Archive for August, 2011

Collecting Eclectically, Part 1, the Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 by rjohn

On August 6, 2011, John Howe (that’s me)

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on the subject of Collecting Eclectically.

Tom Goehner, the TM’s Curator of Education,

introduced me, saying that:

 “John has been a rug and textile collector for over 20 years.   He has collected both with a focus and more recently more eclectically and, this morning, he will be sharing his experience using both of these strategies.

“During his work years, John was an instructional designer in private industry, government and academia.

 “He frequents these ‘rug and textile appreciation mornings,’ often with his camera, has presented several in the past, and is, generally, a champion of them. 

 “Since late 2007, he has published a blog, “Textiles and Text,” on which he produces virtual versions of selected RTAM sessions to an international internet audience of “ruggies.”  The sole purpose of this blog is to provide the larger audiences that John feels these sessions often deserve. 

 “A second blog, “Eccentric Wefts, is one on which John muses more generally about things in the world of rug and textile collecting that interest him.

 “John says that, among other things this morning, he will be violating the advice he gave to clients during his work years about the optimum length of a lecture.”

 So I began.


Here is the lecture, essentially, as I gave it: (the text will be first-person without quotation marks).

When I first began collecting, one frequent piece of advice given by experienced collectors was that it was best to choose a particular area of focus.  That this reduced the things one had to learn, and provided a more restricted and, thus, potentially, comprehensible, arena for comparison. 

 A focused collecting strategy is aimed at making one’s collecting universe simpler and, potentially, more intelligible.

 This seemed like good advice, and so I began


with a Central Asian (primarily, Turkmen, pile) focus,

And, then, after a few years, found myself interested in Anatolian things. 


In both of these areas I’ve assembled a little cache of material.


I’ve been collecting for over 20 years, now.  I retired, officially, in 2003, have not done any active consulting work since 2005, and my rug fund is not what it sometimes was during my work years.

These latter two factors and a certain (perhaps misplaced) confidence, nowadays, in my standards and choices (I still make purchases that I subsequently have to acknowledge are mistakes) have transformed me into what it is hard not to describe as an “eclectic” collector.   

The kind of eclectic collector I am, is, I think, not one who simply buys what “I like” (although this is a necessary component), but is, rather, also, shaped by my disagreement with some aspects of the conventional wisdom about what might be seen as “worthy” of collection, or by my assessment that particular virtues of a given piece overbalance its acknowledged faults.  I have become more reluctant to hold that any one fault is disqualifying in a piece that has other describable virtues.

In this program, I will talk about both focused and eclectic strategies of collecting, some interesting aspects of both approaches, and share with you the outcome of my practice of both of these strategies as reflected in selected pieces from my own collection. 

You need to be prepared to have some of your own personal collecting prejudices violated, if not challenged.  If you believe that the only legitimate criterion for collecting a weaving is its beauty, you have come to the wrong program, and are excused, if you wish, at this point without prejudice.   🙂

 First, let’s talk about a focused collecting strategy and my experiences with it in two distinct arenas.

 As I said, when I first decided I was a collector, I adopted a focused collecting strategy that centered on Turkmen pile pieces. 

 Now the harlequin days of Turkmen collecting were then in full force, if not a little past their peak in the 70s.

Ulrich Schurmann’s “Central Asian Rugs,” had been published in 1969, and Azadi’s catalog, “Turkoman Carpets,” followed it closely in 1970.

The TM exhibition with its seminal catalog “Turkmen,” was produced in 1980; Loges’ “Turkoman Tribal Rugs was published that same year.  There was a lot of information available about distinctions between Turkmen tribal pieces, but good Turkmen material was already expensive.

Still, I liked the basic character of Turkmen pile weaving, and I thought it might be possible to acquire some decent bags at prices I could afford.  So I set out deliberately during a trip to Seattle and Vancouver, to find a few of things. 

Now I was not yet really aware of the literature available, but had attended a few local rug club meetings and some TM “rug morning” sessions, so I didn’t feel entirely uninformed.

It might be good to preface what follows by spelling out what a focus on Turkmen pile pieces meant in practice then. 


 The literature had moved away from the market-center usage, “Bokhara,” to divide Turkmen pile material into attributions by tribe. 

Although, tribal designations and listings varied, a modal one included:








Salor weavings, and most of those attributed to the Saryk, were clearly beyond financial reach.  And I did not then (there was no Rugrabbit) see many Chodor or Arabatchi pieces (at least that I could recognize).  What this meant was that, in practice, one was looking at Yomut weavings (most frequent), quite a few Tekke items, and less frequently, things described as “Ersari.”

So, collecting Turkmen pieces then really meant, mostly, was learning  what good Yomut, Tekke and “Ersari” weavings were, and choosing some I could afford.  The decision to focus on Turkmen pile pieces, plus the comparative availability, to me, of the chief tribal types, simplified the tasks associated with finding and collecting relatively good examples.

Still as a new collector, unacquainted with the literature and not really able to recognize and to weight particular rug characteristics and qualities in my buying decisions, I mostly made mistakes.

I bought three pieces on this trip, two of which had clear problems a slightly more experienced person would have seen. 

I still own two of these Turkmen weavings.

 I still own the one of the two I should likely have passed up.

It is a finely woven, Tekke torba, about 1910.


 It is literally full of synthetic dyes (this is an inside view of its front panel).


I still own it partly for pedagogic reasons, also, because, for me, it has some redeeming features (its fine, technically sound, weave and an unusual “hexagonal” gul) , and last because I am not entirely offended (as I likely should be)


by its “nice coppery color,” which initially attracted me, and that may be mostly the result of a chemical washing.  🙂

 The other of these initial Turkmen purchases, you have seen already,


is maybe one of the better Turkmen pieces I have owned (pure luck, I think). 

