On May 3, 2008, Tom Cook gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation morning at The Textile Museum here in Washington, DC.
The TM Director, Dan Walker, introduced Cook
saying that Tom is, by trade, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago, but that he is also a serious, long-time collector and student of South Persian weavings.
Cook began by suggesting why it is sometimes difficult to make assertions about, and distinctions between, southwest Persian weavings.
He said that there were seriously nomadic weavers in southwest Iran, like the migrating Bakhtiaris, dramatically documented in the film “Grass,” but that the central government has periodically tried to force settlement by blocking the traditional migration routes. So many of the weavers in Fars have become settled or quasi-settled villagers.
More, he said, the tribal chiefs were often quite sophisticated, westernized people, influential in the national government, and with children educated in Great Britain or Europe. These tribal leaders often had tastes that moved well beyond those reflected in traditional tribal designs.
Further, he pointed out there have often been groups of elite weavers in southwest Iran who made special orders for these “upper crust” chiefs. The tribal hierarchy often commissioned “fancy stuff” to serve as political gifts or to furnish their own homes. So while there has been a tradition of tribal weaving in southwest Iran, there has also been a longstanding, elite taste for more cosmopolitan, urban, Persian design.
One result, Cook said, is that borrowing external designs is a central characteristic of Fars weaving.
Cook had not been able to bring pieces of his own from Chicago, as he had planned, and so, necessarily, spoke to pieces that had been brought in by rug morning participants and that he had not seen beforehand.
(A last minute call had been made and lots of southwest Persian material appeared; more, in fact, than could be treated in this 90-minute session).
Cook said that he would begin with material that seemed more “tribal.”
(Cook was assisted by his son, David, on the left and by John Wertime, on the right, in the image above. Cook often asked John to join him in his comments on the pieces.)
Cook said that Rug 1 is a species of “gabbeh.”
Gabbehs, he said, although often associated with Luri weaving, are a type of weave not a tribal group reference. Older gabbehs are loosely woven things with long pile and, often, many rows of weft between knot rows. The more traditional designs are strong and simple geometrics. Colors can be undyed naturals, naturally dyed in few colors, or very bright in later examples due to synthetics.
Manufacturers like Zollanvari noticed the possible commercial attractiveness of this type of rug and produced versions of it for the western markets in the last two decades.
Cook said that, while Rug 1 has some more tribal features, like its goathair warps, it has a denser structure than a traditional gabbeh with only two rows of wefts, and its three medallion design, while spare, already begins to import design aspects of more sophisticated weavings.
He turned it partly over to show the back, with John Wertime commenting that he thought it was a gabbehghali–a rug in gabbeh style. Gabbeh-like due to the simple design and undyed wools, but rug-like due to its structure.
Rug 1 back
Cook added that that on many traditional gabbehs the design is not so visible on the back as in this example, because of the frequent use of four to six (and more) rows of weft between rows of patterning knots. Some gabbehs, especially Luri ones, even have pile rows on both sides.
Several examples of another classically tribal textile, the “jajim” had been brought in and Cook treated them next.
Fars jajims are warp-faced textiles, invariably with striped designs. They are used primarily as covers, say of piles of bedding and other belongings, although they have served sometimes as floor coverings.
Cook claimed that this structure is often called a “moj” in Farsi or “wave” due to the twill structure that makes it heavier and more dense than a kilim that is used for some of the same purposes. Two additional examples of ithis kind of “jajim” were also brought in.
The Fars jajims are woven in two pieces (likely because a narrow tribal loom was used) and then sewn together. The weave in this one is a kind of “twill” visible in the image below.
Rug 2 detail
Next was a jajim with a somewhat different design.
The weave was described as a “diamond twill.”
Rug 3 detail a
Here is an even closer look.
Rug 3 detail b
A third jajim design was the one below.
Cook called attention to the wide band of aubergine in the image above.
Here is a closer look at a detail of this piece.
Rug 4 detail
We now moved away from jajims to look at a small squarish flatwoven piece.
Cook described this simple, but graphically effective piece, as a “wrapping,” perhaps a “koran cover.”
Here is a closer corner that lets you see its colorful ends.
Rug 5 detail
The next piece below was a horse blanket.
Opie published a very similar piece in his first book and attributed it to the Qashqa’i.
The center seam on this piece would be placed on the horse’s back, under the saddle and the two lower “tabs” come around the horse’s chest and fastened in the front.
Rug 6 detail a
Cook said the structure was “mixed.” A “warp-faced plain weave field with knotted relief.
Here is an even closer look at an edge of this piece.
Rug 6 detail b
The next piece was also a light-colored flatweave.
Cook thought it likely either Bakhtiari or Luri.
A closer look.
Rug 7 detail
A third light-colored flatweave was the one below that might also well be Luri or Bakhtiari and not from Fars or, if from the latter, then from the very north of it.
Its colors show better in the closer details below.
Rug 8 details a and b
Next, were two small Qashqa’i bags, ascribed by Tanvoli to the Darreshuri tribe within the Qahshqa’i confederation. The image below is of the first one.
A closer detail of it.
Rug 9 detail
Here is an overall image of the second of these two bags.
A closer detail.
Rug 10 detail
Wertime noted that these two pieces have been done in “warp-faced alternating float weave.”
The next piece was the bag below.
Cook said that this was likely a type of grain bag.
Here are two closer image of details of its front.
Rug 11 details a and b
It has an interesting back, too.
Rug 11 back
I took closer detail images of this back.
Rug 11 back detail b
The next piece was one half of a khorjin set.
Here is its pile face.
Rug 12 detail a
Cook called attention to the colorful diamonds in the center of this pile design.
Here is a large detail of its flatwoven back.
