Archive for September, 2008

Mary Jo Otsea on Collectable Rugs and Textiles, Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2008 by rjohn

On September 13, 2008, Mary Jo Otsea, gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C.


Dan Walker, The TM Director introduced Mary Jo,

saying that she was a person with an assured knowledge of rugs and textiles and had been in the business longer than one might expect. He said that she is currently a Sothebys Senior Vice President and the Worldwide Director of Carpets.

Mary Jo approached her subject descriptively rather than perscriptively.  She defined a “collectable” piece as one “suitable for a collection” but gave no advice about rugs and textiles that might in her opinion be “collectable” or not.  Instead, she talked about the aspects of rugs and textiles, that, in her experience conducting auctions, seemed to affect collector decisions.

She said that many collectors tended to focus on particular types and that she would organize her presentation in that way.  She provided a series of projected examples.

She referred first to the two specialized format Moghul rugs that appeared on her title slide.

Mary Jo said that these two pieces were 17th century and were likely made for use with a fountain or a dais.

Here is a closer look at the one on the left above.

Her second piece was the embroidery below.

She said this Ottoman piece is also 17th century and silk on a linen ground.

Next, she treated a variety of Central Asian pieces.  Mary Jo said that sometimes rugs and textiles are converted to be part of an item of furnishing and that the screen below is an example.

The panels of this screen were made by cutting up and inserting an antique Uzbek suzani.  Mary Jo said that this piece came to Sotheby’s for sale like this and its owner had also bought it already assembled.  She estimated that this suzani was embroidered in the 1850s.

The next piece was also a suzani, this time with an “iris” design.

Mary Jo described this as a “dowry” piece.

Next, was a Turkmen cherpi, silk embroidery on a yellow silk ground.

Mary Jo reminded us that the cherpi is worn over the head and is not a coat, as the false sleeves that hang down the back, with a connecting panel, suggest.  The design on this one was unusual in that it was less heavily embroidered than some.

The Turkmen piece below was a pile door surround, called a “kapunuk.”

A little closer look at part of it.

This kapunuk was woven by a Tekke woman.

The piece below is also Turkmen; this time woven by the Yomut.  The latticed “field” design is unusual.

Mary Jo explained that this was a tent pole cover, called an “okbosh.”  Many Turkmen were nomads and lived in trellis tents that were taken down for travel and then put up in new locations.  The tent poles were usually divided into two bundles and were decorated on their ends with these bags that were pulled over them.  So the sides of this piece would have been joined to form a tube and the four ends taken in to form a pointed end.

Next were two sumptuous pile trappings.  These are both by the Salor, revered among Turkmen weavers.

These images do not do these pieces justice.  Among other things they, are quite wide.; noticably wider, for comparison, than a Turkman chuval.  Both of these pieces are sizable enough to command notice when placed on the sides of a wedding camel for decoration.  Both were heavily decorated with silk in areas that appear dark grey in these images.  The silk has corroded and is largely lost.  As a result there is a kind of beveled character to the surface.  The lower trapping is larger, the measurements are 4’3″ x 1’9″ and 7’4″ x 2’6,” respectively.

The next rug Mary Jo presented is a very rare one from the Hecksher collection.

Speculation about this piece has tended to think of it as, perhaps, a very unusual, 18th century Yomut group weaving.  It has a lot of palmette devices that resemble some Persian usages.  In Hali 156 there is an article considering whether this piece and a small group of similar ones, should, perhaps be seen as Khorasan weavings rather than as definitely Turkmen.  Mary Jo said that this rug currently resides in the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.

We now came to a series of rugs that Mary Jo presented two and three on a single slide.  To give you images that are large enough to appreciate, I’m presenting them to you in vertical sequence.

The next two pieces were Baluch pile weavings.

This piece, although worn, has an interesting boteh-filled field, woven on natural camel hair. 

The bag face below has considerable purple, unusual for the Baluch.  Collectors often look for, notice and value the unusual, in this case the wide use of purple.

Mary Jo now moved to several Shahsavan pieces.  These pieces are woven in soumak.

The first two were khorjin (saddle bag) faces.


The next two Shahsavan pieces are complete khorjins.

The second complete Shahsavan khorjin is of a particular design highly-prized by collectors.  They are popularly called “beetle” bags.

The khorjin set above was sold twice by Sotheby’s, both times for substantial amounts.  I overhead a conversation at ICOC X in which some German collectors suggested to a U.S. collector who owns what is often seen as a best-of-type Shahsavan “beetle bag” that they would be willing to pay him a price for it approximating that of a BMW.  He still owns it.