It is unusual in the sense that it closely resembles some Tekke pieces (look at Pl. 30 in the Mackie-Thompson catalog), including the use of an asymmetric open right knot.  George O’Bannon once told me, holding this piece, that the Tekkes do not use this main border and I’ve never seen it on a piece claimed to be Tekke.

 It, ultimately, turned out that it was possible, even within the bounds of my limited budget, to obtain what I think are some interesting and worthy Turkmen pieces.

 Here are a few of them.


This piece has a compartmented design, with a flower form in each compartment. 

It is in fair condition except for a stain in one area that the best professional in the U.S. could not remove.

 This compartmented design is found on “Beshiri” rugs, but Elena Tsarevea, with it in her hands, said that she has not seen “anything like it” on a bag.  So, while I like this piece on aesthetic grounds, another of its potential virtues is that it may be quite rare.

 The next piece is a Yomut main carpet with a “tauk naska” gul.


 I bought this rug on eBay. 

 The detailed articulation of the drawing of the “combs” on heads of tauk naska devices


suggested that it was older and the colors looked OK on my monitor. 

I bought this rug at what turned out to be a bargain price, but I still paid more for it than I have for any other piece in my collection, and I “sweated blood” until it came in the mail and I saw that its dyes all seemed to be natural.

Another Turkman piece was really found by my wife Jo Ann. 

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again.  We were in a Pennsylvania shop the sign for which announced that they dealt in “oriental rugs and cement lawn ornaments.”

I asked the dealer whether he had any Turkmen pieces and he said not, but Jo Ann, who had begun to look through his stacks, motioned me over and here was a fragmented Turkmen chuval with classic “Kizil Ayak” drawing.

 We bought it for almost nothing, but then later put quite a bit into a proper restoration job.  With it in his hands, Pinner said that it was “before 1850,”…”not fine enough to be an actual Kizil Ayak,” and was, therefore, likely “Ersari.”  More recently, Azadi with it in his hands, said that it is “Kizil Ayak,” despite its lower knot count. 

 One does not know what to say when the “gods” of the rug world flatly disagree.

It is one of the pieces in our collection that we value most.

The next piece, among my “Turkmen” examples, is, in fact “Central Asian” rather than “Turkman,” and is flat-woven rather than pile.


I bought this piece off the wall of a Florida collector’s home.

It is an Uzbek kilim, made n strips and sewn together to form a piece of the desired size.  (It’s shown here narrower than it is.)

I like its colors and strong graphics.  (Its colors are much brighter on the back than on the front, perhaps signaling that its dyes are synthetic.)

A fifth piece is an “Ersari” khorjin face.


The Turkmen seem not to have woven khorjins, frequently, and in that sense it may be unusual.

I bought this piece from a local dealer and had its lower right corner restored.

I like what seems initially to be its simple design, which when examined more closely, has some features that are more complex.

The next piece is not only a divergence,


it is perhaps my greatest bargain, since it may also be the most important piece I own.

This is a fragment of what was a very delicate Central Asian ikat garment.

Harold Keshishian ask me when he first saw it, how I knew that it was Central Asian, since he had a similar piece that had come from a lady missionary in Anatolia.  Some others have suggested that it is Syrian.  But the current expert consensus that it is Central Asian.

Elena Tsareva, with it in her hands on two widely separated occasions, has said that it is the oldest piece of Central Asian ikat she has ever seen, and that it has features that go back to the 17th century.   I see it, also, as evidence of my eclectic tendencies, since, while still Central Asian, it is a very different sort of textile from the pile weavings of the Turkman with which I started.

 So that’s the end of my summary of my career as a collector primarily focused on Turkman pile material. 

 Now to my experience as one with an Anatolian focus.

At the 1996 ICOC in Philadelphia, there was an exhibition on Anatolian yastiks and an associated catalog by Brian Morehouse.


 I found yastiks interesting, and they meet one of my collector requirements: they are small enough to display readily in our small apartment. 

So I began to look for them and they have been a major vehicle of my entry into the collection of Anatolian textiles.  I currently own at least 10 yastiks.  I will treat four in this lecture.


 I think this first yastik may be the best composed of those I own.

 It has mild colors, but these are enhanced by its composition and drawing.  A very balance looking sort of piece.  Probably Central Anatolia.


A second yastik is a younger version, but close in colors, to the dust jacket piece on the Morehouse yastiks catalog shown above.

It has two-leaf rather than four-leaf lappets, some conventionalization of opportunities to use cruciform devices within its “insect” border cartouches, and a number of filler devices in its field, all of which suggest that it is likely younger than the Morehouse cover piece.

I bought it at a NJ estate sale, primarily of artifacts, of a famous collie breeder.  I pursued it on the basis of it colors without recognizing its similarity to the Morehouse cover piece.

This next yastik is of a design type attributed to Kirsehir. 

In many of the other versions of it, the four devices coming out from the sides are feathery and curvilinear.  Here, these feathery elements have been abstracted and conventionalized.  For me this simplification makes this rendition of this design more attractive than the “older” one by increasing its graphic impact.

The red ground in this piece may be from a synthetic dye.

The last yastik, I want to show in this sequence, was woven in eastern Anatolian, perhaps in the Gaziantep area.

I bought it from a dealer in Germany after failing to top his bid for it on eBay.

This is one to handle.  It is not only finer than the others, the feel of the wool is quite distinctive: brushy.

As I was acquiring yastiks, I also bought Christopher Alexander’s book on his collection of Anatolian village rugs

and became very attracted to them despite their being another instance in which prices, even for fragments, can be very high.

During a trip to SF, I bought this large Anatolian village rug fragment.  About 5′ X 8′.


It is coarse, ragged, gauche in its drawing, and full of holes, but I liked its large impactful, central, double-niched medallion.  While I was working, it hung on one wall of my office and I got to look at it every day.

It was sold to me as from the Konya area, but Dennis Dodds and some others now, indicate it is likely from further west.

I bought another Anatolian piece without knowing what it was.


