Archive for August, 2009

Wendel Swan: Rugs 101: the Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

On May 30, 2009, Wendel Swan


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. on the topic of “Rugs and Textiles 101.”

The TM Bulletin in which these sessions are announced says that Wendel’s topic was to be “Rug and Textiles 102.”  That may be a misprint, but it is perhaps a fortunate one since Wendel did not do the sort of thing that is often done on the “101” rubric.  He’ll tell you about that shortly.

This program was divided, as RTAM’s often are, into a beginning lecture and a following related show and tell, the latter based on pieces that have been brought in.  What follows immediately below is a virtual version of Wendel’s lecture.

Wendel said:

I am speaking today on the topic of “Rugs and Textiles 101, because Aija Blitte


suggested that I do so.

She’s out of town and can’t appreciate that the task


the task became more difficult than I imagined.

I can’t give a condensed version of a book.



But most books don’t tell you how to begin at 101.

To paraphrase George Constanza


This lecture is not about the rugs.

It’s about how to learn and how to think about rugs and textiles.

What you want to learn about depends on your interests.

For some rugs and textiles are art.


For others it’s a matter of ethnography.


Or history.


Some find them exotic and alluring.


For others, it may be a collecting compulsion — if your going to collect something, why not rugs?  And why not lots  and lots of them?


For others it’s simply a matter of decoration.


I doubt that is the reason for any of you being here today.

For a surprising number who attend programs here at the TM, or at rug societies everywhere, who do not actually  own any rugs, it’s an intellectual challenge. Something like a puzzle where the path to understanding where, when and by whom any given rug was made is not clear at the outset.

maze with zili

I think we all pretty well know what an “oriental rug” is and where they come from, although this is not just about “rugs and carpets” but about the entire weaving tradition of which rugs and carpets, as we know them in the west, are only a part.

The Middle East was the home of many of the earliest civilizations.  Expansion and war and commerce spread textiles, that were probably first developed in the western parts, through out these lands.

Major rug producing areas

From the earliest times textiles traveled across the silk route.


Wool rugs are known in various parts of Central Asia, but much of the Far East is not home to sheep and therefore not to rugs.  Han China did not produce rugs, although they were woven beyond the Great Wall to the north and west by the so-called “barbarians.”  Japan has virtually no tradition of weaving woolen rugs.  Because of occupation by the Turks or their connections with them, some rugs were woven in such unlikely areas as Spain and Sweden.

Because of the dry climate, some remarkably well-preserved textiles have been found around the Taklimaken Basin,


including the elk or deer in the image below,


that bears some resemblance to the designs found on the Pazyryk textiles.

If this is Rugs 101, the title implies a beginning.  Whenever I want to learn something about rugs, this is where I begin –


by scouring my books.  About half of my rug books are shown here, but you can begin in The Textile Museum’s shop, where many important books are available or can be ordered.


If I had to recommend one general reference book, it would probably be the Eilands’ Oriental Carpets: A Comprehensive Guide.


It has an excellent balance of description, history and technical analysis.


And the images have improved considerably from the first edition.


Jon Thompson’s catalog, From Tibet to Timbuktu is another good general survey,


placing familiar weavings in their cultural contexts,


but it lacks structural analysis.

If I were allowed only one rug book in my prison cell, it would be Joseph V. McMullan’s Islamic Carpets,


a recordation of one of the greatest carpet collections in America.  Published in 1965, the plates are are of remarkable quality.  The only problem is that it is very hard to find and very expensive when found.

Perhaps the best catalog of the best rug exhibition I have ever seen is the modestly-priced Flowers Underfoot, Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era,


which was at the Metropolitan Museum in New York about 11 years ago.

It may be impractical in that we are unlikely to see any Mughal carpets in the wild, let alone be able to buy one. But the exquisite carpets in this volume are exactly what you need to review over and over to train your eyes.

The rug below is one I will use to illustrate the nearly perfect use of color in a program I will give here in the fall on color theory.


Everyone should have at least one decent book on early Turkish rugs such as this one


on the rugs at the Vakiflar in Istanbul.

Turkey has the longest continuous documented history of all the rug weaving regions.  I believe that to really understand the rugs that most of us collect from the last 125 years, we must know something about the Anatolian rugs of 300, 500 or 700 years ago.

You’ll find rugs like this eight-lobed medallion carpet from an Oushak village,


which evolved into the less sophisticated village rug on the left below, and that design, I submit, is the source of the powerfully attractive sumak bag face, on the right below,



that was on the cover of From the Bosphorous to Samarkand, the seminal exhibition here at The Textile Museum that sent scores of collectors in search of flatweaves.

The khorjin face above has long been called a “beetle bag,” because of its supposed resemblance to a beetle or to some other bug, no matter how silly that concept may be.

Another inexpensive book to which I frequently refer is Charles Grant Ellis’ Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


A few of his attributions remain controversial, but Charlie did a superb job of historical and technical analysis, and the carpets themselves are wonderful.

Many are on permanent display like this green-ground Holbein rug from the 17th century.


Philadelphia is only a little more than two hours away (from Washington, D.C.) and the PMA’s rugs must absolutely be seen.  While seeing images in a book is great, examining the rugs close-up is even more valuable.  The more you see and handle, the more you learn.

You can buy a decent small rug for what a copy of Christopher Alexander’s A Forshadowing of 21st Century Art


will cost you, but the Turkish rugs in it are spectacular.


I cannot recommend the text.  Just look at the pretty pictures such as that of the small rug above.

A. Cecil Edwards was a producer of rugs in Iran during the second quarter of the 20th century, and  his The Persian Carpet


describes not only the rugs but the industry itself.  You may not be interested in Persian rugs but his insight is invaluable.  He devotes a disproportionately large space to the rugs of Kerman, but this is  a terrific book.  He is not just hawking his wares.

Speaking of hawking, when I first became interested in oriental rugs in the 60s, Charles Jacobsen’s book


was one of the very few on the shelves of the Denver library.  I didn’t know of the McMullan book at the time.

Jacobsen was a dealer in Syracuse, N.Y., who advertised heavily and sent rugs all over the country on approval.  Some made their way into the Fisher collection which is now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.  Jacobsen’s plates are of mediocre quality, there is no structural analysis, but Jacobsen is perpetually joyous about his offerings.

For awhile a snickered at the thought of this book, but when I revisited it a few years ago, I recognized real insight in parts of it.  It’s worth owning because its pretty cheap.

Looking at image after image in the book pretty quickly enables you to make the comparison between rugs that is part of connoisseurship.

You know that the rug  the one below isn’t very good,


and that this next one below is pretty good.


You can also tell that the one below is great.


And then you begin to ponder how much similarity there is between the rug on the left below, from Northwest Persia or the Caucasus, and the yellow-ground rug, from Konya, on the right.



And then when you are in the Haghia Sofia in Istanbul and look up at the mosaic ceiling.


you see kinship with them both.

I firmly believe that our understanding and appreciation of rugs will be enhanced if we view them in the broader context of what we call “Islamic Art.”


Several books like this are available and they are very inexpensive.

The catalog below


from an exhibition at the National Galley a few years ago, is also useful in seeing that Islamic patternmaking and designs (of which the rugs and textiles are merely a part) are influenced by and constructed with Islamic religious tenets , BUT Islamic art


is not specifically religious, not even in the decoration of pages of the Koran and


most commonly does not represent living creatures.

