The Surprising Journey of Jon Sarkin and the Fish City Rug Collection

Jon Sarkin was a New England chiropractor until he had a stroke in 1989 at age 35. The stroke left him with some physical and personality difficulty–and with an extremely rare condition known as "sudden artistic output." Many neurons were destroyed, and the ones that remained began making new, surprising, and often bizarre connections. Jon began painting prolifically and has not stopped. He is driven to paint; he is obsessed with it. He also writes poetry and music, but art quickly became his driving passion. He opened a gallery on the main street in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and named it Fish City Studio after the town he loves so much.

His distinctive work, which is influenced by literature, music, and pop culture, has captured the attention of art experts around the world. One of his first themes was cacti, but his fondness for Gloucester's fish soon splashed on his canvases and are a recurring theme in his art. His work has been exhibited in Lincoln's Sculpture Park and New York's Museum of Modern Art. It has also been featured The New Yorker Magazine, The New York Times, GQ and ABC Primetime. His work hangs in museums and private collections around the world. Today, a Sarkin piece typically sells in the $10,000 range. Some sell for even more.

Jon Sarkin (left) and Jeff Arcari


His neurological condition and his journey into the world of art make him a medical mystery and a miracle. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Amy Ellis Nutt has documented his story in her book Shadows Bright as Glass and the story has been optioned for a film by Tom Cruise.

Gloucester resident Jeff Arcari of Landry & Arcari is a buyer of handwoven rugs for the family business. He was struck by Sarkin's style, which he considered a "standout design" compared with Landry & Arcari's inventory of about 14,000 handmade rugs, many purchased from weavers in far off places such as Kathmandu. Arcari says each carpet is unique no matter where in the world he finds it. When he saw Sarkin's large-scale "Fish #1," he was inspired to launch Landry & Arcari's Fish City Collection. The first piece features eight fish in a field of turquoise and deep sea blues.

Landry & Arcari's graphic designer, Eric Brissette, worked with Sarkin to adapt the painting into a textile template. This was replicated in two, eight by ten feet rugs. Each has a slightly different color wave and both are hand-knotted in 49 hand-dyed colors. The work was done on the looms of Kathmandu weavers whom Landry & Arcari have trusted for years to provide unique, high-quality carpets.

Every knot was mapped out in contrasting colors so the weavers could see the colors as they wove. When Arcari saw the finished carpet with fish in a blue sea, he said, "It's like coming into Gloucester Harbor and putting a tuna up!"

The second Sarkin carpet design has been delivered and is available in standard and custom sizes. Again, it features Sarkin's unique take on fish-inspired themes:

Sarkin said he is flattered to see his work translated into ancient textile art. "It's diversified my art," he said. "It's very validating." Now his art spans from ancient Far Eastern design to his contemporary, irreverent, stream-of-consciousness vision.

Landry & Arcari has showrooms in Boston, Salem and Framingham, Massachusetts, and is currently selling the Fish City Rug collection carpets in both standard room sizes and custom sizes.

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