The next two pieces were embroideries from the “Transcaucasus,” an area that includes the Caucasus and some areas of far northwest Persia, including those where many of the Shahavan lived and migrated. 

Mary Jo pointed out that both of these embroideries are different from those we have treated above, like the suzani and the Turkmen cherpi, in that they cover the entire area of their ground cloth with embroidery stitches.

The first of these pieces is the one below:

Mary Jo described this piece as probably Azerbaijan and called attention to it’s “country” rendition of urban Persian designs.

A second embroidery was more properly Caucasian.

This is a “Kaitag” embroidery, a type of embroidery first high-lighted seriously, and rather recently, by the British scholar Robert Chenciner.  One of the things that makes Kaitag embroideries valuable is that there is a rather small universe of them and its size is known, approximately.  Kaitag pieces are highly prized by a group of collectors who pursue them and pay high prices for them.

Mary Jo’s next two pieces were an Azerbajain embroidery and a fragment of what has been traditionally called a “Caucasian dragon carpet.”  The latter piece is in pile.  These two pieces were shown together because of the similarity of their designs.

Here, below, is the Azerbajaini embroidery.

And here, below, is the “Caucasian dragon carpet” fragment.

Compare especially the “armature” devices that occur in both of these pieces.  The quotation marks around “Caucasian” indicate that there is controversy about whether the “dragon” carpets (some have no “dragons”) were, in fact, woven in the Caucasus.

The next two pieces were Caucasian “shield”-design rugs.  These rugs are also old with an estmated age of 17th-18th century.

The “shield” devices in their fields are also described as “open-top palmettes.”

I am repeating here, immediately below,  for ease of comparison, the Hechsher “Turkmen” rug which has similar open-top palmette devices in its field. 

These palmettes in both the “Turkmen” rug and the two Caucasian “shield” carpets are seen to be based on earlier Persian models.

Next Mary Jo presented two Caucasian rugs, below, both with a “prayer” format.

These two rugs are very different.  The one on the left, very refined; the one on the left a “country cousin.”  Here are closer looks one by one.

This rug is a very unusual Caucasian.  It has silk warps and wool pile.  The drawing is very detailed and precise.  It is nearly at the level of a “court” piece.

The rug below has a wool structure and pile.  The main border is very unusual and the drawing is spacious (something often seen as characteristic of older Caucasian pieces), but it is a “village” piece.

Two more Caucasian rugs followed, mid-19th century.  The first, a recognizable type, what is called a Sewan Kazak.

Mary Jo said that it came to auction in this poor condition, but that its sought-after type, its interesting asymmetry, strong graphics and evident good colors might make it attractive to collectors not insistent on good condition.

The piece below is a very different and unusual Kazak.

Its center of interest is its beautiful, abrashed blue field, bounded by three graphically dramatic border systems.  This kind of plain field is often seen on Talish rugs, but is surprising, and might attract collector interest, on a Kazak.

The next two pieces, also Caucasians with niche-designs, were from the eastern Caucasus.  Here they are side by side.

Again, we have a contrast.  The rug on the left is the obvious sophisticate; the one on the right relies rather heavily on its rural charm.  Here they are, slightly larger, in sequence.

The rug below was from the Blau Collection.  It is fine wool on silk.

Its fineness, colors, precise, controlled drawing and provenance would likely work to make it attractive to collectors.

The rug below is much coarser. 

Its graphics are less subtle and so have more punch despite its overall mild, even faded-seeming colors.  It has a yellow-ground, something that attracts many collectors.  It is possible that its positive features might carry its interest to some past the possibility that it may have some dyes that are synthetic.

 The next two pieces were also eastern Caucasian rugs.

The first of these was a piece that is placed in the Seichur subgroup of rugs from Kuba.

 The distinctive white-ground border here is seen as a Seichur indicator.  The carnation blossom field design is not rare but might be seen by some collectors as more unusual than the “cross” designs seen on some Seichurs.

The other eastern Caucasian piece in this pair has a “Karagashli” design.

The two oblique, red-ground devices in the field are characteristic.  So is a blue ground, although this shade is a bit different.  A good range of vivid colors, the crisp drawing, and spaciousness of the design, would draw some collectors.

Mary Jo now moved to another major category: Anatolian rugs.

She began with the fragment below and told a story about it.