Consequently, most Islamic art, including rugs, is either geometric



and associated with a belief in order, or floral,

or epigraphic (based upon calligraphy);


here we see at least four styles of calligraphy in this Safavid dome in Isfahan…incidentally, calligraphy has historically considered the highest form of art in Islam.

Most predominantly, however, we see a combination of these three styles: geometric, floral and epigraphic.

In the image below we see


the tiles are arranged in the very common, so-called “stars and bars” pattern.  The eight-pointed stars and crosses are geometric, the internal decoration is floral and the edges are all done in calligraphy.  A wall can be fully tiled using only two molds although each tile may be decorated differently.

However, Islamic designs are seldom exclusive to any one medium.  In the images below we see



one version of the “stars and bars” format, in tile, on the left, and a Chodor pile engsi to the right, using  another version of that format.

There is no structural reason for using the “stars and bars” pattern in a pile carpet, so we can only conclude that the engsi pattern was copied from the tilework.

A further example is the  comparison of the sarcopholous in the upper of the two bands below,


with the border of a Kerman “tree-of-life” rug in the lower band.

The reciprocal border of the famous Chelsea carpet below,


is, substantially, identical to the decoration on the Iznik bowl below.


We can, also, see the clear relationship between the partial medallion of the Oushak, below


and the Iznik lid below.


And the Iznk tiles, on the left below, in the Rustem Pasha mosque in Istanbul,


were undoubtedly the inspiration for the class of rugs (on the right, above) called Oushak “bird” rugs.  The birds exist only in someone’s fanciful imagination.

Islam did not create a new art form or style, but perpetuated and adapted the art of indigenous cultures some truly ancient.

Immediately below, is a Gordian or Anatolian wooden box from about 800 BC,


and below is another engsi with the same design in its borders.


The manner of the 16th century Koran cover below


is quite similar to the antique Serapie below


and to its new counterpart that follows here.


The prayer rug format is derived from niches or mirhabs in the mosques or other architectural elements.


Islamic art, including rugs and textiles, is traditional because the cultures repeat and copy designs and patterns.  This is not to deny the skills of the weaver, but, fundamentally, and for a variety of reasons, it is the culture, not the weaver, who produces the rugs and textiles.

Because of this, I very much dislike using the word “unique.”


Almost everything is copied from something else or inspires copies.

To illustrate this, I’ll ask you how many of you have ever seen or heard of the silk Kashan depicting the dynamic duo of Maggie and Jiggs?


If you think this might be unique, you should know that at least seven versions of this design have passed through the auction houses over the years.

There is widespread sharing or copying of designs among textiles.  Here, below, is an 11th century Coptic curtain in the David Collection in Copenhagen that was on view at Boston University a couple of years ago.


Note the medallions.

Here, below, are five Turkmen medallions that are at least similar.


It is impossible to say which came first, but the further back we look, the more familiar faces we see.

The Sasian textile below


has eight-lobed medallions that appear in various forms


in nearly every culture in the Near East.

To conclude, if you’re interested in rugs study other Islamic art.  If you are interested in any one type of rug or textile, study others.  As with languages, the more of them you know, the better is your mastery of your native tongue.

Now let’s return to the books.  I will admit that the first thing I think about when I am considering acquiring anything is “How will it look on the wall?”


But very soon I want not just to look AT it, but INTO it.

That’s why every collector need at least one good book on structure.  Easy to find, inexpensive and chock full of structural details is Marla Mallett’s Woven Structures.


If you want to know what you have, understand how it has been built, I believe this book is a must to have.

Besides attribution, there can be times when looking into a rug has its advantages.  A couple of years ago a dealer sent me images of this small gabbeh.


I hadn’t seen anything quite like it.  It was worn but had great colors and a minimalism that often appeals to me.  When it arrived and I opened the box, I immediately knew that it was a fake, based on the unusual wear and the fact that it was brand-new clean right down to the foundation.

I sent it back and several months later saw this rug advertised on the internet,


all in full pile and new.  Obviously, it was made by the same weavers, but it was because I am used to looking into rugs, not just at them, that I avoided an expensive mistake.

About two months ago I saw this fragment advertised on the internet.


I like the details.


It was very much like a fragment that a friend of mine owns.  Actually, quite similar, although there is more left of the one advertised (here on the left below).



When I received a picture of the back


I had some doubts.  This group should not have dark red wefts as this one had.  The seller then withdrew it from sale, saying that he had just learned that it might be a fake.

Eventually, the seller provided me with the rare opportunity to see a fake before and after the distressing had taken place.


I never got to see it in the wool, but once again I am sure that looking into the rug, rather than just at it, would have revealed its secrets.

The rug below


was in an exhibition at ACOR in Indianapolis a few years ago, when some rug restorers took a close look that determined that it was a fake, made with old wool on an old foundation.  There were various clues, but not one of them could be found in any of the literature.  Making that determination required hands-on experience.

Yes, you need to read books and imprint your brain with as many images as you can.  But you still have to handle, touch and feel rugs and textiles to learn about them.

There is, of course, a chance to do that here


on many Saturday mornings, but you should also visit dealers and attend conferences whenever possible.

The ACOR scheduled for St. Louis had to be canceled and there will eventually be another one although no time or place has yet been determined.  However, ICOC is planning its next full conference in Stockholm in June, 2011,


with a post-conference trip to St. Peterburg.

I know that you will be impressed with the textiles in Stockholm and, certainly in St. Petersburg which has some of the greatest, including the Pazaryk carpet.

Read your books and you’ll be ready to jump in.


Wendel answered questions, then moved to the material that he and some participants had brought in.

To see a virtual version of this second part of this Rugs 101 RTAM, you need to go to this link:

or return to the entrance page and press the second item in the right hand listing.

I want to thank Wendel for both permitting and working actively with me to produce this virtual version of his interesting “cut” into “Rugs and Textiles 101.”


R. John Howe

Wendel Swan, Rugs 101: The Pieces Brought In

Posted in Swan, Wendel on August 27, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

This is the second part of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program that Wendel Swan gave at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2009.  This program is best experienced by first looking at Wendel’s lecture at the following link:

You can also use this same link at the top of this page.

Wendel had brought some material to illustrate some aspects of his topic, but said that he had not selected what to bring in a systematic way, but had picked related rugs and textiles that had not been shown recently.  Members of the audience also brought in some material.

Wendel began with a filikli from the Karapinar area of Anatolia.


This shaggy piece is of ivory angora wool.  It is decorated with large cruciform medallion.  It is very coarse, having only one knot per square inch.


A look at the tan back of this piece shows how widely spaced the rows of long pile knots are.

Wendel quite likes the strong graphic impact and the archaic character of this traditional Anatolian sleeping rug,


but acknowledges that his wife longs for the day when it leaves their collection.

This illustrates an aspect of collecting not treated in Wendel’s collection: one’s “significant other(s)” may not always share one’s enthusiasm for a given piece.  Ownership of a piece like this can require considerable tact and a lot of perserverance.

Wendel’s next piece had a niche design.


Considered generally, this piece is an instance of Anatolian designs sourced in architecture, geometrics and flower forms.

Its field


is similar to many employed on “prayer” designs from Ladik and its striped main border


is of a sort seen by some to be associated with Bergama.

But Wendel said, that this piece illustrates the importance of looking INTO a rug, not just AT it, since its structure suggests that it was woven in the Konya region.


It has wonderfully full pile, with beveled effects in some areas, due to corrosively mordanted natural dyes, and is dated.

