Collecting Eclectically, Part 2, the Pieces Brought In

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

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