Collecting Eclectically, Part 1, the Lecture
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