Wendel’s third piece is spare and mysterious.


A precisely drawn set of borders surround a lightly abrashed field that Wendel reported is actual camel hair.

Six quadrapeds are arrayed vertically along both side edges of the field.



One mysterious aspect of this piece is that despite the demonstrations of the weaver’s ability to draw designs precisely, there is a faint, almost ghostly, and awkwardly drawn niche form placed in the top of the field.


This rug was once used in one of Wendel’s “mystery rug” programs at an ACOR.  It is still not entirely clear where it was woven.  The best current guess is NW Persia.

The next piece was this “Ersari” compartmented design.


Here is a close look at the instrumentation of  the designs in these compartments.


The design elements in the compartments could, arguably be simply geometric or perhaps an abstracted flower form with a top blossom and two leaves on the lower sides.

In any event, this is another example suggesting the advantages of examining a piece you are considering, closely.  At first glance this piece may seem a clear fragment and there are parts of its edges missing.  But a closer look at all of its edges


reveals that it is largely complete.  So close examination can produce surprising favorable results as well as the discovery of potential or actual problems.

Wendel’s next piece was the one immediately below.


This is a rare piece: a pile rug attributed to the Shahsavan.  One indicator of this attribution (the notion of Shahsavan pile weaving is questoned by some) is that it has “sinuous warps” (a feature Marla Mallett describes as “lack of weft ease”).

The tan areas in this rug contain some actual camel hair.


There is only one guard border on the outside edge of the field,


a red-blue reciprocal.


The stripes of the field have their own internal decorative devices.


Decorated stripes of this sort are also seen in some Caucasian rugs from the Genje area.

The next piece is one half of a complete khorjin.


This is a Shahsavan sumak piece, very finely woven, with precise drawing and brilliant colors.  Its field design features a bold cruciform medallion.  The back is striped blue and black.

There are a number of Shahsavan khorjins with this design and one of the thing that collectors attempt is to acquire pieces seen to be the “best of type” (there is also a little sneering in some quarters at this latter notion).  Nevertheless, this piece is thought by more than a few to be perhaps the best of this cruciform medallion design.

The next piece was another khorjin face.


It is another cruciform design but this time in pile.  It was attributed to the Kurds.

Wendel’s next piece was a panel from a  sumak cargo-bag-type mafrash.


This piece is attributed to the Hashtrud area.  The white areas are cotton.

Many mafrash panels (both sides and ends) have borders top and bottom but not at the sides.  And that is the case here.  Wendel is, in fact, partial to mafrash panels that have borders all round.  This may seem a minor difference, but it affects the aesthetics of such panels seen in isolation.  Th0se with borders on all sides have a “completeness” that those with borders only top and bottom lack.  The great colors and strong graphics of this piece likely compensate enough in this case to get it included in Wendel’s collection.

The next piece was also a mafrash panel with a stepped medallion.

Wendel8Pile mafrash panels are not rare, but are infrequent enough to draw real attention when a good one is encountered.  This one projects good colors, a simple, but graphically strong field and borders of a smaller scale that do not compete with it. It may have been woven by Kurds.

The next piece was this chanteh.


Wonderful color on a dark ground, effectively again framed by a smaller scale white-ground border.  Its small size is also an attraction.  This is a piece indicating that “charm” is not always in tension with “aesthetic quality.”

Wendel said that he is not always taken with Jaf Kurds but could not resist the one below when he encountered it.


A closer look at one corner.


The feature that, of course, drew Wendel’s attention is its green-ground elem decorated with Memling guls.


This elem is a feature worthy of note.  It is not just unusual, but works to raise the aesthetic quality of this piece considerably.


Wendel next showed two small khorjin faces.



Again he has been attracted to simplicity, good color and drawing, and an overall composition that balances field, field devices and border effectively.

The next piece was another mafrash side panel.


A little closer central detail.


Alternate warps on this piece are depressed, something some say permits a closer attribution.


Wendel used this piece my recent “Easy to Weave; Hard to Weave” RTAM as an example in which the drawing is not perfect (the latch-hooks do not always align).  He sees this piece as older.

The next piece was another khorjin face.


While the colors in this piece are milder, it is interesting because it is well drawn and its structure is reverse sumak with some warp depression.  It is a very tough fabric and would stand up in hard wear.

The next piece was the panel of zili brocade below.


A closer detail.


This piece has good color and drawing.

Zili, with its “cordoroy” appearance looks simple to weave but Marla Mallett points out it must have difficult aspects since with closer examination one can find mistakes in most examples.

Wendel next showed a complete khojin in zili brocade.


A closer look at the bridge of this piece is useful.


The closure loops here are sewn on and there are no slits.  This presses it attribution away from Persia and the Shahsavan.  It is, in fact, attributed to Karabagh.

Wendel’s next piece was also of zili brocade.  It was the complete khorjin set below.


Here is an unobstructed overall view.


A little closer look at the lower face.


Another of its colorful stepped bridge.


This time there are slits as well as loops, a Persian usage.

And here a comprehensive look at its back.


The stepped design in the bridge is in slit tapestry.

Wendel had one more complete khorjin set with basically the same Memling gul field designs as do the zili pieces above, but the faces of this set are unusual in that they are in pile.


There is no closure system, and not really room for one, because the area that would normally form the bridge is so narrow.

Here is a closer detail.


The white ground border frames the colorful field diamonds despite the evidence that the weaver had difficulty drawing the devices on it.

Here is a comprehensive look at its striped back.


Before we look at the next piece Wendel brought in, it might be good to see one I had brought myself.  It is an Anatalian storage bag of the sort referred to as a “ala cuval.”


The striped ends on the opposite sides of the image above would in use be sewn together making a hollow cloth cylinder and then sewn again at the bottom to create a storage bag.  The striped areas are plain weave, while the more richly decorated bands are done in brocade.

Here are two closer details of this brocaded area.



When in use the bands are vertical, as in the first image of this piece above, with the brocaded band in the most visible position.

Now here is the next piece that Wendel had brought.


This piece is mounted and was oriented in this way when Wendel bought it.  So it was not readily apparent what it might have been a part of.  Wendel once produced a sequence showing how he gradually inferred (mostly from measurements, but also from the striping) that his piece is likely one striped end section of a similar, albeit likely older, ala cuval like mine above.  Rather cleve, I thought.

Here is one end of my ala cuval side-by-side, although not to the same scale, with Wendel’s older similar fragment.


It seems to me that you can see a sign of conventionalization from Wendel’s piece to mine in the loss of the narrow stripes.  The colors in Wendel’s fragment also look older.

The next piece Wendel had brought in was this one.


This, many readers will recognize, is a fragment of a famous group of Anatolian pile rugs, the “yellow ground Konyas.”

A great many of these pieces have these large Memling guls and this narrow white-ground border.  But most of them are only two guls wide rather than the three featured in Wendel’s piece.

And Wendel feels that the placement of the guls on his fragment and their integration with the minor ornaments worked to produce a more satisfying “whole” than that projected by most other drawings of this general design.

The next to pieces brought in were Anatolian yastiks.  The first of these was this piece owned by Wendel.


Wendel said that a major reason why he collected this piece was that great amount of purple used in it.

Here is a closer detail.


Wendel said, that Bohmer, with this piece in his hands, estimated that all of the colors are natural, including the strong orange.

I had also brought a yastik and it was treated next.


