We had the pleasure of meeting George and Helen O'Bannon in 1964 when he worked for the American friends of the Middle east, an influential organization in which we had a strong interest. From 1966 to 1968 George was Assistant Director of the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. While he travel widely in that country, Helen added to their growing family that was to number four sons: Patrick, Colin, and Sean and Casey, twins.
Helen added to their growing family that was to number four sons: Patrick, Colin, and Sean and Casey, twins.
In 1973 he started dealing in rugs, and in 1976 opened a rug shop in Pittsburgh, O'Bannon's Oriental Rugs. He was an early member of the Princeton Rug Society and spoke often to us. His base at Pittsburgh was also that of Helen, a member of the Public Utility Commission of Pennsylvania. Brilliant Helen was an outstanding administrator with a far reaching vision that she displayed later in a major post, Senior Vice President, at the University of Pennsylvania. And she always maintained a close connection with Wellesley, her college.
George also was publishing: in 1974 The Turkoman Carpet, featuring rugs from Afghanistan and establishing a bridge between the old and the new. About 1976 appeared Oriental Rugs From Western Pennsylvania Collections, Kazak and Uzbek Rugs from Afghanistan appeared in 1979 and Tulu: Traditional Rugs from Central Anatolia in 1987. The same year, his role of frequent contributor of articles to Oriental Rug Review blossomed into a very active profession as editor of the magazine.By 1983 George and Helen were in a new home in a suburb of Philadelphia, facing a bright future together. In 1985, he opened another rug gallery on Philadelphia's Spring Street. But, in 1988 the bright future vanished: at 49, Helen was struck down by a fatal affliction.
George stayed for some time in the inner city, but the town was no longer home and he moved to southern Arizona, not a great distance from the region where he spent his childhood. Publication continues. Now his exhaustive bibliography of rug books is at press.
But a short recitation of events in his career does not give us George as a person: blessed with an even temper, incapable of being either cross or rude; a man kind to all and who keeps in touch with friends for many years. At a time when the rug world is plagued by know-it-alls, and a few bad tempered persons, George stands for sanity, honesty, and experience. One of his articles questioned the validity of a Turkoman piece at auction, and was rewarded by a savage personal attack by the leader of the ill-tempered group. Later he wrote a rather devastating review of a display of kilims that were highly overpraised by the organizers of the show. Since then, this praise has been muted.
George is a man of many interests, and the range of his endeavors in the field of rug studies alone is exhausting to contemplate. Despite his hectic schedule, or maybe because of it, George seems always (almost always) available.