The “Tree of Life” Design, Part 2, The Pieces Brought In

Dear folks –

This is Part 2, The Pieces Brought in of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program that Christine Brown gave on November 21, 2009 here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on the “The Tree and the Tree of Life Design.”

Part 1 of this program was a lecture by Christine.  If you have not seen that, you can reach it using the link below:

Wendel Swan assisted Christine by facilitating Part 2.

The first piece was the square-ish fragmented one below.

The owner of this piece described it as a  Baluch or Timuri bread sofreh from northwest Afghanistan.  All wool and all natural dyes.  Lat 19th – early 20th century.  Although in bad condition, this rare bread sofreh is a wonderful example of a playful tree of life design, boldly and randomly placed on a camel-colored field.  This is a rare weaving, albeit worn, with powerful, simple graphics.

A couple of closer details.

A bright blue is more visible in these closer images.

The next piece was another sofreh, this time of the “dining” variety.

Columns of “tree-like” forms decorate the field.

The owner described it as a Baluch dining sofreh, from NE Iran or NW Afghanistan.  All wool and all natural dyes, except for traces of one fuschine.  Late 19 or early 20th century.  Double or triple tree of life design on a camel ground.  Sumak technique throughout the field, with nice end finishes and workmanship.

Again some closer details.

One more similar, but distinctive sofreh format piece, was the one below.

Its owner described it as Kurd-Baluch or or Baluch dining sofreh from NE Iran or NW Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Wool on wool with a possible synthetic pink.  Mid-20th century.

A large dining sofreh with Kurdish influence.  Can be called a mixed group weaving from the Baluch and/or Kurds, and could even have been made in a Peshawar refugee camp.

Sumak technique; distantly related to the second sofreh (above), but with less refinement and a heavier handle, which are typical of Kurdish weaving in NE Iran.

Some closer detail images.

Its range of color is wider than is suggested by the initial overall image.

The next piece was the band below.

This is a Shahsavan piece, sections of which have quite explicit “tree” devices with perching birds.

A closer detail.

Camel ground Baluch balischts, like the one below, are frequent, but can be graphically attractive.

Tree devices are frequent in such pieces.

Here is another.

I’m not clear why the Baluch seem so attracted to this tree design, but variations of it are very common  in Baluch balischt and rugs (especially those of niche design).

The next piece was also a Baluch balischt with a tree-like field.

The darker image makes the border hard to read.

The next piece was again Baluch with a “tree-motif” field design but this time a rug in a niche format.

A couple closer details.

We went on with another small Baluch rug with a tree-like field design.

This time an ivory ground provides more contrast and the scale of the “tree” elements is larger.

Yet another Baluch with a niche design and a tree-device field followed.

perhaps overall the darkest we have seen in this Baluch series.

The next piece was a large fragment, perhaps a little more than 3 feet X 5 feet and probably the oldest of all the examples shown in this program.

It has some field devices that are arguably tree-based.

This fragment is from a large rug.  Not only is one side border missing (preventing us from estimating its width accurately), its bottom border has been reattached, indicating that it was longer as well. Estimates in the room were that the original rug was at least 6 feet by 9 feet and perhaps longer.

Here is a closer look at a couple of the tree-like devices in its field.

Also seen as Baluch.

The next piece was a Bakhtiari rug, here folded to examine details.

It was most likely woven during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Here is the full view.

And some closer details.

If you have attended many RTAM programs in recent years, you will have seen, and not have forgotten, Wendel’s glorious Kerman meditation carpet below.

Unlike nearly all other tree of life rugs, the field design is asymmetrical.  The birds, fruits and flowers are exceptionally realistic.

A translation of the top central cartouche says “Work of ostad (master) Muhammed Ali” while the bottom central cartouche translates to “made to order of Nasrollah Kermani”.  Poetry in the cartouches around rest of border express love of and admiration for a woman.

Christine treated this piece in her lecture, but it is a piece always worth further looking at and into.

The quality and range of its colors are of a high order

and it has what I think are the most effective minor borders I have ever seen.

Under a niche, its field design, full of flowers, trees, animals and human figures, is asymmetrical,

and the inscriptions in the cartouches are exquisitely drawn.

The next piece was a small, opulent, Jozan mat, called a “pushti.”

A closer detail, below, makes the tree-like device in the center of its field more explicit.

The following piece was the large, Luri rug below with a “shrub” field and a dramatic meander border.

Up close, the field is seen to be composed of two columns of tree-like designs with abstracted leaves or blossoms on their branches.

The components and colors of the unusual meander border also become more visible in closer isolation.

The next piece was the Shirvan below.

It owner suggested that it might be questioned whether the central array in its field is a tree-image.

It might also be seen as a variety of the “Kuba eagle” design.

The next item shown was a fragment of a Turkmen horse headdress.  It is silk embroidery.

A noted Turkmen expert and his German friend who collect Turkmen embroidery described this design as a “tree with buds,” called attention to the generous amount of green employed in it, and said that they had not seen an instance of this design previously.

There is some question about the optimum orientation for viewing this piece.  The image above shows how it would look on the forehead of a horse when one is facing the horse while standing on the ground.

The orientation below is closer to what one would see looking over the horse’s head while on its back.

We have laughingly called this its “Christmas tree” orientation.

It is a nice example of a fragment that retains a holistic appearance.

The piece below is a mounted Anatolian fragment.

It’s central tree-like field device draws attention.

But a very similar device is used in its borders

and half-version in blue intrude in its field all around.

The next to last piece shown in this session was the Ladik niche design below.

This piece exhibits a nice red, a pale green and a strong lighter blue.  Its border is often seen on Bergama rugs.  It has a spare tree-like form in its field under the niche that has an archaic feel to me.

Wendel noted that Anatolian pieces with “tree” designs are not frequent and that it was a little remarkable that we had three in this session.  They were the two immediately above, and the tulu in Christine’s lecture.

The last piece in this session was not a textile, but rather a plan for making one.

This is a model and design for a needlepoint with an elaborate family tree design.

One does see needlepoints in antique stores that display some modest family pedigrees, but this one, completed, would be the most ambitious I have seen.

The session came to an end and the audience moved to the front.

I want to thank Christine Brown for researching, designing and presenting this interesting program, for agreeing to make it available in virtual form, and for important editing of the latter.

Thanks too to Wendel Swan for his facilitating of the “pieces brought in” part of this program, and for his editing of my description of the pieces brought.

Finally, thanks to Pat Reilly for another useful set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of what seems to me an interesting topic and session.


R. John Howe

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