This piece is of that group of yastiks that seem to have “little rug” designs.  I don’t see a close resemblance to anything in the Morehouse book but if pressed I’d guess it as more likely from eastern Anatolia.

Here are two closer details.



There is purple in both of these yastiks and someone from the audience asked what was the difference between “purple” and “aubergene.”

Wendel smiled, then was thoughtful and said


that these two terms are usually used to refer to the same color, that perhaps “aubergine” was more likely to be employed when one was attributing a more august character to the color.

He said, smiling more broadly now,


that the color on his yastik here was likely appropriately described as “aubergine,” but that that on my piece was probably just “purple.”    🙂

It’s always good to encounter an even-handed evaluation, especially in public.

The next piece shown was this flatweave.


Its bluish red suggests lots of cochineal dye.  Here are two closer details.


It is done in  weftless sumak, a technical some say was used only by the Kurds.


Although cochineal was used in western Anatolia too, its combination with weftless sumak strongly suggests that this piece was woven in eastern Anatolia.

I had brought an Anatolian grain bag and it was shown next.


Bands of brocade alternate with plain-weave stripes.  The side strapes are still attached to this one.  Its back is done stripes.


Here are two closer details of the front bands.



More of these Anatolian grain bags and al a cuvals are being seen now (Marla Mallett, in particular is showing some), but my own view is that they are still not being collected in the numbers that their beauty merits.

Someone had brought in an attractive Baluch bag face.


It features lively colors and good drawing.

Here are some closer details of it.


The “lightening” white-ground border frames very effectively.


The field is very well composed.


And the central medallion is both strong and yet well integrated into the rest of the field design.  It does not compete with or dominate the other field elements.

The next brought-in piece was an older Ferahan Saruk.


This piece was brittle and was handled very carefully as it was unrolled a placed on the display board.  It seems likely  that there is dry-rot in its cotton foundation.

Here are some closer details of this well-drawn piece.




The colors of this piece have also been affected adversely.  Nevertheless, Wendel estimated that it could well have been woven in the 19th century.

Wendel finished with two large pieces he had placed on the front board.


The first of these was this kilim from S.E. Anatolia.  It is woven in two piece that do not quite match in size.


There is a great deal of cochineal red in this kilim


And its brilliant whites are from cotton.


Despite the mismatch of its two halves it is very well-composed and drawn.

Wendel’s last piece in this session was another kilim, this time a Caucasian.


Woven in three pieces, it features and attractive “tile” design and is an example of design likely sourced in geometric or architectural sources.


The weave is brocade and it is attributed to Karabagh.


Again, colors are good, drawing is precise and the overall composition is excellent.

Wendel took a few final questions.


Rugs 101 came to an end, and folks moved to the front.





My thanks for Wendel for permitting me to produce a virtual version of his interesting RTAM program and for the considerable editorial assistance he provided after to get this post up.

I hope you have enjoyed Rugs 101.


R. John Howe

“Small Bags,” Part 1, and the Early Days of the TM’s RTAMs

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

On June 20, 2009, Harold Keshishian, assisted by his oldest son Kirk


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on “Small Bags from Persia, the Caucasus and Anatolia.”

In truth, Harold was substituting for a scheduled speaker who had to cancel last moment.  Harold’s collection is extensive enough, and his knowledge and experience is broad and deep enough, that he is one of those the TM can call on for an impromptu program without embarrassing results.

Harold’s conducting of this particular session was fortuitous in another important way.

It happened that the obituary of Anthony Landreau, a former Textile Museum director, appeared that week in The Washington Post.

Landreau was an important member of the TM, both as director and and earlier as a staff member.  He was a real force in what is, rightly, seen to be a very fecund period of the TM’s  history.  It was, for example, during Landreau’s tenure as TM Director that these Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning Programs were initiated.

So Harold took a little time at the beginning of his program (and made some arrangments beforehand) to shine a little historical light on Landreau and some of the results with which he was associated.

We passed out copies of  The Post’s obituary.  It is worth reading.






Harold had invited Russell Pickering


who was an active member of the central TM group in the late 60s and early 7os.

He asked Russell to speak a bit to this period, and Russ did.


I can’t quote Russ, but I will try to summarize, accurately, some key things he said about this period of TM activity.

One of the seminal events of Landreau’s years at the TM is remembered now primarily as his co-authoring with Russ of the rug world’s first serious treatment of flatwoven textiles.

It’s “beetle bag” cover is famous among ruggies.


Russ told me, in a subsequent conversation, that the idea for this title came from Alan Sawyer, who was then the TM Director (Landreau was still a curator).

This title has turned out to be an inspiration, since a number of other authors have adopted very similar ones over the years.  Ready examples include the Richard Wright, John Wertime book on Caucasian rugs and textiles.  Its title is “From Kars to Kuba.”  And more recently Jon Thompson’s catalog for the 75th annivesary exhibition by New York City  Hajji Baba Society (the oldest rug club in the U.S.) is entitled “Timbuktu to Tibet.”  So even Allan Sawyer’s title brainstorm has left its mark.

But this seminal catalog was only  part of the achievement.  It was for an exhibition, first staged at The Textile Museum, but picked up by the Smithsonian in a traveling version (Allan Sawyer’s work here may also not have been adequately recognized) that moved around the country.  Pickering reports that it traveled the U.S. for three years, with a final appearance at  The Asia House  in New York City.

The catalog was a huge publishing success.  The original edition of 1,000 hard cover copies and 3,000 in soft covers was followed by two additional reprints of 3,000 each.

As we said above, and as the obituary notes, the Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning programs were also initiated during Landreau’s tenure.  Harold seems the witness who was best positioned to observe the founding of the RTAM (Pickering reports that he still lived in NYC, although he was in Washington frequently).  Leonardo Contardo, who is also rumored to have been involved in the RTAM programs early, can remember only that he once “washed a rug” in an early one, a feat he said that was considered “brave” in those days.

Harold’s remembrance of the RTAM program’s origin is that it was an idea of Landreau’s that Harold was called upon, mostly, to implement.  Harold says that he and Dennis Dodds and Jerry Thompson and some others gave programs early on.  Whatever, it was a very sound move and its very persistence provides evidence that it has been valued over the years.

Harold’s mention of Dennis sent me to him.  Here’s what Dennis said about his “early days” participating in RTAM programs.

(Ed. Beginning of Dennis’ comments.)

“…My earliest recollection of the TM rug mornings is aided by my collection of daybooks that I have kept as a sort of diary since around 1968.

“On Saturday, April 10, 1976, I record what appears to be my first presentation.  ‘10:3o Rugs of Southern Turkey t.M. lecture.’ I had returned a few months earlier from a trip to Konya and south Anatolia and no doubt used some of my purchases in my presentation.  In my daybook, I also wrote, ‘9:00 select examples.’ This is likely a reference to picking some pieces from the TM collection to augment my talk.”

“This was after Tony had left as Director, but these regular morning sessions have been a continuing source of information and appreciation that needs to be retained and revitalized.  I have probably done a dozen or so over the years, at least, and approach each as a sort of pilgrimage to the TM where I have learned so much and met so many wonderful people who have made such a difference in my life.”

(Ed.: End of Dennis’ comments)

There was a time, during Virginia Delfico’s tenure as the Education Director, when the default objective was that  there would be a free RTAM program on most Saturday mornings.  And she was often successful.