You saw it very early in this lecture.

I put it up for comment on Turkotek, and Jerry Silverman, from Chicago, said that it was the back of an Anatolian grain bag. 

More, he pointed me to the only book on this format,

thus increasing my knowledge and whetting my taste in a new direction.

 This simple piece is one of my real collection favorites.  I never tire of looking at its stripes and colors.

 In 2007, my wife, Jo Ann and I, drove western and central Turkey for a month and I added to my Anatolian material.

 One of the first pieces I bought was this complete Anatolian grain bag.





It was woven in the area north of Bergama, and exhibits both the striped back, that is characteristic of these bags (and that is useful in fixing attribution), and the more elaborately decorated front, done in brocade and sumac.

Anatolian flat weaves other than kilims were infrequent in the market (although there were some German collections) until after the 2007 ICOC in Istanbul, where they were high-lighted as part an exhibition and catalog on part of the Josephine Powell collection.  Now they appear quite frequently on venues like Rugrabbit.

I also found another village rug, this time a fragment from the yellow ground Konya group.


I found this piece in Anatalya.  Some experienced folks indicate that the wool in it is not dry as that from some in this group.

A lot of these yellow ground rugs were woven and some are attributed to the 18th century.  Although the drawing here is identical to that on some pieces estimated to have that age, I do not know how old this piece is.

Notice how frequently I chose pieces with “gul” devices and/or compartmented designs.

I have frequently come unto new textile types and formats by accident.  The next Anatolian piece is another of those.

I bought this piece one Sunday morning at the Georgetown flea market without any real notion of what it was.  I thought it might be Baluch or some odd variety of Central Asian pile bag face.

I put it up on the internet for discussion and Wendel Swan wrote, indicating that it was one face from an Anatolian “heybe” (that is, saddle bag set).  Wendel added that pile saddle bags were rare-ish in Anatolia, that most were flat woven.

Then, Ali Tuna wrote that a book had been published on the “heybe” format, and I ordered it,

and discovered that there were some glorious ones and that the Germans had seemingly scarfed most of them up.

So I was prepared when my wife and I traveled Turkey in 2007, to recognize this complete heybe set when I encountered it in Bergama.


Here is a detail of its striped back.


It is likely that the red in this piece is from synthetic dyes,

but, while bright, it is attractive, has not run, and the piece has some compensating features.

 First, it is a complete heybe set: both faces and its back, including the connecting panel, are intact. 

Second, it is bound in leather, a feature that occurs with some heybes, but which is unusual.  

Third, it has a very attractive back with purple, blue, black and yellow stripes.

It is a piece that many collectors would walk by without a glance, but which does not embarrass me at all.  I would not claim it as a world class example, but it is an honest and satisfying one for me.  The first Turkish dealer who saw it after I bought it was excited about the leather.  He said, “We can take the leather off and find out what the colors were when it came off the loom.”  I haven’t…yet.

 In the same Ottoman antique shop in which I bought the heybe, I came onto the most unusual Anatolian textile that I own.



It has some mild brocading along its length,

but its ends are heavily decorated in slit tapestry designs that resemble those of Manistir kilims.

The dealer suggested that it was a “sofreh” or eating cloth, but it seemed too narrow and too delicate for that. 

For a while, the most plausible suggestion was that it was likely worn as a sash,


into which the wearer tucked his purse, knife, smoking materials and equipment, and perhaps even a pistol (and it “works” that way, mechanically).

More recently it has been seen by some experienced folks as likely a communal napkin. 


We’ve found four complete ones in the Washington area and this later indication is  probably correct.  But we’re not entirely sure…

I would like very much to hear from others who have thoughts about this piece and the notion of “communal” or “harem” napkins.

 A few years ago, I found this Anatolian rug

in a Georgetown thrift shop on P St.

I bought it, sold it, advantageously, to a dealer friend, who did some restoration on it.  Then, I got looking at it, again, and bought it back from him at his cost.

It lacks some of the usual features Ladik rugs with niche designs tend to have, but the consensus is that is what it is.  It’s skeletal “tree” form seems archaic to me.  Its border is one Harold Keshishian often attributed to Bergama.

By now you’re wondering whether you’ve wandered into the wrong talk.  I’ve talked about two experiences working with more focused collecting strategies.  Where’s the eclectic collecting?

Well, you’ve seen some signs of it in the fact that I bought some non-Turkmen and non-pile material, when I claimed to be pretty sharply focused on pile weavings by the Yomut, Tekke and Ersari.  And I have collected a variety of Anatolian formats. 

But the real signs of how comprehensive my eclectic tendencies seem to be, and the results of having followed them, are elsewhere.

I think the roots of my eclecticism may be credited to my mother.  She was an expert seamstress, knitted and crocheted at a high level of skill, and dabbled in a number of minor crafts like basket weaving, hat making and making teddy bears

(this is what a $400 “designer” teddy bear looked like about 20 years ago)


My mother once taught a young girl to make teddy bears and at the last count I have, several years ago, that girl had made 2,000 bears.  (You need to careful who you share your enthusiasms with) 

So there were a variety of craft formats and materials around as I grew up.

A second source of my eclecticism may reside in my discovery at camp in 1948 that I had an aptitude for the plaiting of plastic gymp, then used to fashion such things as the necklace-like devices from which life guard whistles hung.  

This foreshadowed a subsequent period of more serious braiding and knotting when I was about 35.

 A third source of my eclectic tendencies may be attributed to my work for several years (high school and after) in a clothing store.  I learned what a good piece of cloth was.  Also how to recognize good tailoring.  My high school graduation suit was custom-tailored.  It had Worumbo flannel (in an un-flecked gun-metal gray) and hand built canvas inside its coat. 

I still own a tailored sport coat that I had made in 1954. 

 I drew sketches of shirts and jackets that I wanted and my mother made them for me (notably a shirt with a species of “boat” collar done in “sail cloth” with large horizontal black and white stripes).