She said that when when this fragment came in, she was excited about having it and highlighted it in a Sothebys publication that goes out world-wide in the firm.  Some folks in Germany wrote immediately asking why she was highlighting an old rag like this.  She said she was able to explain that this fragment is from one of the rarest Anatolian rugs with a “phoenix and dragon” design and that it was estimated to have been woven in the 14th century.  Ironically, she said, it sold for a high price to a customer in Germany.

There are collectors who are very interested in fragments for a variety of reasons.

Next were two more Anatolian rugs of notable age.  These were both “Lotto” rugs, so-called because rugs with varieties of this design were frequent in paintings by an artist of this name. 

The first of these two rugs is estimated to have been woven in the 16th century.

The second Lotto rug, the one below, is estimated to have been woven in the late 17th century.  The wide border and asymmetric design are characteristics of later “Lotto” rugs.

 Lotto rugs are famously attractive to collectors.

The next piece was a “saf,” a format with two horizontal rows of multiple niches placed one above the other.

This saf is 17th century, woven in Oushak and is 10 feet by 13 feet in size.  Mary Jo saw its likely sources as “architectural.”

A second saf was the one below.

This very colorful piece deaccessioned by the Philadelphia Museum.  It was woven in two pieces, but I think Mary Jo indicated that the dealer who purchased it has separated it into three pieces and sold them.

Next were a couple of very similar Anatolian rugs with “prayer” designs both attributed to Konya.

Notice the “coupled columns” in the lower part of the fields of both of these rugs.  This feature gives this design its name.

Here is the second.

These rugs are among those described as “Turkish village rugs.”  That is a group of rugs avidly pursued by collectors.  Christopher Alexander built a marvelous collection of them and wrote a (very difficult to read) book about them.  Turkish village rugs were also featured importantly in the German industrialist Kircheim’s “Woven Stars” collection.

The last two Anatolian pieces that Mary Jo treated were two Melas examples.

First, there was the complex rectilinear design below.

Mary Jo’s second Melas example was rare.

She said that this is the only example of a white ground Melas niche-design known.  It is clear that this is a rug that would attract a lot of collector attention.

Persian rugs and textiles were the next major category. Mary Jo began with two different Afshars.

The first of these had a darker general palette enlivened by a white ground.

This is a relatively sober rug with interesting field devices and a nice subtle complexity in its dark main border.

The second Afshar, while younger than the first, was in excellent condition with good colors and an interesting boteh design.

This is a piece also had an effective striped border, and interesting finishes on both ends.

The next piece was attributed to the Qashqa’i in southwest Persia.

This rug has good range of color, controlled drawing of a narrow striped field and a white-ground border that collectors might like.  The narrow stripes of the field are made even more interesting by the addition of internal instrumentation.

The next rug was a quite different type: a gabbeh.  A “gabbeh” is a format done traditionally with bright colors, simple designs, long pile and multiple rows of weft between rows of knots.

This one has a somewhat wider range of color and a plethora of simple repeated design devices that collectors could well value.

The next two pieces were both attributed to the Qashqa’i.  The first is

This piece has an unusual asymmetric field design.

A second Qashqa’i rug has a more formal niche design.

This is a “millefleurs” design and is one prized by many collectors.

The next piece was a very unusual Khamseh bag.

One might be tempted to see this as a sampler if it weren’t for the bottom finish that seems very like the top edge of a khorjin (saddle bag).

The piece below is Persian Kurdish.

A cargo bag is not a frequent Kurdish format, and one with good colors, a well-drawn mina khani design, and four borders, would likely attract collector attention.

Jaf Kurd bags with diamond designs like the one below, are pretty frequently encountered.

Mary Jo said that what might attract collectors to this one is its very large size.

The next piece was a large Qashqa’i horsecover.

Mary Jo said that horsecovers are of interest to collectors because they were woven for special occasions, often had not much use, and, as is the case with this one, are, as a result, in very good condition.  Jim Burns, once gave an ACOR presentation on horse and saddle covers, saying that a collector who focused on this format is assured of having high quality pieces because the weavers lavished them with their best materials and attention.

The next Persian pieces were the two Bakshaish rugs below.

Bakshaish rugs are often placed in the “decorative” rather than the “collectable” category, but these village renditions might attract collectors.  She said that both of these pieces had a camel hair ground.

The next piece was a fine Bijar with a prayer design.

This is piece is full of wonderfully complex designs, including lots of inscriptions.  Done on a silk foundation, it came from the Blau collection.  Its provenance and the fact that it is based on Safavid designs, would attract a definite kind of collector.