I once put the data on TM RTAM programs for 10 years into an Excel spreadsheet and discovered that Virginia managed most months during her 11-year tenure to arrange  four RTAM programs and in some months she offered five.  It was rare to have only three.  Things have fallen off rather sharply in recent years, but there are still about two RTAM programs offered each month.

I exchanged emails about RTAM origins with Virginia and she wrote that when she was appointed as the TM’s first full-time director of education, “…RTAMs were sacred and it was one of my responsibilities to keep them going.  Jannes Gibson, another member of the Education Department, then, and I introduced textiles to the mix of Saturday programs…”

In my view, the Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning programs are one of the most effective community outreach efforts the TM makes, and can make, but it’s clear that these programs are no longer “sacred” in any sense at all.  To me, the de-emphasis of these valuable and interesting programs in recent years is both mistaken and unnecessary (it costs the TM little to arrange and to conduct them, since they are currently arranged for and conducted almost entirely on a volunteer basis).

A major obstacle to their enjoyment by a larger audience is that the Myers Room is the only room available in the TM that can accommodate such sessions at all, and there are only 65 chairs in it.  That is the reason I devote a little time to producing these virtual versions.  These programs are often too interesting, too good, too valuable to be enjoyed by only 65 people.

Anyway, three cheers for Tony Landreau, for Harold Keshishian, for Virginia Delfico, for Russell Pickering and Leonardo Contardo, and all those who have been involved in various ways in creating and perpetuating the RTAM programs.  Some of us joke a bit (but also not quite) that when a Saturday arrives and there isn’t one, we are hard-pressed to get our weekly “rug fix.”

Now to Harold’s “small bags” program.


Harold said that


he and Kirk had selected a number of small bags, from Persia, the Caucasus, and Anatolia, and that they were arrayed in layers on the front display board and that they would just work through them.

It turned out that some of the pieces they had selected moved beyond the bag format, but, smaller bags, mostly, it was.

They began with the piece below.


Harold described it as a Caucasian bag face, with a diagonal striped design popular in Caucasian rugs (ed. Bennett shows a Genje in his Plate 172).  Harold called attention to the “pinwheel-like” device that decorates the stripes.  Nooter shows some similarly shaped khorjin faces; see his plate 192.  Wertime references two similar pieces to the Qarabagh area.

A second piece was the one below.


This piece was published in black and white as Plate 46 in the “…Bosporus to Samarkand…” catalog.  Harold called it a “plan ahead” weaving, noting that it’s size was determined by that of the loom.  He said that it is a “fine, old” weaving and its wool is noticeably fine.

The next two pieces were treated together.


Harold said that these two pieces are reverse sumak and that both are fine, well-executed and older.

The next piece was an unusual one.


Harold said that it is rare to see this “zili S” (also sometimes “verneh”) in a bag face. ” But,” he said, “if you live long enough, you see everything.”  Harold also pointed to the good color in this piece and to the loop holes in the closure  system (often seen to be a “Persian” usage).  He said that this is another piece with excellent wool.

Harold didn’t say so in this session, but it appears to me that this piece was published as Plate 120 in Wertime’s Sumak Bags. Wertime attributes it to “Qarabagh.”

The next piece was attributed either to the southern Caucasus or to northwest Persia.


Harold said that the stylized “S” figures on pole devices are particularly resplendent on a white ground.   Another older, quality piece with fine wool.

Harold attributed his seventh piece, below, to the Shasavan.


He said that the wool in this piece is extremely fine and invited comparison with a complete khorjin set that is Plate 11 in John Wertime’s “Sumak Bags,” volume.

Harold’s next piece was the end-panel from a cargo-bag type “mafrash.”


He said that this piece is from a rare group identifiable by extremely long-beaked birds.



Harold pointed also to the presence of a rare shade of brown used as ground color in this piece.  He said that there are pieces with identical drawing and coloration in “Orient Stars” and Hali 159.

The next piece was another published in black and white in the “Bosporus to Samarkand” catalog as Plate 43.


Harold said that he estimated that this sumak piece was woven in the third quarter of the 19th century or before.  He said that he believes it to be the first use of “fantastic animals” in bags of this sort.

The next piece was this cargo bag-type mafrash side panel below.


This is a beautifully composed piece, with graphically strong latch hook medallions and outstanding colors.


He said that the wool is excellent and that cotton was used in at least some white areas.



Harold said only the need for a little finer weave bars this piece, in his view, from a world-class ranking.

The next piece was the striking one below.


Like the first piece shown above this one has a Caucasian like instrumented diagonal striped field and an over-size border. Probably from Qarabagh as well.  Wertime says the two similar pieces in his field were made and signed by Armenians.

Harold and Kirk now took us to a complete khorjin set that had been opened up at the sides of its compartments.


Here is an unobstructed view of its full length.


Here is a detail of one of its pile panels.


A closer corner of one.


And a close-up of one of the individual botehs in its field.


Harold said that this piece is above-average Afshar of the Kerman variety because of its delicate all over sophisticated drawing.  More interesting, is the fact that the panels are the same size as many textiles and rugs that are represented to collectors as being mafrash side panels, when when the elogated shape of this bag is the same size as that of many khojins.  This brings light to the fact that collectors should be cautious of assuming a particular format.

The next piece was the Baluch khorjin face below.


It was followed by another Baluch with a “tree of life” field design.  This balisht is one of the finest of its type.  The wool quality and weave are as good as one in Baluch weaving.  The two end panels are a mixed flatweave entirely of silk.


The following piece was still another Baluch with an attractive “stars” design.


Harold said that this piece is the oldest, finer Baluch he has seen. The use of white is especially effective in this piece.

The next piece was a Turkman khorjin.


It has good color and is well composed and drawn.

Until recently, such a piece would have been described as “Ersari,” but now a “Middle Amu Dyra” designation would be more likely.  The khorjin is a relatively rare Turkmen format.

Here are some closer details of this attractive piece.



The next piece shown was another Turkmen, this time a fragment of a large torba.


This handsome fragment is from either a nine-gul or a twelve-gul Tekke torba, both of which are less frequent than the six-gul variety.

Here is a closer look at its major gul.


Pinner once did an analysis of the internal instrumentation of Tekke torba guls (which interestingly are usually larger than Tekke chuval guls), but I don’t have ready access to it as I write, but in his comments on Tekke torbas in the Rickmers Collection, he seems to place this gul center as among those more frequently seen.

The surrounding instrumentation of it does appear to exhibit some pretty clear “animal head” devices, the sort of thing that goes away quickly as designs become conventionalized.

That drawing, the colors in this piece, and Pinners indication (again in his Rickmers discussion) that the Tekkes seem to have stopped weaving the torba format about 1850, suggest that it was woven earlier than that.

Harold said he picked this fragment out of a large trash pile and was given to him.

Next, Harold treated two sumak panels seemingly from the same cargo-bag type mafrash.


Here is a large detail of this side panel.


And a closer look at a vertical slice of it.


And here is the end panel by itself.


These two panels are similar enough to Plate 50 in Wertime’s Sumak Bags volume to be from the same complete mafrash.

Harold said that strangely, this particular design seems to come to the market with a super-white ground, for pieces of their apparent age.


The next piece was a single sumak mafrash side panel with an instrumented diagonal stripe design.


Here is a closer vertical slice of this panel.


Harold didn’t mention it, but this piece is very similar to Plate 102 in Wertime’s Sumak Bags.