For about five years in the 70s, I became very interested in decorative knotting.  “Macrame” is a very democratic craft, and you can get pretty good pretty quickly, if you like tying the next knot. 


Some of the things I tied verged onto nautical knotting and I am still attracted to contemporary instances of nautical knotting done with materials and methods close to those used on sailing ships in the 18th century. 


Lots of macramé is texture alone and gives the lie to the claim that the only thing that matters is color.  My inability to consider the presence of synthetic dyes disqualifying probably also originates here and in knitted/crocheted items


that exhibit a narrow palette, but are textured.

 Here, to summarize a little, are some factors that shape and drive my own eclectic approach to textile collecting:

 O       Budget:  I’ve already mentioned, prominently, that I collect on a quite limited budget.  I do not pay much for the pieces I acquire.  I will never be an “advanced” (read “spend serious money”) collector.  My small textile budget creates a real limit on the sort of material I can acquire, but, ironically, I bought perhaps the most important piece I own


for almost nothing.


O       Ability to display: My wife and I live in a one-bedroom apartment.  She is also a serious collector of collie artifacts. 

There is keen competition for display space. 


I don’t buy things that are too large for me to display (although I do buy more than I can display at any one time).

O       I buy fragments

Once again, this is often driven by a restricted budget, but also by some advantages fragments offer.  Dan Walker spoke to some of these advantages in his “Piece of a Puzzle” exhibition, a few years back, an exhibition entirely devoted to classic, Persian fragments from Khorasan.  An obvious one of these is that the structure of a piece is often exposed in a fragment in ways it is not in a complete piece.

O       I like striped, banded and. especially, compartmented designs

 (a malevolent psychologist might be able to make something of this). 


This piece is Indian, is cotton, and currently resides in Stockholm at a price I can’t afford.

O       I’m attracted to oddball pieces that seem to me to be intellectually interesting in some way.  This is probably a quite soft sense of “intellectual.”  I can only talk about it concretely using examples. 


This is a doll house quilt, only about 5”x7”.  It has a “cheater” face (that is, the entire face is printed, not appliqued as some versions would be), but the hand quilting is real and is seen by quilters to be old and good.  This humble little piece may have some real value among quilters.

Here is another.


 I only own one Tunisian piece, that I bought quite recently.  It is full of synthetic dyes, which have faded, and it has some condition problems, but it is in my collection because it was very inexpensive, and has compensatory features. 

First, its composition is accomplished.  It exhibits a specific, not simple plan that is executed completely and well.  

The drawing in it is good, including some of its small-scale details. 

It uses elements of different scales effectively. 

And it is a good example of a known type from southwest Tunisia, probably by Lybian weavers drawn into the area by mining work at the turn of the 20th century.

I own a few U.S. woven coverlets, mostly fragmented


but one complete.  The complete one is different from any other U.S. coverlet I’ve seen. 


Both the conservator, who sewed its center seam up again for me, and I see it as having a kind of Anatolian look without being that at all. 

It turns out that it is a known type. 

It is mostly likely from either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. 

It is made with a “birds-eye twill. 

Its vertical stripes are unusual.

I own one item of the Japanese textile category “boro,” which means “patched”. 


It is a rice bag, a format I did not know existed.  It was originally created from “patches” of blue and white cloth, but its patches have been patched in places where wear occurred. 

I find “boro” very attractive and wish I could afford some of the men’s coats of this sort I have seen in the market.

I own one Coptic textile. 


It is a “composed” piece.  That is, fragments from items of clothing have been assembled and sewn together to create a small rug-like arrangement.  It has a “main border” of very spacious and “readable” bird designs.  

It is estimated to be 5th-7th century A.D.  It is the oldest piece I own.

The fact that a piece has been “constructed” is usually seen to reduce its desirability as something to be  collected.   But I bought it because its composed form is that of a little rug. 

 It is a clear example of my choosing something, not in spite of its apparent faults, as I have done with the Tunisian piece, but because of them. 

Choosing something because of its faults is usually seen to indicate that further education in a person’s taste is needed. 

So be it.  I like it anyway because it has a rug-like character.

I own a child’s rain cape from southwest non-Han China. 


It is made from plant fibers and looks a bit like a small bearskin.  It is all texture to me.  My wife hates it and longs for the day when it leaves our apartment.

I own only one, sub-Saharan, African textile,


a Dida, tie-dyed, tube skirt from the Ivory Coast.  Finger woven from raffia fibers.  The Met recently bought one and took out a page in Hali to brag about it. 

I know nothing about the real merits of such pieces, but like mine better.

I own only one Scandinavian, textile, a “rolakan” wall hanging.  (A week after I wrote the previous sentence, Wendel Swan, who has been studying Scandinavian textiles seriously for a few years, says, he thinks the designs of this piece suggest a Norwegian rather than a Swedish origin.)


I own two split-ply camel girths from India.


I own one Navajo rug.


Probably Ganado or Crystal, about 1910.

I once owned a Pre-Columbian cocoa bag that an experienced Pre-Columbian collector expressed interest in and bought.


He is going to carbon-date it.

I own one pictorial rug.


It is from Firdows in northeast Iran and was likely woven by Persians rather than Baluch or Kurdish weavers. 

It is a “soap-opera” rug.  It’s pictorial field conveys one episode in the lives and relationship of two famous star-crossed lovers in Persian folklore.

I own another fragment of Central Asian ikat.


Another Georgetown flea market purchase.  We are attempting to determine an optimum color backing.  We started with yellow alone and have now added a outside framing of green.

I own several Caucasian pile pieces. 


This is my most recent Caucasian acquisition, a large fragment said likely to be Zakatalan, although no indicators of that in this piece have been given me.

I briefly owned an odd textile called a “clove-hitch doiley.”


This textile was made on a wooden frame, has no weaving in it whatever, yet has firmer knots than any you will find on any pile rug.