The piece below is a Bakhtiari rug.

It, too, is inscribed along its top edge.

The next rug is a pictorial silk Kashan.

The sacrifice of Isaac is depicted in its center panel and there are cartouches everywhere, with Hebrew inscriptions.  This is a rug that will draw the interest of particular collectors.

The piece below is a 20th century Anatolian rug.

Despite its youth, it can, predictably, command real collector interest because it is a known, high-quality type: a “Kumkapi,” woven superfine in silk.

The next Persian piece was the very urban Ishfahan piece below, woven in the 17th century.

Some collectors might be attracted, not only to its sophisticated design and wide color palette, but also to the fact that it was once owned by J. P. Morgan.

The next rug Mary Jo treated is, perhaps, currently, one of the most famous rugs in the world.

Despite its rather subued appearance in this image, this rug’s current place in the world is defined  primarily by the fact that it was bought out of the Doris Duke estate for the current record price at auction of $4.5 million dollars.  Among its features that resulted in that price are the facts that it is an all silk “Polonaise,” estimated to have been woven in the late 16th century.

Mary Jo described next rug as also one that is “hot and expensive.”

This glorious rug is a Moghul from the Blau Collection.  Collectors with money, please.

The rug below is also an extrordinary one.

This is a Safavid rug that one needs to look at closely in order to appreciate.

Mary Jo provided two detail images of it to help us do that.  Here, below, is the first detail.

And here is a second detail of another area of it.

Clearly another rug to command a collector with resources.

The next rug Mary Jo presented was also at this level.


This is a huge Safavid carpet, 20 feet long.  Mary Jo said that it is 17th century and in great condition.  Again she provided closer details.

Here is a corner.

And here is an even closer look at a small area of the field.

Moving to some older Persian fragments, Mary Jo showed the one below, from the border of a large carpet.

Not all collectors like fragments, but a lot of them could be persuaded to find room for this piece from a medallion carpet woven in Tabriz in the 16th century.

Following are two Mughal pashmina pieces; the first a mihrab panel woven in the Kashmir shawl technique of twill tapestry weave

and the second a yellow ground knotted pile prayer rug.  Both feature the ‘millefleurs’ design and were probably woven in Northern India in the 18th century.

The image below is a fragment of a Moghul silk velvet.

Wonderfully clear drawing of botanical forms.

The next piece was an embroidery from Goa.

This piece is described as “silk and metal.”

Mary Jo now moved further east.  The next two pieces are attributed to east Turkestan.


This is a silk rug with a striking blue field.

The next piece was an interesting seat mat.

Elaborate and careful drawing and an effective use of color might stir collector interest.

The next pieces were two very similar Khotan and Yarkand rugs.

Mary Jo said that there is lots of restoration in the first of these two pieces (you can feel it better than see it) but that collectors like the dramatic trefoil borders that both of these pieces have.

Mary Jo’s two penultimate pieces in her lecture/slide show were a Ninghsia and Kansu, Chinese carpets.

She said that the designs in these two pieces reflect those in other areas of Chinese art.

It was likely fitting that the last rug that Mary Jo presented used to reside here in the DC area.  It was, for a long time, what you encountered when you came into Wendel Swan’s house.

Wendel had long-described it as likely 18th century, but when he sent it to Sotheby’s to auction, the experts opined that it was in fact, “Ming,” and so 17th century.  Mary Jo commented on its noticably large knots, despite which the Chinese weavers achieved remarkably curvilinearity.

Anyway, the piece sold for a very high price and all parties were gratified.

This was the end of Mary Jo’s projected lecture, but she had brought a few pieces “in the fabric” and moved to consider them next.

The first piece on the board was an embroidered suzani.  Here is an unobstructed look at it.

Here is a closer corner.

And a closer detail of the field.

This suzani is a 19th century piece with a “trellis” design based on a Moghul model.

Mary Jo had brought a Qashqa’i horsecover, similar to the one included in her slide presentation.  First, an overall shot of this piece.

The image below is a closer corner.

This is a special occasion piece from the late 19th century with little evident wear.  The materials, colors and drawing are all mobilized to make the horse that wore it look its best.  I think Mary Jo said that the line of pink tufts are silk provided to show opulence.

Here is one closer look to let you see the detailed drawing and color use in the decorated area of this piece.

The third piece that Mary Jo had brought was the Ottoman turban wrapping below.

Here is are two closer details of this 17th century village piece.

There are visible stains but the age of this piece, its good colors and the graceful drawing and dense embroidery will attract some collectors.