The next two pieces are also from a cargo-type mafrash.  Harold owns three of the four pieces that comprised it.  He brought two of them to this session.


The end panel above, appears as Plate 1 in John Wertime’s Sumak Bags. Here is a closer, isolated look at it.


Wertime describes it as “…one of the oldest surviving examples of Baghdadi Shahsevan weaving…”  He estimates that these pieces were likely woven in either the second or third quarters of the 19th century.

Here is the related side panel.


And here is a detail of the center of this side panel.


Harold said that he collected the two end panels and one side panel of this piece over 40 years ago and that he will never forget the “horrible, filthy condition” they were when they came to him.

He said that there is some wear to the cotton and that you have to handle these pieces to appreciate the workmanship in them.

The next piece was a pile panel from a Bijar mafrash.


This piece measures 2 feet, 2 inches wide and 1 foot,  1 inch in height.  The field design is often called a “gul Farange” and is seen to exhibit French, or at least European, influence.  Harold said that this is an older weaving with great color and condition.

Harold has a second Bijar bag face with a “gul Farange” variant field.


It has a very effective dark ground field.

This piece measures 2 feet by 3 feet, has very fine wool, great colors, and “all over” drawing.  Here is a closer detail of it.


Harold had two more pile mafrash panels, with “lightening bolt” designs on a different plane than that on which their floral elements float.

Here is the first one.


The small scale border frames its field effectively.  Here are two closer details of this piece.



The second of these two “lightning bolt” pieces was the one below.


Harold said that the only other example of this design of which he knows was a piece in the Bernheimer collection sale.

The next piece was the Afshar grain/salt bag below.


Note that this is not an “over all” design, but one in which color usages create diagonals slanted to the right.  Harold said that in all modesty he thinks bag is outstanding.

Here is a closer detail that lets you examine its merits.


Next Harold treated a series of smaller bags among those he had brought.  He wanted to draw attention to the fact that they often had very good backs and so had them placed on the display board with the backs out.  I didn’t get an unobstructed shot of them all but you can see Harold’s idea in the image below.


Now I am going to start on the left side of this “backs to the front” array and work to the right.  I will show each back in turn and then their pile fronts (they all have pile fronts).

Here is the first back.


This is an older Qashqua’i bag back in which slit tapestry is used to create a “sawtooth” effect.  There is a narrow band of decoration at the top and what appears to be weft twining at the bottom.

The pile from of it looks like this


The next back was striped.


This is an old Shiraz area bag with good colors and very effective bands of alternating wide and narrow striping.

Here is its pile front.

The next bag was a little larger, at 11 inches by 18 inches, than most in this “backs to the front” series and had a plain red back.


Here is its pile front.


The next piece was the back of a very small tobacco bag in a miniature khorjin shape.


There was still tobacco in this bag when it was collected.  Note the leather edging to protect it during constant use.

Here, below, is the pile front of the back above.


The next piece was 10 inches by 10 inches with very long tassels hanging down.


Here, below, is the pile front of this piece.


The next small bag back was this graphic example.


Harold said that this back of a Shiraz area bag is an example of drawing so well composed and executed that it could carry itself as the primary decoration of this piece without the handsome pile face that it also has.

Here is that pile face, below

(Ed.: In fact, for me, the back is better than the front.)

The last example in this “backs to the front” series was a pair of small bags with relatively plain backs.  Here is the back of one of them.


Turned to the front these two bags become more impressive.

Here they are side by side pile to the front.


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


And here is a closer look at the one on the right above.


This pair of pieces has very fine wool and exhibit a strong red-orange.

Harold held up another small bag, this time a complete small khorjin set.


Here is a slightly closer unobstructed view.  This piece is slit tapestry and Harold thinks it was made for a child.  “Daddy has a saddle bag. I want one, too.”


This piece has a less attractive back.


The next piece shown was the Senneh saddle cover below.


Here are some closer details of this piece.



The red line from the end of the saddle void on either side of the rug adds a dramatic touch to the geometry of this handsome work of art.


The next piece was the one below.


This is a small, finely woven piece, but in the world of Senneh weaving it is ordinarly.

The next piece was the one below.  It is an older Senneh, 1850-1860.


Very soft handle (if you take it in your hand it has the feel of velour).

The next piece was another pile mafrash side panel, this time with three diamond forms floating on a version of the Herati pattern.  Also a Senneh.  It has a harder than normal Senneh handle.


Here are some closer details of this piece.



This is a piece that gets better as you get closer to it.

Harold and Kurt next treated two pieces with very similar designs.


The first of these was the famous one below.


Wertime attribute this piece to Garrus.  “this has been recognized as one of the masterpieces of sumak bag art.  This outstanding example of sumak art was acquired Mr. Keshishian, Sr. in Paris in 1922 and give to Harold on his 35th birthday.

Here are some details of this piece.



The larger piece with this boteh field was the one below.  Although very similar seeming it is a Senneh that Harold acquired out of a lady’s trunk about 1960.  It has harder than average handle for a Senneh weaving.  Harold things this firmness is in part due to the fact that it seems never to have been used.


Here is a closer detail of this piece as well.


You can see how similar the drawing of the botehs is.

Next, we turned to a salt bag.  It appears to be a Bakhtiari.


Nice crisp drawing on it flat woven front.  Notice the strip of pile at the bottom.

Here is the colorful back of this piece.


Harold called attention to the fact that the decoration of the neck of  the back of this bag is done from the “wrong” side.   So the side that faces outward is the “back” of the fabric, the side usually not intended to be seen.


The warps from the striped body of this back are continuous into the neck, so it is not clear why the weaver wove the neck area in this way.  Perhaps it is just a mistake, but it seems a rather obvious one to see early on and to have an opportunity to  correct.

Next, Harold had the Baluch salt bag pictured below.


This piece has dates woven into its field that indicate that it is not old, old.  But it is well composed, and borrows and renders some Turkman design devices effectively.  The inscriptions on this piece is in Armenian something Harold says is not as farfetched as it may seem.  There lots of Armenians in Central Asia.

The next two piece were pictorial.

The first of these features some nice rabbits.  Harold thinks this piece is likely a Lavar Kerman.


Among other things, Harold noted that the piece above was acquired in the same lot as the famous Persianate, boteh-field bag face above.

Here are some closer details of this “rabbit” piece.   First, a lower left corner.


Then the field of bunnies.


And a closer view of two of them and the surrounding foliage.


The second pictorial piece is a favorite of Harold’s.  It is the piece below with an image of a sitting cat.


Harold said that there are at least two things to notice about this cat.


First, it’s feet have been dipped in henna (some Persian women used henna, cosmetically, to enhance their beauty) something Harold said indicates that this was a “much loved” cat.

A second oddity is that the cat sports a “Kaiser Wilhelm” mustache.  This suggests that it was woven during a time when things German and especially Kaiser Wilhelm usages were fashionable in Iran.  In one session in which this piece was shown, someone said that a traveler to south Persia in those days noted that many men had “Kaiser Wilhelm-type” mustaches.

One more closer corner detail show the nicely drawn borders on this piece and the simple botehs scattered on its field.


The next piece was the old fragment below.  The Persian call this a ‘naqsh.”  It was usually part of a woman’s pantaloon.  It is likely 18th or 19th century.  It is embroidered with a “tent stitch”


Here are two closer looks at the instrumentation in its diagonals.



This is the end of Part 1 of this virtual treatment of Harold’s “small bags” rug morning.