This sort of textile was made by groups as disparate as 18th century sailors and the Amish of southeastern Pennsylvania.

 I own a mixed technique horse cover from Siirt in eastern Anatolia.


This colorful horse cover is thought to have been woven by Turkmen weavers because its structure is identical to that of Turkmen mixed technique tent bands, which are thought to have been woven by specialists in that structure.

 I own a small Dalmatian bag (Croatia) that I bought blind at an Ohio antique coop.


The Italian rug scholar Alberto Boralevi wrote me out of the blue to say that he had studied such textiles for some time and that this bag was part of a woman’s ensemble that would also have included an apron.

My most recent Anatolian purchase is of this niche design rug fragment.


The color palette and range suggest that it was woven in southeastern Anatolia.  Despite its density of device, it exudes a peacefulness that I enjoy.

 I own what seems likely a small colorful, Luri bag, done in one continuous piece,


 but which seems not to be a “constructed” item.

 I own this fragment of a hooked rug,


that I rescued from an antique coop in Hagerstown and had mounted.

The only Shahsavan piece that I own, is this wallet,


with a well-composed small space design.

 I own this diminutive quilt


of the “yo-yo” variety. 

Notice the random use of color.

I own a quite long sofreh of the eating cloth or “bridal path” sort.


It was woven by Afshars or Kurds in northeast Iran.

I own two Afghan pile saddle covers.  Such pieces are not old, but are no longer made.


This one is more sedately colored and has an interesting “skeletal” character to its field design.

I own this sweater,


knitted from wool dyed about 20 years ago in a Michael Bischof natural dyeing project in Turkey.

I bought this piece via the internet out of an Lebanese flea market.


We have called it non-Turkmen Central Asia, maybe Uzbek, but recently some have suggested Anatolia.

Note:  Since publication my friend and Turkotek management colleague, Filiberto Boncompagni, who actually found the piece above, and arranged for me to purchase it long distance, has written from Cyprus to remind me that the flea from which this piece came was in Jordan.   The the flea market folks, he notes, were from Daghestan and were selling Central Asian not Anatolian material.  In fact, he did a little structural analysis on this fragment, when he had it in his hands, and the knot is asymmetric open left.  So, the Anatolian suggestion cannot be correct.

 This over-sized, mafrash end panel in a fine slit tapestry


is classic Shirvan.

I own this nicely colored and composed “pushti”


woven by Kordi weavers in northeast Iran.

I own this cuval face


by Anatolian weavers in the Bergama area.

I own this stately, but tired compartmented Kizil Ayak rug


of good age (note the narrow borders).

I own one “Penny” rug.

 It’s use of “pennies” and “tongues” suggest that it was made in Massachusetts.  It is seen to be older but it is not clear how old that is.

 I own two pieces that are products of the great World Wars of the 20th century.

 The first seems likely to be from the WWI era. 

It is a needle-point belt with a leather backing, probably made from a kit for a particular soldier.  It has bright colors and devices that could be initials and others that could be shields.  I have seen one with a clear Union Jack flag design in one of its segments.

Its leather back has written in ink on it the names of cities that were military bases in England. 

I’ve seen one other example.  It was better, but, I thought, too expensive, passed it up and have regretted that ever since.

The second WW-related item, is to me more impressive. 


It is a small quilt, the face of which is decorated with the shoulder patches of Seabees’s, a famous military unit in WWII that built bridges and roads and the like all over the world often under combat conditions.  Recruiters of Seabees were told to look for “smart troublemakers.”

A known Seabee veteran from Virginia made this quilt in 1949.  He bought lots of Seabee shoulder patches and placed them on his quilt face so that they are readable as “gul” forms. 


More, he quilted in minor elements

just where those would be in a Turkmen pile weaving.  I have joked that he actually outdid the Turkmen ladies likely without knowing of them at all, because while some of their rare rugs have “c” designs, his quilt has “c’s” and also “b’s”, the latter something the Turkmen ladies seem not to have thought of.

I think I’ll end here.  It seems to me that this piece, and a number of those that have preceded it, have demonstrated how advanced my eclectic tendencies are now.

I think focused collecting is still the best way to begin.  And it could be argued, the best way to continue.  I haven’t.  For some reason, the centrifugal forces that produce eclectic decisions have always been strong in me.

Eclectic collecting is dangerous,

but it is also fun. 

It’s joys are likely inseparable from its sorrows. 

Follow my tendency only if you are willing sometimes to experience “buyer remorse,” or even, occasionally, to shed a few tears.

One last thought about collecting eclectically. 

The material side of collecting IS important.  The frequent celebration of color, the admiration of the craftsmanship of good weaving, the tactile aspects reflected in handle, and the interest in textile structure, that is nearly obsessive with some of us, are all sourced in the material itself.

But I don’t know anyone who collects entirely in private.  One of the most frequent moves made, after one has acquired a piece, is to share it, or at least an image of it, with someone else.  This suggests that there is a social dimension that is often important to our collecting.  For some, it may be a primary source of collecting enjoyments.

If the social side of collecting is important to you, then eclectic collecting, with all its admitted dangers, may be something to consider.  For in not barring anything in advance, you will talk to people you might not otherwise talk to, see material you never dreamed of seeing, learn unexpected things about a variety of textiles that might not, otherwise, come your way, and you may become friends with interesting people who might remain strangers to someone visibly focused on a given area.

So collect eclectically…if you dare.

Let’s look at some of the pieces that are here in the fabric.  To do that follow this link:

R. John Howe





Collecting Eclectically, Part 2, the Pieces Brought In

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 by rjohn

This is the second part of a two-part Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program that John Howe (this is me writing) conducted on August 6, 2011.

The first part of this program was a lecture that you can reach using this link:

In this second part we examine the material that I and members of the audience had brought in.

We’ll start with the pieces I presented and treated.