Mary Jo’s next brought piece was an Anatolian Lotto rug with wide, colorful, cartouche borders.

Here is a closer look at the borders at one corner.

And a close-up of the field.

Lotto rugs are popular and this 17th century example in good condition would/will draw a crowd.  Charlie Ellis once proposed some categories in which he suggested Lotto rugs could be usefully grouped.  The collectors bidding on this rug would likely be able to place it in Charlie’s typology.

 Mary Jo’s fifth brought rug was a western Anatolian piece with a niche design.

Below is a something closer to an “all-edges” image of it.

This rug is attributed to Bergama and is estimated to have been woven in the 1800s.

Here is a closer corner.  It has a wider palette than the overall images initially suggest.

And his is a large detail of the field.

Mary Jo’s sixth rug  was was this yellow-ground piece that was also included in her projected presentation.

It is attributed to Genje and estimated to have been woven in the 1880s.  It was upon seeing it “in the wool” that a member of the audience wondered whether it might not have a synthetic dye.  Mary Jo acknowledged that possibility.

Here is a closer corner.

And here is the latticed field with a separate niche device at the top.

There is a good purple visible in this field.  Both yellow grounds and purple can lure collectors.

The last of the pieces that Mary Jo had brought herself was the colorful Caucasian rug below.

She said that this piece was attributed to Shirvan and is estimated to have been woven during the late 1890s.  It is dated (twice) 

but the dates, both the same, are in the 1200s of the Islamic calendar and have been discounted as far too early for accuracy.

This rug is in great condition although there is restoration in its ends.

Here is a closer corner.

Notice that the classic Shirvan indicators of brown and white warps and white cotton selveges are not met by this piece (although the warp color may be the result of the restoration).  Jon Thompson said in his catalog for the exhibition that was part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the New York Hajji Baba Society, that there is no reliable structural distinction between Shirvan and Kuba rugs.

This was the end of Mary Jo’s part of this rug morning program.  Members of the audience had brought pieces in and we moved now to examine them.  I have placed that part of this session in a Part 2 that you can reach by clicking the link below.


R. John Howe

Mary Jo Otsea on Collectable Rugs and Textiles, Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2008 by rjohn

This is the second part of a virtual presentation of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program that Mary Jo Otsea of Sothebys gave at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. on September 13, 2008 

If you have not read the first part of this program it would be advisable to do so before going on with this second part.  Here is the link to it:

A number of those in the audience had brought pieces into this session and Mary Jo moved next to an examination of them. 

The mode followed was that a given piece would be put up on the front board and then its owner would be asked to comment on it. 

I will retrieve what I can from my notes and my memory and, occasionally, supplement that from other sources.

Coincidentally, the first pieces put up in this half of the program were mine.  I said from the audience that I had not been able to predict whether Mary Jo would take a descriptive or a prescriptive approach to the subject of “collectability,” and that I had selected the pieces I had brought to potentially “push” two specific boundaries of collection that can be controversial: fragmented pieces and those with at least some synthetic dyes. 

I complained that Mary Jo had spoiled my fun by politely taking a descriptive approach, within which she had already demonstrated that collectors will sometimes be attracted to very fragmented pieces, and that at least one rug she had brought might have some synthetic dyes, but also had other virtues that might, on balance, still attract collectors to it.

My first piece was an example, both of a fragment, and of a textile that had at one point been converted for a furnishing use as a seat cover.

The piece above is a fragment from a Tekke chuval, cut at one point to permit its placement on an upholstered chair as a seat cover.  The “notches” at the corners were made to accommodate the chair’s legs.

Here is a closer look at a detail of it.

This fragment is finely woven, very well drawn, and has two reds and two blues.  I would confidently estimate its age as third quarter 19th century and it may be older than that.  When I encountered it, it had already been removed from its seatcover function.  I merely put a back on it to stabilize it.  It lays on my night table and I see and touch it daily.

The second piece I brought is potentially more controversial.  Here is what it looks like when you first encounter it.

It is a complete Tekke torba-type bag.  Some closer looks.

There are signs as one looks of suspicious colors.  I invited Mary Jo to look at the inside of this complete bag.  Here are some images of its interior turned inside out.


The colors inside this piece are very different from those on its outside.  Instead of a general coppery orange (could it have been chemically washed? maybe, but why are the insides so different?) the inside dominating colors are a bright orange and a wine-red.  We might suspect the red to be from cochineal if it were not so different on the inside than it is on the outside.  Anyway, this piece was woven with some dyes that are almost certainly synthetic.