Members of the audience had brought in a number of pieces and these are treated in Part 2.

To go on with Part 2, use the link that follows:

or return to the entry page using the link in the announcing email and click the second entry on the right.


R. John Howe

“Small Bags,” Part 2, Audience Pieces

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

This is the second part of a two-part virtual version of a Textile Museum “rug morning” program that Harold Keshishian conducted with the assistance of his son, Kirk, on June 20, 2009

If you have not seen Part 1, it is probably best to start with it.  You can go to it using the following link:

this same link is in red at the top of this page or you can return to the blog title page provided in the announcing email and select Part 1 there.

Harold had treated the pieces he had brought in, but there was still a lot of unexamined material in the room.


Harold’s substituting in this rug morning was apparently successfully announced on the TMs’ web site, because the congregants brought pieces and they were, mostly on topic.

The first “brought in” piece was the small bag face below.


A nice field of rectilinear devices well framed by a yellow-ground border.

The next piece was a complete single Shahsevan bag.


This pile design is one of the simplest and yet most sought after among  Shahsevan varieties.  As with most examples of this design, the colors are glorious.

And not just on the front.


The back of this piece, with its wider stripes punctuated by narrow ones with white highlights, is one of those that would send you searching for a way to display it “in the round,” so to speak, so that both sides of it could be appreciated at the same time.

The next piece was that in the image below.  It may be NW Persian.


This, I think, was its back (things sometimes moved past my camera pretty rapidly).


The following piece was the small bag below.  Everyone was taken by the intensity of the blue in this piece.  Shiraz area.


I am not certain, but think that the image below may be its back.


The next piece was a graphically strong salt bag.


A very effective use of white.  I don’t have an attribution for it in my notes.

Again, I am uncertain, but think that the image below shows Harold holding it with the back partly visible.


The next piece was the bag face below.  SW Persian.


The next was another SW Persian piece with its design seemingly woven sideways in relation to its warps (note the opening at the top of the image above).


I have turned the image above 45 degrees to the left to let you examine this directional design with its elements pointing upward.


The next piece was a complete khorjin set with a long connecting panel.


Here is a slightly closer look at the bottom face in this set. It seems to be Caucasian, maybe made by Armenians.


A simple, effective design.

The next piece was a Shahsevan wallet done in sumak.


This piece is my own. It is 5 inches wide and 8 inches tall. I like its colors and the ability of the weaver to create a pleasing design in a quite small space.

Its back is mostly plain.


The next piece is also one I brought.  It is an Anatolian “cuval” from the Bergama area.


I like its crisp drawing and strong graphics, likely enhanced by a narrow palette.  Like Anatolian grain bags and heybes, I think such “cuvals” are still surprisingly under-collected.

The next piece was also one I had brought in.


Because it is made of one continuous piece sewn up the sides, there has always been a suspicion that it is a “constructed” piece cut down from something larger.

Here is its back.


Its assembly seems to suggest to most who have examined it that it is not “constructed,” but in the mode in which it was originally made.

It has good colors, is woven in a quite coarse sumak and its drawing has an undisciplined character that has suggested to me that it might be Luri.

Harold looked at it


and said that he had not seen a Lori sumak this coarse and that he thought it might be Char Mahal.

A fourth piece I had brought was the small bag below.


This was used as a tobacco bag.  It is 6.25 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall.  It smells of tobacco and had a cigarette paper in it when I bought it.  It is a hard, tight piece of weaving.  It has strong colors and some might see them as from synthetic dyes, but they are stable: there seem no signs of transfer.

But, again, because it is made from a continuous piece of fabric the possibility exists that it is “constructed” from something larger.

I have seen one other piece like this and they are both put together in the same way: sewn very firmly up the sides, with what seems like a hard, thin piece of felt as an intervening layer.

Here are two views of its side, one outside


and one that shows the connection on the inside.


Harold examined this piece again, as we were finalizing this section, and says, looking inside it, he can see that the wefts “return,” that is they are not cut off.  This means that the current width of the piece was that at which it was woven.  So on that score, at least, it seems not to have been constructed.

But the other suspicious thing about this piece is its distinctive end finish.  I have seen something similar before on other Anatolian pieces.  Take another look at the top of this bag, and I’ll show you my comparator.

First, notice that there is a narrow change in design at the top outside edge of this piece that seems to function as a kind of top border.  This narrow design does not occur elsewhere on it.

More, when one looks at the back of the top edge, where it has been turned over, one finds plain-weave in a dull reddish shade, the sort of thing that one would expect if this was the actual as woven top.


What is most suspicious about this bag is the end finish that rises above the turned over top edge.

As you can see, “warps” seem to have been gathered and then wrapped tightly, but then two wrapped sets are tied together toward their upper ends. (The heavier cord looped through these joined sets to close the bag at the top seems something added later.)

Now here is the seemingly similar Anatolian usage I’ve seen.


This is a small Kilim from the Van area.  It is Plate 83 in Ziemba, Akatay and Schwartz’ Turkish Flatweaves. Here is a closer but not sharply focused look at this end finish.


This usage shows that warps that are gathered together in braids are sometimes joined in pairs as in the end finish of my bag.  The description says that the gathering is done by braiding not by wrapping.  But you can see that the general appearance is similar.

Now, earlier, as I was writing the above, I sent these images and my text to an experienced friend.  The comments I received indicate that:

1.  this fabric was likely woven in the Kagizman/Erzerum area of northeastern Anatolia.

2. this specific top end finish is not among those known to be used by any particular group of weavers (although the “gathered warps tied together at the ends” usage does occur, as in my Van kilim example above, the warps are gathered by braiding rather than wrapping).  This wrapping, especially, makes the end finish on my bag suspect as a possible contrived “tourist” flourish.

3.  it is not clear whether what is wrapped are the warps of this piece or whether it is a set of fibers floating horizontally inside the turned over top and brought up periodically and wrapped and cut.

4.  the distance between the wrapped column is noticeably great, again calling into question whether the what is wrapped is really the warps.

I could resolve this “are the wrapped cords really the warps?” question about this piece or are they something else floating along the turned over edge, but I’d have to take it apart to tell for sure.  (So far what I can see peeking under what can be lifted with needle nose pliers is inconclusive.)

As I write I think the chances are about 50-50 that this is a constructed piece with a contrived “tourist” top, the wrapped areas of which are probably not its gathered warps.

I am not as offended by this possibility as perhaps I should be.  My fall back position is that traditional weaving communities are enormously practical, that most formats had multiple purposes, that someone in a traditional weaving community who needed a tobacco bag would likely be unembarrassed if the one produced had been constructed from a convenient piece of something else, just wide enough, that happened to be about.  If the latter is the case for this bag, then it could be “constructed” without being an instance of “tourist kitsch.”  And the visible turning of the wefts reinforce this possibility for me.

The only features I can see that may undermine my fall back thesis are: 1) that the top edge finish is wrapped rather than braided; and 2) that it is not certain that the warps continue to make these wrapped protrusions.  It may be, as we noted above, that the fibers forming the wrapped protrusions float horizontally inside the turned over top edge and are brought out periodically and wrapped and cut.   Usages with a generally similar appearance do occur in eastern Anatolian kilims and it could be, even if the protrusions are not the warps, that a weaver, making a family member a tobacco bag, simply tried to emulate a usage that exists in her areas weaving vocabulary.

But also maybe not…

Oh, well…

The next piece was a very attractive salt bag.  Probably south Caucasus or NW Persian.