I decided to organize these pieces under three headings;

o   Finds

o   Mistakes (we likely all make them, but nobody talks about them much)

o   Questions Could be Asked

“Finds” are just that:  pieces I’m glad I found.  I don’t claim they are “great,” but I am happy to own them and am not experiencing any detectable buyer’s remorse (even if you think I should in some cases).

I arrayed my “Finds” in three levels on the front-of-the-room board.  The first level included the four pieces below.

You saw and I treated all four of these pieces in my lecture.  Not much more to say about them here.

The piece above is my most published textile: four times now.  The first two without any description or attribution.  Just someone from a rug publication with a camera, who liked it.

The first time I showed this hooked rug fragment to a very experienced collector, his eye was drawn to the fact that the striping, as it goes under and then comes up again, doesn’t always retrain it original colors.  That is true, but it is interesting that he saw that as a species of fault, and I experienced it as something that enriched the design for me because it drew me up and made me look again precisely because it violated conventional expectations.  It is a good example of a piece that can be experienced very differently by different people and of why that is sometimes the case.

Up a little closer on this early purchase, there is a nice, lighter blue employed.

I’ve rotated this yastik from its “in use” orientation on the board.

A second level of pieces I rated “finds” looked like this.

Again, all four of these pieces were treated in the lecture.

The rolakan has odd warps.  They may be hemp.  It’s estimated as 19th century and could have been made in Minnesota rather than Sweden (Wendel Swan has since noted that he thinks it may be Norwegian in design).  The tone and variation in its red could suggest that that is synthetic.  Good graphics.

Color selection, color changes, and width of stripe have been very skillfully used to my mind, to produce nearly magical effects from simplicity.

You can see some of the complexity in this simple design in the closer detail below.

Notice the “barber pole” striping in the bands that divide the diamond forms internally.  Also notice the color changes and outlining used in the little squares that form the edges of the diamond forms.  Last, notice that outlining has been omitted in the eight-pointed stars in between the diamonds, making them stark.  Quite rich effects have been created using a restricted color palette.

I think Wendel said that the pile in this fragment IS S-spun and Z-plied, as that of at least some Zakatalans is.

The third level of my “Finds” category looked like this.  All but one of these pieces were treated in the lecture.

You can see, immediately, that my “Finds” category is not synonymous with “good weaving.”

This colorful Malatya half kilim fragment makes a hard left turn as it comes down, the sort of thing usually associated with there not being an equal and constant tension on the hand-spun wool warps in it.  It could never have been joined with another half because it curves away from its center.  It may have been relegated to use as a cover of some sort.  Still its designs are crisp and well-drawn, and its colors are good.  Despite its seeming disabling flaw, I am glad I found it and am glad to have it.  I can enjoy it without claiming it to be what it is not.

This full-pile fragment of an “Ersari” chuval with a mina khani field, is richly embellished with silk.  I often wonder what the rest of it was like…and where it is.

The piece above is one front tab from a horse cover.  It puzzled folks, initially, because it is not cut, but complete as it came off the loom.  Attributions have varied widely, but the current consensus is that it was woven in NW Persia.  The goats suggest Kurds to some, while others think its overall designs suggest Bijar.  It is very well woven. 

Almost unbelievably, I found what seems almost certainly to be a fragment of the other front tab from this horse cover in a local rug shop a year ago (I don’t own this one).

Now, I’m wondering whether the back is also in the DC area somewhere.  🙂

Since Alberto Boralevi provided a Maldavian attribution for this small bag, several other items from such Croatian, “apron-bag” ensembles have appeared on 

The local man who owns the only other bag of this sort I have seen, was in the audience for this RTAM, and I was able to both tell him of this attribution and to invite him to borrow Boralevi’s nice little catalog on this group of textiles sometime.

I’ve owned this Yomut-groups mafrash for a long time.  It has good color, very soft wool, and an asymmetric knot open left, but no other “eagle group” indicators. 

Richard Isaacson told me that the German writer, Troost, has published some other non-eagle group, Yomut pile pieces with asymmetric open left knots. 

I have not seen the Troost book nor another similar example.

I’ve shown this Konya area “yellow ground” fragment with fair frequency.

This is a one-half-opened view of the complete coverlet from either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, with a “birds-eye twill” in stripes.

Next, I treated a board full of pieces that, even I, consider to be mistakes.

Let’s start the hooked rug with the squares, since you will be able to make the chief comparison I’ll be talking about, below, by looking at the image above.

Now in the world of hooked rugs (and comparing things in the context from which they come is the fairest) this one

is, arguably, an attractive example.  While it does not have Mondrian “shaking in his boots” of competition, it holds its own in the world of hooked table runners of which it is a member  (it looks better in an “on a table” orientation).

And its colors are, mostly, attractive to me, BUT, their palette is markedly different from what we see in naturally dyed pieces and so, it does not look good shown side-by-side with textiles dyed in this latter way (now look up at the “room” picture above).  So once I hung it up next to a wall full of naturally-dyed pieces, I could see that it would always look out of place.  And that’s the sense in which I now see it as a mistake. 

I have seven grandchildren and a remarkable number of them are interested in rugs and textiles.  With the swirl of college housing, they often have new decorating needs and I expect one of them will adopt this piece once they know it is available.

When I bought this yastik fragment, I thought that it seemed old and that it was unusual.  Both of these things have turned out not to be true.  Since then I have seen several similar complete yastiks on venues like Rugrabbit, some with similar colors.  Its condition does not justify its continued membership in my collection.

Not sure what to do.  Maybe a couple of strategically placed pillows (I like its center).

You’ll remember that this is the “first collecting purchase” item full of synthetics that you saw early in the lecture.  I’ll just turn it so you can see its weaving and unusually shaped guls a little better.  It needs all the help it can get.

It’s a clear mistake, but I haven’t yet decided to get rid of it.  Go figure.