Now let me list the virtues of this piece.  It is very finely woven.  The high technical quality of the knotting drew Elena Tzareva’s attention once when she had it in her hands.  The drawing of this piece is all of precise, traditional, Tekke devices and the composition of the design is, for me, of a high quality.  Last, the octagon gul is unusual.

I think that most serious Turkmen collectors would would say that this piece is not “collectable,” and I have trouble defending it at bottom myself.  But then I remember how arbitrary, even irrational some of our collecting standards can be.  Sometimes we cut ourselves off needlessly from pieces that have real merits because of their condition or the possibility that they contain synthetic dyes. 

A very experinced, famous, show dog judge once said “It is understandable to like a dog in spite of its faults.  It is only if we like a dog because of its faults that re-education is indicated.” 

I think this insight applies to our decisions about what rugs we consider “collectable.”  My own view is that it is permissible to collect a rug in spite of its faults as long as we don’t begin to admire it because of them. 

Having said that, I have still to confess, embarrassingly, that this Tekke torba is one of the first three pieces I bought after I decided to begin to collect seriously, and that the initial thing that attracted me to it then was its nice coppery color. 

My apologies for “going on” a bit about these two rather humble pieces.

The next piece was a Tibetan saddle rug.

Tibetan saddle rugs are found in three basis shapes, this “notched,” rectangular one, a “kidney”-shape, which is reputed to be that of the oldest saddle rugs, and a “butterfly” shape, borrowed by the Tibetans from the saddle rugs of some Indian colonial cavalry units.

This “notched,” rectangular design and the “kidney”-shaped designs are the shapes encountered more often.  This rug was intended to go under the saddle (most Tibetan saddles are wooden).  There would have been an additional piece in this Tibetan saddle rug set: a separate rectangular piece with a matching design that would have been placed on top of the saddle.

Kuloy provides a layout showing how Tibetan saddle rugs of the shape of our “brought in” example were woven on the loom.

Notice that the part of the saddle rug that goes under the saddle is woven in two pieces, with the warps on what might be seen as the horizontal and with the pile (of both parts) pointing to one side of the piece.  The additional rectangular rug is woven on the same set of warps, but with an orientation that is more usual.

Since the “under the saddle” part of such a rug set is made in two pieces, these need to be joined.  In shorter ones that is done by adding a middle section in heavy cotton batting or felt.  Such a middle piece is needed in “shorter” saddle rugs to let them hang sufficiently far down the sides from under the saddle.  But some saddle rugs of this format are made longer and do not require such a center secton.  Here is an example from Kuloy’s book.

First is the “under the saddle” rug.

And, below is the matching rug that would be placed on top of the saddle.

Kuloy calls saddle rugs that do not require an additional middle insert the “aristocrats” of this type and it may be that this “brought in” piece is one of these.  Tibetan saddle rug collectors would measure and know.

Synthetic dyes were adopted early by Tibetan weavers and so Tibetan pieces often have them.  I do not see any obviously, suspicious colors in this rug, if the red is natural.

Someone in the audience asked about the two holes in this saddle rug.

I think the question was what the holes were for, and if they were to hold the rug onto the horse under the saddle, why are there only two?

I don’t think we resolved it in the room, but Kuloy shows a number of similar Tibetan saddle rugs.  Some show no holes like this at all, some show four holes, but the most frequent usage is, in fact, two holes (look again at our Kuloy example above in this respect).  So a two-hole usage is a traditional feature.

The next brought in piece was the long textile below.

As you can see, it is a continuous piece with a wide simple-striped center and two end panels with very different intense designs.

Let me turn a complete end-to-end image 45 degree so that you can see the designs a little more closely.

Some thought it looked like a Shahsavan piece, but others were less sure of that.  Some thought it might be a kind of eating cloth, perhaps missing some borders.  Others thought it might be a bag of some sort, perhaps a type of grain bag.  It’s layout indicates that it was not a “cargo” bag, the sort of “mafrash” made by the Shahsavan and some Caucasian weavers.  My notes do not say what it’s owner said.

Perhaps the most specific indication from the audience was by Wendel Swan.  He has repeated his comments here in an email to me.


“Although this was said to be Shahsavan, the use of the weft wrapping technique called “chii” (seen as the white in the decorated bands), the colors and the presence of a small brocaded diamond all point to rather definitive attribution to the Kurds of the Caucasus.  That was my comment at the session and remains my belief.

