in your life path. Parents have dreams and hopes of what they want. Teachers see your potential. I fully appreciate that people close to us have a unique perspective on who we are and how we conduct our lives but we have to establish a clear vision of who we are and what WE, as unique individuals, want. Why be like anyone else?

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Alumni, Arts, Community

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