Most anyone who has investigated information on oriental rugs and Persian Carpets has heard of SpongoBongo.com and PersianCarpetGuide.com. These sites, among many others by the same gentleman, are among the best resources for information regarding hand knotted rugs. With some 8,000 pages of rug related information (29,000 total), who is the man behind these handy references?
Information on and about Barry O’Connell Jr. in his Own Words:
I was born in 1956 at Fort Belvoir Base Hospital while my father was assigned to the Pentagon. I grew up in the Scranton area as the second oldest of 7 brothers and sisters. For much of my early life I lived in a large home filled with large Persian carpets. In my bedroom was a blue field Sarouk and in the less formal second living room where we would talk and read the paper was a 22 foot Bahktiari carpet inscribed “As a gift to our leader 1824”. I remember as a little boy my brother Tom and I would race our toy cars down the gap where the Bahktiari carpet ended. My favorite toy car was a British Racing Green Jaguar. I decided that when I grew up I would buy a Jaguar. A few years ago I gave one to my wife Jodi as a Christmas present. She hates it and I have yet to live that one down.
The house had large rooms even though there were 25 of them so the carpets tended to be large as well. From these carpets I gained an appreciation of good Persian Carpets. I suppose that I was a bit of a snob since I remember feeling shame when my father purchased some Chinese carved floral carpets.
School was a nightmare for me. They did not understand dyslexia in those days and I was pegged as a “High Potential Low Achiever”. I still can not write and I have issues understanding the spoken word. For me school and work presented challenges that still sting when I think back on them. Fortunately I could read and I muddled along in a family business after flunking out of college. One area that I loved was politics and from the age of 12 on I worked in politics every election. I came by it honestly my “Grampa Conrad” was the Democratic ward leader in a section of Scranton. He lived in the middle of a block on Diamond Ave and his Republican counterpart Hugh Rodham lived half a block up. Between the two of them they watched over their section of town. Hugh Rodham is noteworthy since his granddaughter was First Lady and Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
From local politics I branched out into the state and national and finally into international politics. I am not sure if it was a high point or low point but I was active in the CFA under Ronald Reagan where I focused my energies in helping the Contras in Nicaragua. Things were going nowhere until I came up with the strategy that destabilized Daniel Ortega’s government and forced democratic elections. It was a great strategy except that too many people especially children died so that one is a very bittersweet victory.
In 1993 I bought an Afghan War Rug because the incongruity of the design cracked me up and I know it would irritate my liberal friends. It was about this same time that I left the family business, got divorced and set out on a new career. I found that my dyslexia did not work the same way with computers and I became a computer consultant. As I bought more rugs I got hooked and embarked on a vigorous attempt to learn everything I can about hand woven rugs. I suddenly realized that in the computer world I was not a high potential low achiever and that I am as smart as anyone I know. Now I write and study because it makes me happy. I still have a bad case of diploma envy and I wish I had finished my degree.
Since I discovered that I am not an idiot I have had a lot of fun with this. I have been to Iran a number of times and I truly love the Iranian people. I have traveled some in the Persian Gulf but I never feel at home like I do in Iran.
I do a limited amount of public speaking. This year I agreed to speak at the Textile Museum after saying no since the late 1990s. This year Wendel Swan asked and I find it almost impossible to say no to Wendel. He is one of the real experts in the study of rugs and a man for whom I have great respect. I also speak to various rug societies but I only do it when a friend asks me. I have so few friends it does not happen often. December 6th I will be giving a talk in Seattle, December 13th I will be giving a talk at the Washington DC Textile Museum. So who knows, I may speak more often. I am not selling anything so it is not as easy for me to speak as many people.
Over the years I was Associate Editor of Oriental Rug Review in its transition to the Internet. I was also Book Review Editor of Rug News a trade magazine. I was a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, Scribners, 2002.
Rugs are more of a hobby for me. I am first of all a Christian. I have a deal with God, I try to do the right thing and I invariably fail and He forgives me anyway. To feed my family I am a computer consultant specializing in tuning databases for major businesses and government entities including: US Department of State, The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, DOJ, World Bank, Marriott, NIH, CIGNA, WellPoint, and others.
Seeking a simpler way of life I live on a quiet street in a sleepy little town in North Central Pennsylvania with my wife Jodi and my three sons Maxwell Mickey and Monty. I travel much of the time on business and when home I maintain a very low profile having had enough excitement for several lifetimes up until now.