“At the session, I said also that it was not a mafrash and I speculated to you that it might be a bag which would have been folded in half.  The Caucasus does produce some rather deep single bags.  A piece that is quite similar in size color and concept, having decorated ends and only stripes in the middle, can be found in Wright and Wertime’s Caucasian Carpets and Covers as plate 114.  They call that piece an Azeri chuval.  It might also be Kurdish, but it seems to lack any chii wrapping, so the Kurdish attribution would be less certain.

Here is the similar seeming piece from the Wright-Wertime volume that Wendel references.

The image is too large to get into a single scan.  Here are two so you see that the two ends are the same.  Below is the first half and end.

And here, below is a very similar other half and end.

I also looked through a few more Caucasian books a bit.  In Robert Nooter’s “Flatwoven Rugs and Textiles from the Caucasus” there are two more possible comparators.  Here is the first of these.  It is Nooter’s Plate 206.

Nooter describe this as a “runner or long bag,” from the “Sham Saddin” area in northwest Karabagh.  This area has been Armenian but is close to another that was Kurdish in the 19th century.

Nooter’s Plate 207 is very similar.

This piece is about a foot shorter than Plate 206 and is described as a long bag from the Borchaliu region which is near but north of Sham Saddin.  The people in Borchaliu are predominantly a distinctive variety of Azeri, but some Amenians lived in the region during the 19th  century. 

The next piece was the rug below.

This was described in the room as a “commercial” Hamadan rug, perhaps a Lillihan.  It was estimated to have been woven in the 1920s. 

Hamadans are are usually seen by collectors as “decorative” rugs, rather than of the sort to be collected, but the fact that both Willborg and Runge have published books on Hamadans that they believe are worthy of attention, shows how hard this line is to draw.

The next piece was the textile below.

This piece is heavily embroidered in silk. 

The owner said that it had been purchased in the 1960s.  There was speculation about the format.

Some felt that the “lappet-like” panels suggested that it might be a door decoration.

And some said it looked like Kutch embroidery from Gudjurat.

It is true that Kutch embroidery commands some collector attention.  Marla Mallett shows at least two items of it as I write.  First, there is this shawl border.

And there is this child’s hat.

There is heavy silk embroidery and that are mirror decorations.  I will leave to you whether there are further similarities.

In the room, at the TM, there was also a very similar Indian square hanging.



There was also a Central Asian embroidery.

 Very dense embroidery covering most of the surface, unlike that on Central Asian suzanis.  I do not think a more specific attribution was made in the room.

The next brought in piece was more familar.

The piece above is a large Yomut engsi.

Here are two closer looks.

The image above is of the center of the “hatchli” design of the field of this piece.

There image below is a detail of an interesting cross panel above the elem of this piece.

I mentioned that this handsome piece is quite large.  I once collected data on over 600 published engsis and found that size variations are greatest among those attributed to the Ersari and and the Yomut groups.

The next piece was a source of unexpected controversy.

Now for Turkmen collectors this is a familiar format and design.  Such pieces seem always to be well-composed and drawn and the designs both, in the field and, in this, the most usual border used, have visible graphic punch. 

In the room it was described as an “Ersari” piece with “ikat-derived” guls .  During the session’s introductions Dan Walker had recognized the presence of Hans Konig, the rug expert and writer. 

Mr. Konig, first, politely reminded us that recent research has moved us away from the term “Ersari” in the direction a “Middle Amu Dyra” usage.  The reason, he said was there were a great many different tribes living in the areas from which the rugs that have traditionally been called “Ersari” have come, and it has become increasingly clear that a single tribal designation for the rugs woven there cannot be supported.  And there has been some beginning success in determining what groups wove particular rugs in the M.A.D. area.

But Mr. Konig then made a further point that was more surprising.  He said that he had questions about the claim that the “guls” in such torbas as this one were in fact “ikat-derived.” 

He did not say more, but it was a tantalizing thought.  His suspicion sent me directly, when I got home, to the catalog for the Goldman exhibition of Central Asian ikats.  I did remember wondering, when I first walked through that exhibition, when I was going to encounter ikats that contained a semblance of something like this gul.  It didn’t happen quickly.

But in the paperback version of the Goldman exhibition catalog there are at least two pieces that seem to me to contain designs that are defensibly quite similar.

Here is the first one:

And here is the second:

Now similarity is mere taxonomy and does not demonstrate design source or development.  So, I’m very curious to hear more about Mr. Konig’s suspicions.

