Wendel Swan, Rugs 101: The Pieces Brought In

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

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