The problem with this piece is similar to that of the hooked table runner above, but the context is different.  I bought this piece on impulse, a few years back, walking along a street in San Francisco.  It is an item of Tibetan animal “jewelry,” and likely hung on a lead pony’s neck with a dangling bell (see attachment location) to ward of evil.

Now if you’re going to collect Tibetan pieces, you probably can’t be entirely allergic to synthetic dyes.  But, over the years, it’s become clear to me that the synthetics in this piece are too extensive and jarringly bright for me.  It’s full pile and there is no sign of color transfer, and there’s a lot of white, but it’s clearly something for which I need to find another home.

At the moment it hangs on one side of our entrance door where you wouldn’t seen it coming in (and maybe not going out either).

The piece above is an instance of not remembering, when buying on the internet, that a piece can look better in its photo and it will “in the wool.”

The dealer did not attempt to deceive at all; I was just not alert about it.  It is a classic Bergama type, fragmented, but attractive to me until it came in the door.  Then I had buyer remorse and there’s nothing really I can do with it.  It’s likely too tired even for “pillows.”  It is the sort of piece that folks sometimes try to apologize for with the term “study piece,” but in this case it would be difficult to say what about it might be studied usefully.

I bought the little rug above off the floor of a bookstore in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  A bookstore that has for years also carried some rugs and rug books.

I thought its shape unusual and liked its pictorial character more than I like most rugs of that sort.  It was clearly not old and the dyes seemed likely synthetic (the red especially, popped out) but I did not know what it was.

It turns out that its a well-known Anatolian tourist rug made in the Kayseri area.  I still like its cuteness, but a granddaughter looking for something to put her feet on getting out of bed in the morning, is likely to claim it soon.

I think buying the rug above is one of the most serious mistakes I have made.  It had visible condition problems, but it looked old to me.  I like both the rendition of the mina khani field (naturalistic flowers, among other things) and its slightly rigid, but archaic-looking, elem design.

The dealer did say something about the back, but I was a bit eager and didn’t really either pick up on it or explore it.  When the piece arrived, it had a large area on the back where this rug had been glued to the floor. 

Oddly, it also had tape and rings sewn along one long side, indicating that someone else had seen something in it and had hung it on a wall for display.

Now there are things reputed to take glue off the back of an oriental rug.  Zipstrip is one of these.

It’s a paint remover and has to be used outside, but is reputed to take glue off a rug without damaging its dyes.  It does, apparently, also remove all of the lanolin as well.

It’s something I could try, but, living in a one-bedroom condo I haven’t…yet.  A definite alternative would be pillows, even if the glue were not removed (it’s only on one broad area of the back). 

I think this rug IS older and unusual, despite the relatively large number of borders.  The dealer, who is not afraid to speculate, said that the knots are markedly “thin” (that is, in width of the pile fibers).  He thinks it could be an Arabatchi variety made in the Amu Darya area (note the minor border, often seen to be nearly signature Ersari, but which may well have been used more widely).

For the moment, it sits in my “stack,” a reminder of my unalertness.

Just one more thought about this rug.  There is a great temptation to associate pieces one owns, unduly, with published material held to be of a high quality, BUT, as I have been writing this second part of this post, Elena Tsareva’s new book, Turkmen Carpets, on the Hoffmeister Collection arrived in the mail, and there in the Amu Darya section is this rug.

This Hoffmeister Collection rug has an asymmetric open left knot, and goat hair warps and selveges.  My “mistake” rug has this same knot, but not the goat hair selveges or warps.  The elem designs on both of this pieces seem close, (here is a detail of the ones on mine again)

but my piece has different and lots more borders.   Still, the Hoffmeister rug looks (at least to me) similar to mine.  At a minimum, receipt of Elena’s book suggests to me that my mistake may deserve a little closer look, perhaps even a real effort to remove the glue from its back.

My third category of pieces I had brought in was composed of those about which it seems to me “questions could be asked.” 

The usual question, of course, is why a given piece is in my collection, and whether it should continue to be. 

Here, you’ll see that I often go in different directions with my collecting decisions than do others, but I usually have reasons for my violations of a given convention.  Disagreement with my decisions in this section may be frequent.

This is another “flea-market” rug.  I bought it one Sunday morning in a fit of “I’m going to begin to do some serious repair- itis”. 

Well, I haven’t.  It’s not the first time, I have bought a piece thinking that this is a nice, coarse, Kazak, attractive enough that I would enjoy working on it.  I have from time to time done a little minor repiling, but I have not to date undertaken, in any sustained way, the more ambitious sort of repair work that this rug would require.  So why is it still in my collection?  I still have good intentions.  Maybe some day…

This, you can see, is a square of applique.  The sewing is good.  The graphics are excellent.  But it’s dirty and stained.  And I don’t know where it was made.

Someone visiting me, who had been to Egypt, said he thought it looked like things he had seen there.  In this session itself, someone said that it resembles Pennsylvania Dutch “hex” designs, and it does, except that the material is more silky to the touch.  I think the Amish ladies tend toward cotton and wool.

I am interested in suggestions about where this piece might have been made and by whom.

Note:  Marla Mallett has written since publication, saying that the Egyptian guess is a “pretty safe” one.

If I am going to have it cleaned, it needs to be done professionally, and I haven’t decided to invest in that yet.  But if I don’t, it’s hard to see why it should remain in my collection.

I’ll treat the next two together since you saw both of them in the lecture.

The WWI leather-backed needle point soldier’s belt needs work on its needle point to make it respectable.  I should do that.

I have no real plans for the heybe.  It might be advantageous to remove the leather (it’s dry and not that attractive-looking).  And there are things to learn about this piece, some of which would be revealed by that removal.  As I was discussing this piece in the session, I chanced to look down inside one of its pockets more deeply than I ever had before and noticed that one of the stripes is green.  And, as the excited Turkish dealer said, if we removed the leather, we would have a better sense of what the colors on this piece were when it came off the loom.

