Mohawk Carpet and its Wheel of Life

A few years before World War II, Mohawk Carpet Mills showed artistry and a flair for drama in making

A few years before World War II, Mohawk Carpet Mills showed artistry and a flair for drama in making the Wheel of Life, probably the most spectacular carpet ever produced in Amsterdam.

It took 16 weavers eight months to create the chenille rug for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City. The wheel in the center was 18 feet in diameter. The carpet was 49 feet by 47 feet. Chenille carpets, made from velvety yarn, could be manufactured in intricate patterns and a variety of colors.

The center design depicts colorful graphic scenes showing the progress of life from birth through death in six picture groups.

After a conversation with carpet mill executive Herbert Shuttleworth II in the 1980s, historian Tony Pacelli wrote, “The first group shows happiness of a family, as a newborn baby awakens. The second group represents youth and friendship. The third group depicts the struggle for life against defeats and disasters. The fourth group represents domestic happiness and mature serenity. The fifth and sixth groups turn full circle to old age and death.”

Which mill made it?

Mohawk Carpet had two factory complexes in Amsterdam in 1938. The Lower Mill was in the East End adjacent to the railroad main line and Mohawk River. Some of those mill buildings still exist. The Upper Mill was along Lyon Street and Forest Avenue in Rockton. The empty factory buildings at the Upper Mill were devastated by two huge fires in the 1990s and most remaining structures were subsequently torn down.

On Saturday, June 7, Historic Amsterdam League is planning a tour of Rockton, at first a separate village called Rock City, annexed to the city of Amsterdam in 1901.

League President Gerald Snyder, who has researched the issue, believes that the Wheel of Life carpet was woven at the mill complex in Rockton and thus its story will be made part of the Rockton tour. Snyder wrote that the Upper Mill was associated with chenille manufacturing “almost from the very beginning of its existence.”

Mohawk made a number of elaborate chenille carpets, including an oval one for the Roxy Theatre in New York and a big rug for the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

The Wheel of Life weighed 850 pounds and because of its size was delivered to the Waldorf on a telephone pole trailer by the trucking firm Amsterdam Despatch. It arrived in New York City in the early morning to avoid traffic. The New York Sun reported that installation was scheduled to start at midnight on Saturday, April 9.

The carpet covered a mosaic depicting the same scenes designed by French artist Louis Rigal. Rigal specialized in art deco and lived from 1889 to 1955.

In May 1939 a replica of the Wheel of Life was making the rounds of carpet stores, including Bailey Rug Company on State Street in Schenectady, according to an ad in the Gazette. A 1946 newspaper ad promoted that a Spokane, Wash., store was displaying the Wheel of Life. The ad said that replica covered 333 square feet and used 15 million wool tufts in 69 colors.

Mohawk Carpet displayed a large photo of the Wheel of Life at an industry convention in 1948 in Lake Placid. Today color prints of the Wheel of Life are offered for sale online at prices ranging from $59 to over $300.

The original carpet was removed some years later, uncovering the hotel’s original Rigal mosaic. The 148,000-piece mosaic is still there in the Waldorf Astoria’s Park Avenue lobby, according to the hotel’s website. Thirteen of Rigal’s allegorical murals were uncovered behind draperies on adjacent walls.

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