This slit tapestry piece has great color and graphics.

Here is its back.


The next piece was a another small, pile, bag face.  Again, likely Shiraz area.


I find this a very attractive piece.  The colors are rich and deep and the white ground border,  although a bit gauche, works to frame the piece well.  I only regret that I didn’t get all of what seems like a colorful back into my photo of it.

Next was a khorjin half.


Again, nicely composed and executed.   Notice the closure slit area treatment.  It appears to have a back, but I wasn’t able to photograph it.

The next piece was salt bag with an unusual, even a bit funky, design.  Possibly Bakhtiari.


If it is, it seems, oddly, to have a pile front and sumak at the turn on the bottom, the reverse of the more frequent Bakhtiari usage.

Here is what I think is its back.


The next piece was the small bag face below.  Maybe a Shahsevan sumak.


This is a piece that gets better as you get closer to it.  Here is a closer detail.


It’s not fine but very steadily drawn.

The next piece was the one below.  Could be Caucasian.


Another well-composed bag face with good colors and use of graphics.

The next piece was the one below.


Good use of lighter colors and scale.  The blue in the dark ground border gives it life.

The next piece was the complete khorjin set below.  Caucasian.  The drawing of the large medallions smacks of the Lori Pambak Kazak.   Signed in Armenian.


The long image above permits examination of the whole.  Notice its  connecting slit tapestry bridge and closure system, its funky drawing, its ground color changes, and animal forms.

Here is a closer look at its inscriptions.


The next piece was a balisht format bag.


It is well composed and drawn.  Here are some closer details of it.

First is a corner that lets you better see its border systems and selvedge treatments ends and sides.


And the image below shows its field devices.


There are some very bright colors in this piece, but notice also an unusual maroon or wine.

The next piece was an Anatolian bag with a kilim design.  It has mixed flatweave techiques.


Here are some closer looks at the devices at its center.



The next piece was the complete khorjin half below.  Possibly Afshar.


Again, carefully composed and executed.  Notice how the slight tendency toward the curvilinear in the white-ground main border works to counter and to relieve, somewhat, this design’s mostly rectilinear elements.

Here is a glimpse of its back.


It appears to be mostly red plain-weave with an occasional stripe.

Here are some closer details of its “face” side.

First, a upper left corner that lets you see its borders and closure system treatments above its pile field.


And below is an isolated view of one of its field devices.


The next piece was the flatwoven Balouch salt bag below.


Here is its back.


Notice the seeming purple shades.

The next piece was a sumak side panel from a cargo-bag type mafrash.


Here is a closer detail of a central vertical slice of this piece.


The penultimate piece of the day was this complete salt bag.


A simple design but with good graphics and color.
Here is a closer vertical slice from one side.


Harold noted that many salt bags have been cut down from larger pieces, but we can see that this one was woven directly in the salt bag format.

Harold had held back as his ending piece a complete khorjin set published, as Plate 104, in the “Bosporus to Samarkand” catalog in 1969.


Someone has taken good care of it.

Here are some closer details.




A very high quality piece.

Harold answered questions


and adjourned the session.


The migration to the front of the room began.

There were lots of things to look at more closely and to get your hands on.






My thanks to Harold, and to his son Kirk, for being willing to have me produce this virtual version of their nice program.  They, and Harold’s wife Melissa, also gave me lots of editorial assistance after as we passed materials back and forth via computer.

Russ Pickering provided lots of useful memory of the Landreau years, the “Bosporus to Samarkand” exhibition and catalog, and the origins of the RTAM programs.

Leonardo Contardo bought my wife and I brunch as he talked about his memories of Textile Museum doings in the early days.

Dennis Dodds, consulted and wrote me, helpfully, from his “day book” references.

Marla Mallett answered my emails helpfully.

One never knows what one will encounter when you begin asking “early days” questions.

At one recent “rug morning” there was an older lady whom I recognized as someone who had been coming to The Textile Museum for years.

“What was the first Textile Museum event you ever attended?” I asked.  “Oh,” she said, “I was first in this building at a rug event before it was a museum.  We were met at the door by a formally dressed, black butler who served us martinis.”

Now there’s a lady who has some real “early days” stories to tell and if I can identify her (lots of us at “rug mornings” are familiar strangers and have only faces for reference) I will talk to her more to see what she can remember.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of Harold’s nearly impromptu RTAM on “small bags.”

Good job, Harold.  Both during and after.


R. John Howe

FLASH!!! An Addendum

I do not permit direct comment to the posts in this blog, but sometimes someone will write me with a comment on the side that is too good not to share.

I received the following note and images from Alberto Boralevi, the Italian rug and textile dealer and scholar.

Dear R. John Howe,

I am regularly receiving your email messages and I want to thank you for them.  Your blog is very interesting and informative and it is a real pleasure for me to have the opportunity of following the talks and presentations at the Textile Museum.  Living in Italy, I would not have the possibility of attending these Rugs and Textiles Appreciation Mornings, but reading your blog and looking at your beautiful pictures is like being there!

The latest ‘Morning’ you have recently posted is particularly interesting for me.  It was devoted to Harold and Kirk Keshishian’s presentation of “small bags.”  I was really amazed by the number of different types presented and I think I have never seen before such a large and complete collection.

All the pieces were correctly attributed and very well discussed from the point of view of the weaving techniques, but I think I can add a little bit of information, at least, on one piece of yours that you have published in the second part: the small ‘tobacco’ bag with what you call a distinctive end finish.


I know quite well this kind of flatweaves, having been studying and collecting them for years.  I also published a small brochure/catalog of my collection (Grembiuli Dalmati – Dalmatian Aprons) that I will be pleased to send you.

You will be surprised to learn that your bag was not woven in North-Eastern Anatolia as suggested, but much closer to me in the hinterland of the Adriatic Coast of Dalmatia (formerly Yugoslavia and now Croatia).  It is in fact a small bag (locally called torbiza) woven as part of the traditional costume of Dalmatian peasants.

Boralevidalmatian bags

It might have been used for tobacco and cigarettes as you wrote, but not necessarily woven for this purpose.  The name “torbiza” is definitely not of Slavic origin, but Turkish, deriving from the better known Torba, meaning bag, as you know.  The kilim technique (mainly slit tapestery) and most of the patterns can be associated to the Turks as for many other flatweaves woven in this area that has been under the control of the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

My research was mainly addressed to the traditional kilim aprons of women costumes (called pregace)

Boralevicover dalmati

BoraleviApron 1

but I have been able to find also a couple of bags, one of which is very similar in shape to your once and with the same peculiar tassles, although it is larger than your one.

BoraleviTorba 2

I attach herewith some pictures for better explaining to you what I mean.  I apologize for the bad quality of them but, I am presently on vacation and I don’t have any better image stored in my laptop.  If you are interested I can send you better images when I will be back at work next week.

(Ed.: I have used most of the images Mr. Boralevi provided in the text above.  Here, below is one additional that he sent with this email message.  It is labeled “Boralevi apron wall.”)

BoraleviApron wall

Mr Boralevi ended his email by saying:  “I hope that you understand that I wrote you just to add some information I gathered and not to criticize your work that is really admirable.

With kindest regards,

Alberto Boralevi”

(Ed: This is the kind of response that suggests that the work required to produce this blog is well worth the effort.

My thanks to Mr. Boralevi for this very interesting further information and comment.)


R. John Howe