The next piece was a fragment that we were careful now to describe as Middle Amu Dyra. 

Here is a closer look at its left side.

This torba-shaped and sized piece had a chaotic field of different seeming designs that drew comments that perhaps it was a sampler.

It has clear borders at its sides.  A careful look at the two vertical details below shows that traces of top and bottom guard borders are also visible in both of them.

This indicates that this piece is, in fact, a torba-format bag face.

But what of the seeming chaos of the field design?  Well, I have a reasonable, English-language, Central Asian library and looked around it a bit.  In particular I looked at Thatcher, Jourdan and Loges.  It turns out that the devices in this bag are all part of the Central Asian design vocabulary that has until recently described as “Beshiri,” with the addition of one non-Turkmen device.

Let me deal with the latter device first.  It is the jagged device on the left side of this fragmentary torba.  Here is the image of the left side again.

There are “Beshiri” devices that seem similar.  Here, below is, Loges’ Plate 101.

This side treatment is similar but not satisfyingly so. The internal instrumentation, in particular, is different.  But there is another possible source that seems more credible.  I own a Central Asian, non-Turkmen bag, perhaps Uzbek, perhaps something else, with a device in it that is quite similar.  Here is that bag, oriented as it would be in use.

Now let’s turn this bag 45 degrees to see this design in the position in which it occurs on our chaotic M.A.D. fragment.

In this orientation this device seems to me very similar to that on the left side of our chaotic M.A.D. torba fragment, again repeated below for convenient comparison.

The white-ground zagged area is there and so are the “bar-bell” devices.

All the other devices in this brought in bag are in the traditional “Beshir” design vocabulary.  Here are some examples.  First, a black & white image that is Thatcher’s Plate 43.

These devices are said to have been adopted from non-Turkmen sources: the Persian “herati,” design in particular.  I say that here because this image may be the one that makes that possibility most most examinable.  But here are some additional pieces with similar devices.

The image below is Jourdan’s Plate 282.

Next is Loges’ Plate 103.

 The designs in both of the immediately preceding pieces have the devices used in our chaotic fragment but don’t exhibit its chaos.

The piece below is closest to the chaos of our fragment.

The beginning lack of regularity in the piece above hints a little at the possibility of the sort of chaos in this fragmented torba.

The next piece brought in was this Caucasian rug..

There was a suggestion in the room that this piece was south, perhaps Zakatala.  Someone else indicated that at least some Zakatala rugs are reputed to have S-spun, Z-plied wool.  I don’t think that was checked for during the session for confirmation.

Here are two closer images.

Someone said that this piece was “looser than a Moghan.”  This rug looked younger.

The next piece was also Caucasian.

This is a striking piece with its large-scale border contrasting with the relatively tiny intrumentation of its field.  The owner said it was a Sechour-Kuba piece.

Here is a closer corner.

Below is a long section of this spacious, colorful border with its abrashed green-green-blue ground. 

The scale of the border makes the field seem plainish but looked at more closely it has its own dense instrumentation.

This is a rug with really interesting and contrasting features.

Yet another Caucasian followed.


This is a “double-niche” design.  The owner attributed it to  Kuba-Dagestan.

The relatively large-scale main border was originally brown and white with occasional small bright red devices.  The brown has largely disappeared due to corrosion and the white now exerts a subtle, but marked relief effect against the visible structural threads.

Here is a detail of the field showing both niches.

The slight asymmetry of the drawing of the two niches adds interest.

Below is a closer image of the upper niche and the latticed field.

The color choice for the lattice devices brings life to the palette of this rug.  This effect is even better seen in the previous image that shows both niches.

The last piece of the day was this 20th century Turkmen flatwoven piece below.


 These are called “palas.”  They are tightly woven and sturdy, although this one is not as hard or as fine as the older ones often are.

A closer look at the weave of this one.


Despite the fact that such pieces are still being made, Pinner and Eiland point out in their Weidersperg catalog that we still don’t know enough about antique Turkmen palas to distinguish (for example) those made by the Tekkes from those made by Yomut weavers.

Mary Jo asked for questions, dealt with them, and adjourned the session.

Here are some images of the pleasant aftermath.

I thank Mary Jo for permitting me to share a virtual version of her “rug morning” with you.  I also thank her for looking at my work and saving me from the worst errors. Ultimately, though, the reporting here must be mine, mistakes and all.  Thanks, too, to Bill Storz who generously took an excellent set of notes for me.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of this recent TM Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning.


R. John Howe