“Potpourri”: by Michael Seidman and Wendel Swan

On February 20, 2010, Michael Seidman (right) and Wendel Swan (left)

conducted a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. entitled “Potpourri.”

Maryclaire Ramsey, The Textile Museum’s Chief Executive Officer, (the photo I took of her in the room did not turn out),

introduced them.

Since they are familiar figures on these pages and in the TM “rug morning” programs, I will not give the full-faced version of what Maryclaire said.

Michael is a molecular biologist, actively engaged in research.  He and his wife have collected seriously for a number of years.  Wendel is trained as an attorney, but has been engaged in various facets of real estate and is currently an M+A intermediary.  He is a figure in the international rug world and has collected with a visible passion since the late sixties.  He is currently very active in identifying, recruiting and mounting interesting, useful RTAM programs.

Both Michael and Wendel are Museum Trustees.

Now programs with the “Potpourri” title have been given at the TM for years.  The usual practice has been to press this term in the direction of “the speaker will  bring a variety of pieces and the audience is invited to do so, too — no holds barred.”

But the announcement for the version Michael and Wendel conducted said something about “what you always wanted to know,” which seemed to suggest that attendees should mostly bring textiles about which they had questions.

But in the session itself (while everything brought in was examined and commented on)

Michael and Wendel had themselves brought items that focused attention on some particular sets of similar textiles.

These two aspects of their treatment of “potpourri” made me go look the word up again, as we prepared this virtual version of their program.

One dictionary said that “potpourri” refers to “a combination of various incongruous elements.”  Another, perhaps somewhat more authoritative, said more leniently that “potpourri” denotes “an unusual and interesting mixture of things.”

The session that Michael and Wendel conducted was not devoted to “incongruous elements.”  It did seem to meet the “unusual and interesting mixture” test.

But one had the sense that they were a little dissatisfied with the possibility that the particular “potpourri” that might emerge from that label, uncued, could be a shade too unstructured for their taste, and to that end they had designed an improved version, not  dependent on complete serendipity.

Anyway, this program was more shaped and focused in some areas  than the RTAM “potpourri” programs I have attended in the past.

The program began by showing pieces that the audience brought in and the first was the piece below.


Michael said that this pile piece

is a multi-niche, “prayer” design woven in Turkey in about 1900.  He said that the pile and foundation seem to be of mercerized cotton, sometimes used to mimic silk.

It is too small to be used as a prayer rug with devotees kneeling side-by-side in its niches.

The piece has small images of the Haghia Sophia inside some of its end “lappet” devices.

The second piece moved sharply in a different direction.


It was woven in four sections on a narrow loom and then sewn together to produce this larger format.

There were guesses in the room that this piece might have been woven in north Africa, but its owner said that it was made by Pomaks, a group of Turks who speak Bulgarian (there is a Pomak minority in Bulgaria, too).

He said that such pieces have begun to appear in the market only recently and estimated that this one is about 70 years old.

There were questions from the audience about whether this piece is warp-faced as are many Persian jijims which seem similar.

The owner indicated that the weave is a kind of twill.

The third piece was this NW Persian cargo bag-type “mafrash.”


This piece was complete and assembled.

It is completely woven in varieties of kilim.

It exhibits some bright colors that suggest that it was woven in the first half of the 20th century.

The next piece was a single side panel from a similar mafrash bag.


This time the weave is sumak.

It was estimated to have been woven, probably by Shahsavan, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, although somewhat earlier dates are often given for similar pieces.  Wendel commented that it is one of the most common for mafrash side panels, but that it is quite fine and has excellent colors.

The next piece was a carrier bag.


The thinking in the room is that it was likely by the Char Mahal or perhaps by the Qashqai.  It was woven about 1960-70 and features a leather handle and trim.

Jenny Housego shows a very similar piece (leather handle and trim included) as Plate 107 in her “Tribal Rugs,” and gives a similar south Persian attribution.

The next piece was a contemporary Central Asian felt.


There was conversation in the room about the abortive-seeming bottom border and what this might indicate about intended use.

Here are two closer looks.

The colors are from synthetic dyes.

A seventh piece was potentially a puzzler.


Michael and Wendel said that this is not a contemporary piece and that it could be Caucasian.  It is done in a coarse sumak weave.

What can it be?  It has a shape and size similar to that of a Baluch “balisht” or a Kyrgyz “chavadan,” but is clearly neither of these.  Did some other folks make similar bags?

