A treasure trove of textiles 

Elk Avenue’s Artisan Rug Gallery

By Katherine Nettles

The Artisan Rug Gallery has been a mainstay on Elk Avenue for more than 30 years, carrying rich textiles from around the world that warm interiors across the Gunnison Valley and elsewhere when visitors bring them home as mementos from their Crested Butte travels. 

The gallery opened its storefront in 1990, starting not so much as an idea but from a turn of events. Jeff Deutsch was travelling around South America in the summer of 1990, chasing snow as a ski instructor in Bariloche, Argentina and travelling through the Andes before he started his job there.  “I started collecting textiles, knit hats, knit sweaters, wood carvings, spears from the Amazon—anything that I thought was a handcraft of some sort,” he recalls. 

He shipped his collections home to his mother to store for him, but when he returned she informed him that she had ended up selling them all, mostly to friends. “She had some friends over for dinner and had this big box of stuff I had sent her in her living room,” he says. “I panicked when she told me, because I’d planned on selling it all somehow and I had spent my whole nest egg on that stuff, which was like, $500.” 

But in selling his inventory, his mom had made him about $4,000. “So, I had her wire me the money and I went back to Lima, La Paz, Cuzco and Ecuador retracing my steps and getting it all back,” says Jeff. And gradually, he realized he had a business in the making. 

Jeff’s first years with the business were spent returning to South and Central America, pursuing extreme sports like kayaking and hang gliding, and collecting inventory for his shop. He recounts one harrowing story of travelling in Peru with his friend Don Smith in 1991. 

“We were hiking back to Juarez from this 17,000-foot peak we’d climbed with our paragliders. We couldn’t fly due to the weather, so we started hiking back in the middle of the night, basically working our way through the territory of the Sendera Luminosa (a communist party and guerrilla group of Peru). Our guide alerted us the Sendera Luminosa were surrounding us and summoning each other with whistles to ambush us, and said, ‘Run now!’” says Jeff. “We had to get off the roads and go through fields until we got to another trail. And the whistles would start again. We basically zigzagged our way back to the city.” He says they did manage to keep their 45-pound paraglide packs on, and ultimately avoided kidnapping or robbery. Other memories of those early years include class 5 kayak trips and more paragliding, with other harrowing stories as Jeff continued collecting items for his Crested Butte storefront. 

Jeff and his wife and business partner Tiffany met in Crested Butte in 1995, and Tiffany began working in the gallery a couple years later. Their travels were tamer, and certainly less harrowing, she says. “We used to travel around Mexico for months at a time and just buy things and send them home in containers. It was a lot of fun back then.” 

In the early days, Artisan Rug Gallery was also known for its eclectic mix of imported furniture, pottery, knitwear and home furnishings. But the couple decided to simplify along the way and focus primarily on a larger variety of rugs from a wider range of sources. They started really investing in rugs in 2001. “It takes time to build up inventory,” Tiffany says. “It’s a big investment.” 

By 2003 they were also moving to more high-end rugs. “The last 20 years it’s been all rugs,” says Jeff. “We decided we should just really focus on rugs, be rug experts and be the best rug shop we could be.”

That evolution has been a success, and the gallery carries rugs sourced primarily from Morocco, India and Turkey, and from several different companies around the world.  

“It’s kind of an adventurous way to work,” says Tiffany.  She and Jeff take two to three trips each year to stock their inventory—although their adventures now include museums rather than run-ins with guerrilla groups. 

Tiffany says they have been thinking of bringing more of the furniture back in to the gallery to mix things up, but for now they have a modest combination of rugs, some throw pillows and a few collectibles. The rugs take up the bulk of the space, lying in tall stacks on the floor and hanging from the ceilings as large books that shoppers can flip through. There are tribal flatweaves, soft and simple Afghanistan styles, elaborate Turkish designs and more.

The Deutschs opened a large second shop in Denver in 2009, which mainly serves as a flagship store and a showroom for high-end design firms throughout the state. “We have probably 300 samples down there,” says Tiffany. “That store is a completely different model, where we do a lot of big projects in the city for design firms.” Tiffany and Jeff lived in Denver for eight years to get that business up and running before returning to Crested Butte for their youngest daughter to finish high school. 

And in 2020 the Deutschs opened a third gallery in North Carolina, primarily through a former employee who has relocated there.

They say the Crested Butte location is where they carry the most eclectic rugs. “Here we bring in more of our unusual, one-of-a-kind cool stuff for the windows. People like to see something unique here,” says Tiffany. 

Jeff agrees, “We try to bring the more funky, tribal stuff up here. We also carry more sophisticated, high end, design forward rugs to round it all out.”

Tiffany notes that many people enjoy soft, aesthetically simple rugs these days. “People like texture with a little bit of color.”

She reflects that there have been many iterations of the store over the years, and there doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason. “It’s sort of an accidental business that my husband started, and it just kind of worked.”