Rug 12 back detail
Next, was another khojin half with a brightish red. Cook described it as Khamseh.
I’m not sure that it was in this context, but Cook mentioned that he is different in his collecting practices from many others in that he will buy a piece woven in the 20th century if it has interesting design or ethnographic features, but not if its dyes seem to be synthetic.
Here, below, is a detail of the pile face of Rug 13 that shows its yellow-ground main border design and its top closure system section better.
Rug 13 detail
Rug 13 had a striped back similar to some we’ve seen above.
Rug 13 back
Here is another khorjin face.
Cook called attention to “endless knot” device in the center of the field of this piece and to the interesting “botehs with rams horns” in its main border.
The following piece was another pile khorjin with an interesting undulation in its field design. Cook called it Khamseh. There is an effective use of ivory in this piece. The dark blue is striking, too, as a background color against which other colors stand out well.
Below is a closer detail of one corner.
Rug 15 detail
The next piece was a much smaller Qashqa’i bag, with a striking blue in its striped pile front.
Tom reversed it to show its simple striped back.
Rug 16 back
We went on with what seems to be a Khamseh piece with borders missing top and bottom.
The field, with its abstracted yet realistic “chickens,” is interestingly colorful.
Here is a closer detail showing the colors.
Rug 17 detail
Cook described the next piece as a “vanity bag.”
It has long braided tassles hanging down and the design seemed to me to smack of transfer from more urban setting. Here is a closer quarter.
Rug 18 detail
Cook said that it is 20th century and Qashqa’i.
Its back had usages that seemed more tribal.
There were a couple more khorjins.
This attractive khorjin face has diamonds reminiscent of those often seen in Kurdish pieces.
Here is a closer quarter of it.
Rug 20 detail
The white-ground border is graphically effective.
Someone had brought in a complete khojin set.
I have cropped out the right pile face and rotated it 90 degrees so that you can better see its design.
Rug 21 detail
Now we moved to a 20th century rug.
Cook said that Azadi once argued that the central design element in these three white-ground diamond-shaped medallions was a tribal totemic element, as collectors want to infer about certain details of Turkmen designs from different tribal groups. But it turns out that the design element in question is borrowed from the top and bottom parts of the classical anchor medallion found in early city rugs and clearly visible in some of the very fine, laarge and workshop-like rugs from Fars in the so-called Herati design, often with silk highlights
Here are two closer details of this rug.
Rug 22 detail a
The detail below is rotated 45 degrees to let you see this medallion in that orientation.
Rug 22 detail b
There were three more khorjins.
This piece was estimated by John Wertime to have been woven by the Luris of Fars.
Here is a closer detail.
Rug 23 detail
One more attractive khorjin with the closure and bridge at the bottom here.
A closer corner detail.
Rug 24 detail
The last khorjin of the morning was the one below
What might be seen as “beach ball” designs populate both the field and the closure system area.
Here is a close detail of this piece.
Cook was almost ready to treat the large rugs that were on the front board, but someone had brought in a southwest Persian wagireh for his comment.
Here is that piece.
Now Cook moved to the large rugs on the board.
The piece on the far right was a very long border fragment from a southwest Persian pile rug. The fragment hung down the full length of the board and was said to be almost that long on the back. So it was estimated that the rug from which it came was likely about 12-14 feet long and about 6-7 feet wide (a length two and three times the width is a frequent traditional Persian ratio).
Cooks estimated that this fragment is from a rug over 100 years old. He said that its designs and structure are Khamseh-like, but
Rug 27 detail
that its size suggests that it was likely made to order for an “elite” customer or, possibly, just made for sale.
The rug immediately to the left of this border fragment was the piece below.
This rug is folded to permit it to fit on the board so we can see only a little more than a half of it.
Cook attributed it to the Khamseh, pointing out its similarities to the others displayed on the board: in particular chicken motifs, promegranates (though in only one and not two reds in this example), and lattice designs in the spandrels. The medallion has scalloped sides, like others shown, but here there is a single medallion with small pendants at the top and bottom, rather than the three medallions that are more common. Cook also noted that the devices within the lattices are more realistically floral (i.e., less stylized) in older pieces than in the other larger carpets shown.
Next left was the rug below.
Cook described this piece as a Khamseh long rug woven by “tribal people for non-tribal purposes.” He said that it is a good example of design borrowing by Fars weavers, claiming that the ivory border has an origin in finer Senneh rugs.
Rug 29 detail a
Cook suggested that the frequent abstracted pomegranates in the field might be traces of a Mughul usage (Wertime suggested Khotan).
Rug 29 details b and c
Cook also drew attention to the design elements in the spandrels as a possible further instance of borrowing.
Someone asked about the lions in the field this rug and why they might have been included.
Cook replied in part that, of course, at one time there were lions in Iran. And Parviz Tanavoli wrote a little book entirely devoted to rug with lion designs in their fields that he collected in Fars. The lion has also been used in some national symbols of Iran.
The last rug of the morning was this large piece on the left side of the front board.
An impressive piece with good colors. It was attributed to the Luri. It is very similar to a rug that Opie shows on page 117 of his earlier book.
Opie cites the white-ground main border among his Luri usages. Some of the sitting bird renditions also resemble Luri drawing. Opie, additionally, cites similarly narrow medallion projections on a rug he calls Luri, but acknowledges that latter usage is closer to those of the Arab-Khamseh.
Tom Cook answered questions,
ended his presentation, received Dan Walker’s thanks,
and folks crowded to the front, this time, in part because it was clear that more material had been brought in than the time for discuss could accommodate.
My thanks to Tom Cook for permitting me to share his session with you and for some important editorial assistance as well.
R. John Howe