Its  odd border treatment likely provides some hint of the format to which it belongs.

Here are some closer looks at various details of this piece.

Michael and Wendel indicated that this piece is one front chest tab that was part of a horsecover.

In his book “Oriental Carpets,” Jon Thompson provides an example of a similar horse cover in use.  Thompson’s example is Qashqai.

So to see this piece in its likely “in use” orientation, it needs to be turned to a position something like this.

This is how it would have appeared if it is the left front tab on such a horse cover.

Pieces like this can both puzzle and lead to strange attributions when they are encountered.

The next piece was another but smaller cargo-type mafrash side panel.


It features a parade of “animal-forms.”

It was attributed to NW Persia or the Caucasus.  The weave is sumac.

The next piece was the rug below.


The owner believes that this rug looks Caucasian (mainly because of the reciprocal trefoil border, the end finishes and the selvedges), but it is loosely woven and has cotton wefts.

Here are some closer details of it.

Notice darkish warps.

Michael and Wendel thought that it could be either a Persian tribal piece or a primitive Shirvan.  If it is from the Shirvan area, Wendel noted, the weaver was imitating a South Persian gabbeh.

The next piece was a Shirvan.


Wendel said that this piece is classically Shirvan in structure and design and is probably earlier than most Shirvans that we see.  It is prototypical Shirvan because of its

narrow stripes in the field

and a so-called “crab” border.

It is quite fine, even for a Shirvan, with 140 knots per square inch.  There may be some camel hair in it.

The next two pieces provided a seemingly unlikely comparison.

First, was an Afshar pile khorjin face with the distinctive “tulip” design.


Here are a couple of closer details.

This design is seen in very impressive rug versions.

The other piece in this unlikely “pair” was the one below.


This is a carriage cushion cover (called an agedyna) embroidered in southern Sweden about 1825.  It is part of Wendel’s collection of Swedish folk weavings.

Again, some closer details.

Wendel said that the similarities in color usage and design, including, the cruciform devices within a lattice, and the use of tulips, is remarkable.

The thirteenth piece was the one below.


It is a Baluch khorjin face.

The two devices in its field echo Turkmen turreted ‘Salor’ gul usages.

Here are two details of its border systems.

Michael and Wendel said that it has very nice wool.

The fourteenth piece was a Qashqai khorgin face.


Here are two closer details of it.

The colors of its borders give it an overall lighter look than many such Qashqai khorjins exhibit.

The next piece was the one below.


It is a Jaff Kurd bag.

Two closer looks.

The narrow checker board “elem” at the bottom provides interest.

Piece sixteen was also a small pile bag.


It’s owner thought that it had been woven by “Bulgarian” weavers. (Notice the unusual color change in the side borders.)

Michael and Wendel noted that it has a cotton foundation and estimated that is was woven about 1930.  They suggested that it could be Persian, perhaps Luri.

The next piece was the pile rug below.


This is a piece that some would guess might be a Saruk.

Michael and Wendel said that a closer look at its structure indicates that it is a Bijar (of a type usually referred to int the trade as a “Kurd Bijar”), using Saruk motifs.

It has some nice animals (deer?) at the “top” of its medallion.  I have flipped the image below so that you can see the animals right side up.

Animal even closer in the image below.

There is calligraphy at its other end, but I didn’t get it close-up.

The next piece was an unusual, “rare” is probably not too strong, Turkman rug.  This is one of Wendel’s pieces.  He is not a Turkmen collector, but this appealed to him because if was so unusual.  Wendel is reluctant to use the word “unique” but he hasn’t seen anything else like this.  Turkmen experts who have seen it say that it is clearly from before 1850 and might be 18th Century.


This is the sort of piece that we used to call “Ersari,” but about which “Middle Amu Dyra” is the current recommended description.

Despite a seeming fragmented character,

it is “complete” in the sense that its very narrow borders

are visible and intact in areas on all four sides.

There are traces of pile elem on both ends.

The next piece was held up by someone in the audience.


It was described in my notes as (ed: part of?) a bedspread.  It is crocheted.

A closer detail.

The next four pieces comprise  one of the small focused groupings I mentioned at the beginning.  This is a grouping Wendel assembled of pieces thought to contain some camel hair.

“Wool” is usually said to be composed of three distinctive fibers: wool, hair and kemp.