Note:  Marla Mallett has written on the piece above, as well, saying:

“The leather bound saddlebag that you said you found in Bergama is actually from the Fethiye area (in the southwest of Anatolia).   I’ve seen a lot of those over the years, and their origin has never been questioned.  I don’t think you should remove the leather to expose darker color underneath. ”

My thanks to Marla for both of her comments above.

I also have no real plans for the large Tunisan flat weave that you saw during the lecture.  I’ve made my arguments for it already.

Here I can show you in the closer image below, the detail and use of scale in both the large diamond forms and in the border.

The white area outside the red of the diamonds is comprised of bare white cotton warps (the corroded wool in that area has entirely dropped out). 

This is a piece that looks better at a little distance (no, no… I hear some…not that far).   But its faults do become more apparent and aesthetically troublesome as one gets closer.

The “Ersari” rug above is one of my favorites.  It’s about 4′ x 8′.  It’s stately and graphically attractive, and “jumps” off a wall.  It’s a published piece.

I think it maybe quite old (look at its narrow borders), but, there are questions about that. 

It has bright orange warps that show through in some of the white-ground pile areas in ways that make on suspect color transfer. 

More ominous, there are areas in the tan fabric on which it is mounted in which there IS actually red color transfer.

If natural dyes do not transfer, then this piece seems to have synthetic dyes in it and can’t be before 1850, something some of its other features might tempt us to estimate.

I don’t know what the truth of this matter is, but I still hang this rug on various walls of my apartment and am enjoying it regardless.

I bought this rug a number of years ago in the Virginia country-side.  It has a nice size: about 4′ x 6′.  It has a classic Kazak field design and an older “trefoil” type border.  It is dated

and so was woven in the early 20th century.  But its colors are dull, dull.

Schurmann’s Plate 10 in his Caucasian Rugs, shows what such a piece looks like with proper coloration.

I don’t bring my piece out much in rug circles, but am reluctant to part with it. 

I know what some of today’s restorers would do with it: re-pile it completely, turning it into a very attractive rug indeed, albeit no longer what it, authentically, is now.

Some members of the audience had brought in their own candidates for eclecticism and we turned to them now.

The first piece was a saddle rug.

Its owner described this piece as follows:

“It is a Syrian saddle cover. From Aleppo or Damascus (most probably Aleppo).

“Age is 2nd half 19th century, as best we can tell.  Construction is wool and cotton with gold metallic thread.

“Provenance from an Austrian dealer (2010), believe this was previously in a collection in Vienna.

“The condition is only fair, with both wear and some fading of the colors which are likely natural.. The fringe is original.

The colors in some of its designs are better see in this detail of its back.

Another brought in piece was the one below.  I don’t have the description given it, but it seems a variety of African weaving.

The next brought in piece was Indonesian.

A closer look at some of the animal design devices used.

The next rug was a more recent looking Baluch.

The next brought in piece was seemingly Anatolian.

Woven in a coarse brocade using undyed wool shades.

A closer look at a corner of it.

The next rug was an example of a Moroccan type that has recently emerged.

It is a species of “rag” rug, but one that is not flat-woven, as most rag rugs are.  Instead, a variety of rag materials are used to tie symmetric knots on warps.

Here is a closer look at this one.

This variety is called “boucherouite” and is woven from a wide variety of recycled textiles and fibers.  (One story is that many Moroccan weavers felt that the use of synthetic materials in weaving was illicit and that the emergence of the boucherouite rugs is an indication that this objection has been overcome in some areas.)

“Bourcherouite” rugs are wild and exuberant in materials, colors and designs (Google “Moroccan rag rug” and see) and have already earned their first article in Hali, issue 162.

The next rug was the one below.

I don’t have an “all edges” shot of it, but it is a kind of tapestry with seeming Far Eastern designs.

Here are some additional details of it.

It has a variety of designs woven into it (including swastikas) in a subtle brown.

Note:  Marvin Amstey has written about this piece since publication, saying:

“I can throw some light on one of the “brought-in” pieces: the tapestry with the “Eastern” appearance containing swastikas. The cranes represent red-headed Mongolian cranes and are, indeed, woven into the fabric. However, the other devices – or at least, most of them in a henna brown color are printed, not woven. There is some controversy about where these come from with the two most current theories being Mongolia or Kansu. One book has suggested they were made somewhere along the Yangtze river, but that seems too far south. The ground of the tapestry has a very coarse feel suggesting that the wool was either spun with some hair or plied with it.

“I have attached two that I own – both probably 19th c. There is one pictured in the catalog of rugs in the Metropolitan Museum, by Dimand and Mailey – figure 164 – much like the first attachment.

The second image has Foo dogs and Phoenix birds –

also with printed designs around the woven characters.

“Like the first attachment, I have a another very much like it; however, it has lost almost all of the printing and has several professional reweaves (hard to find) done by a Navaho rug repair person in California. The woven cranes – one central and smaller ones in each corner – are very attractive and vivid.

My thanks to Marvin for these illuminating comments and images.

There was another TM session following closely on this RTAM, so we adjourned and I shot that last few pieces in the lobby.

Its owner said that it seemed to him that the weaver had looked around the rug world widely and employed Anatolian, Persian, perhaps even Turkmen motifs in an ecumenical amalgam of design.

A closer look at a detail.

The last two pieces were Tibetan pile pieces, without borders.

The second one feature flowers.

I was not able to serve wine, and so the crowd gradually dispersed.

There were a lot of rugs to carry to the car.

I want to thank one of the “regulars” at these TM “rug mornings,”  who took pictures of the brought in pieces in the session with my camera, but whose name I cannot retrieve as I write, and to Wendel Swan, who took a number of shots with his own.

I had excellent setup and transition support from volunteers, Nancy Hirshbein and Pam Kopp.

I hope you have enjoyed this excursion into my particular world of eclectic collecting.


R. John Howe