But I think Wendel’s reference here is to “camel wool.”  Camel wool, Eiland says, is “made up of extremely fine fibers, and it is distinguished from sheep’s wool mainly by a characteristic scale pattern and by the distribution of pigment granules.”  Both of these are visible only by microscope.

This makes Eiland suspicious of claims of “camel hair or wool” in rugs without microscopic test.

Nevertheless, there are many who believe that there are tactile and visual indicators of “camel’s wool” that often permit its detection without resorting to microscopic.  I think Wendel is likely one of these.

And there often seems something to it.  For example, it is often held that “camel’s wool” is detectably “softer” than sheep’s wool that may surround it (this despite it being known that the softness of sheep’s wool varies widely even that taken from a single sheep).  It is also held that “camel’s wool” will often have a “fuzzy” appearance in relation to surrounding sheep’s wool.

What follows is the kind of thing that can make a claim of non-microscopic identification of camel’s wool plausible.

A few years ago a Turkmen lady I met here in DC (she is a scholar and lives in Turkmenistan) gave me a contemporary plied strand of what seemed like wool.  She said that one of the strands, the tan one, was “camel’s wool.”  Here is that strand.

And here is a closer look at one end section of it.

This plied piece is compose of five differently colored strands.  There are black, white, orange, red and tan strands plied together.

I think you can see that in the braided areas there is visible fuzziness.  More the character of the braid used has the effect of placing the tan sections in a kind of line along the cord.  I have just looked at this braided strand with a magnifying glass and can testify that the fuzziness seems entirely to emerge from the tan strand areas alone.

I have also felt the individual strands at the ends of the plied cord where they can be felt individually and can testify that the tan strand IS very much softer than the other four.

Now I do and say all this, not to doubt the need for Eiland’s caution, but to show the plausibility of these two non-microscopic tests to some.

Wendel pointed out that there are that there are two kinds of camel hair.  One is the outer, coarse layer that is usually called guard hair and the second is the fine, soft undercoat.  The latter lacks the scales of sheep’s wool and therefor does not spin as tightly.  This accounts for the obvious fuzzy appearance that we sometimes see on the backs of rugs.  Camel wool most commonly comes from the Bactrian, or two-humped camel.  Camel hair can be sheared or it can be plucked or gathered from the ground during moulting season.

Anyway, I think it is such non-microscopic indicators that Wendel is relying on when he suggests that each of the following pieces likely have some “camel wool” in some areas.

Wendel brought in this minimalist prayer rug with a “ghostly” mihrab.  He indicated that it could be late 19th or early 20th Century, but fixing a date is very difficult because it is of an extremely rare, perhaps unique, design.


This piece is austere in the extreme, with a Persianate border surrounding a tan field.

There are six small animal forms (probably goats) along both sides of the field.

And the “ghostly” niche-like device at the top.

Wendel believes that the ground of the field of this piece contains camel hair.

A second piece has a similar coloration but is actually very different.


Experienced folks have suggested that this is a leg wrapping (a “puttee”) used to protect the leg and possibly to keep debris out of one’s shoes or boots.  Puttees were a frequent item of 19th century military dress and may have been picked up primarily from such usages although the format is so simple and the need so obvious that it seems likely it existed in traditional societies before European contact.

This piece is decorated with twining and sumak at particular points

and with pile bands on both ends

(these pile bands are woven like Turkmen mixed technique tent bands, that is symmetric knots tied on alternate raised warps; the pile design is very faint on the back).

Wendel has since found the pair of this piece

and believes that the tan ground areas of both of them are of camel’s wool.

The seeming presence of camel wool also unpins the attribution of these two puttees to East Anatolia, where it is known to have been used.

Wendel brought in this third example – an unusual small, complete khorjin with what he believes may be a plain camel ground.

The colorful decoration is in sumak.  Notice the long connecting section and the absence of closure systems on the two bags.  Both of these features, as well as, what Wendel believes, is the presence of camel’s wool in the tan ground fabric, press this piece toward Eastern Persia and possibly to the Lurs.

One more piece thought to have some camel’s wool in it.

This is another piece that Wendel brought in.  He attributes it to the Shahsavan, based upon some the sinuous warps and what he fells is almost certainly camel hair used very sparingly.  The Shahsavan owned camels and used them for transport.  They were the most valuable of all the animals.

Wendel believes that some of the tan areas in it are likely camel’s wool.

The next piece examined was the one below.


It was felt that this piece might be Persian.

Here are some closer details of its field and border systems.

The next item of the morning was the coat below.


Here is a closer detail of what was called, in the room, its “piano-key” design.

In his book “Persian Flatweaves,” Parviz Tanavoli provides a photo of seven men wearing such coats.

The caption provides most of what we might want to know about such an item.  Wendel said that it is done in a fine and very tight slit tapestry that may even be water repellent.

Two kilims and a pile rug from Central Anatolia provided another area of seeming focus that Michael and Wendel had assembled.

The first of these was the kilim fragment below.


This piece is nearly a textbook example of the glorious use of color.  It is one of four known fragments from a larger whole kilim apparently divided between family members.

Here are two closer details of it.

The wonderfully clear, saturated colors of this piece are difficult to capture in photographs.  This piece is estimated as 18th century, conservatively ca 1800.

A second Central Anatolian kilim, below, was small, intact, and younger, with a dating  estimate of late 19th or early 20th century.  ca 1900.


The marked bluish-red in this piece is from “cochineal” and tempts one, perhaps, to think of the more eastern part of central Anatolia.

Here are some closer details.

The third piece in this central Anatolia grouping was this pile fragment below.


This is the top part of a long rug that may have had three large medallions.

Its design echo some kilim usages and

This piece has a good aubergine and a strong yellow that Wendel described as a “quercetin yellow,” which occurs in a variety of Anatolian plants.

Quercetin yellow, while readily available is not by itself very light fast.  Bohmer reports that its light fastness can be improved with alum or calcium salts mordants.  To be light fast, Wendel said that quercetin requires copper sulfate, which could have been introduced intentionally by the dyer or unintentionally by reason of imperfections in the tinning of copper pots.

Since this fragment is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century, an appropriate mordant has clearly been used and has made it possible for the strong yellow in this piece to retain its power.

The next piece was another kilim.


This piece was thought likely woven in southeast Turkey.

Here are some additional details of it.

One orange in this piece was suspected as a synthetic.

Piece number 30 in this Potpourri session was the one below.


Its owner, who had the earlier pieces that he thought were woven by Bulgarian-speaking Turks, thought that they may have woven this one too.

Here are closer details.

Notice that while this piece exhibits some suspicious colors it also has generous use of what appears to be a good aubergine.

Michael provided another area of focus, by presenting the following two embroideries.

The first of these was the Central Asian suzani panel below.


Again, the color is simply marvelous and the embroidery is of a very high quality.

Michael’s second embroidery example is much harder to convey with photographs.


He described it as Indian export embroidery,

made in a commercial workshop,

in about 1750,

for the English market.

He called particular attention to the fine needle work and the skillful way that close colors are used side-be-side, often without intervening outlining, to portray shading.

The next piece was a table block-printed table cloth.


This piece is also Indian with floral motif reminiscent of Mughal usages.

Another printed table cloth was also offered.


This circular piece was described as a “Tehran” table cloth.

Three pre-Columbian pieces comprised a final area of focus that Michael and Wendel had selected.

The first of these was a narrow band that Michael owns.


It has been mounted in a “back and fourth” mode for more accessible display and appreciation.

Here are some closer details.

This piece is estimate to have been woven in 500. A.D.

You can see its split tapestry structure clearly.

Wendel brought in two pre-Columbian pieces.

The first one you may have seen in my recent post, but it is unusual enough to examine again.  It is a narrow, “furred cord” from the Nazca culture in Peru and probably woven between 200 and 500 A.D.


This piece is made by tying a single row of knots (perhaps as long as 40 or 50 feet) on a pair of warps.  The colors are changed at intervals.  When the length estimated to be needed to make the furred cord desired the single row of pile is wound around a core.

The second pre-Columbian piece Wendel had brought was the one below.


This is a complete, intact headband decorated with typical iconography and is attributed to the Huari culture in Peru, circa 500 – 900 A.D.

It is decorated with god figures and birds.

Despite its age, it is in pristine condition.

Michael and Wendel took questions

and brought the session to an end.

The usual ensued.

One of the TM docents was wearing a striking sweater that she let me photograph.

She said that it is quite old.  Not all of the interesting textiles in the room are always on the board.

I want to thank Michael and Wendel for permitting me to construct this virtual version of their program and for some editorial assistance that involved.

Again, I owe Amy Rispin for a good set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed have enjoyed this version of “Potpourri.”


R. John Howe

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