Gordon Priest on Persian, Kurdish, and Caucasian Bags, Part 1
On January 26, 2013, Gordon W. Priest, Jr.
gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., on “Bags from Persia, Kurdistan, and the Caucasus.”
Gordon is a long-time collector from Baltimore. He is a corporate lawyer in real life. He is an active member of the local rug community, served as president of The Washington Textile Group, and has frequently presented “rug morning” programs here at the TM. Gordon is also a serious ranked doubles squash player (he told me, as he was setting up for this session, that he plays five days a week). That sounds serious to me.
Gordon began by saying that the bags he would be talking about were mostly of the “saddle-bag” type and size. “Khorjin” is the term most frequently used to describe this format. Anatolian saddlebags are termed “heybes.” He said that he would treat mostly Persian and Kurdish material, with only a couple of Caucasian examples.
He started with a complete khorjin set. This is a Qashqa’i weaving with a “potpourri” field design on its pile faces.
This is the front, with its two bag openings visible.
The two bag compartments are connected by a bridging piece. Here is a closer detail of the bridge area in the bag above. This bridge is narrower than is usual in Persian saddle bags, about four inches.
In the image above, you can see that the upper bag has slits and then brown and white striped loops below them. This is a Persian-style closure system. The loops are put through the slits, then linked through each other. In the image above, the top of the lower bag shows what seems a continuing brown and white striped horizontal line. This line is the loop and slit assembly put together. The loops engage one another (after being inserted through the slits) and have a finished effect like a primitive “zipper.”
Here is the full plain-woven back of this khorjin set.
And a closer detail.
The stripes on the bridge are also visible on the front side.
Gordon said that there might be a temptation, when one encounters a complete saddle bag, like this, to think that it might have been created using separate pieces, because the various parts of it have different weaves.
But, in fact, such bags are made in one continuous piece, woven on a single set of warps.
Gordon has created a visual aid to demonstrate how a khorjin set is woven in a continuous single piece.
This khorjin set was started at the bottom and one of the pile faces was woven first (red sheet) but with the design up-side down in relation to how it would look on the completed back (this latter to be explained later). Next, the weaver shifted to plain-weave and wove the back for the first bag (blue sheet). The weaver, then moved to another structure and wove the bridge (yellow). The back of the other bag is woven next (blue sheet), and its second pile front is done last (red sheet), this time the pile points down and the design is done right-side up.
Once woven, the piece is ready for assembly. The bottom red sheet is folded up and behind the blue sheet above it, and the top red sheet is folded down behind the blue sheet below it, and these four sections are made into bags by sewing up their sides.
Following the visual aid, one pile side of the completed bag looks like this.
Notice that, although the pile on this side of the completed bag set points up, the animal (in its design) is right-side up, because it was woven upside down in a pile-pointing-down orientation.
Here is the other side.
Here the pile points down AND the animal is right-side up.
Notice that the yellow connecting panel is at the top of both assembled images above. It is in the position the bridge would be in if the completed bag was carried over one’s shoulder or placed on an animal’s back, with the bags hanging down on both sides.
Here is how one pile side of this complete khorjin set would look when assembled and either carried on a shoulder or placed over the back of an animal.
So that’s lesson 101 on how a khorjin set is made in one continuous piece.
Gordon said that complete khorjin sets can still be found, but that most often bag “faces” are what you see in the market.
He said that khorjins and other bags were, for a long time, not valued. Bags might be thrown into a shipment of rugs for the dealer to use as a kind of teaser: complimentary customer “favors.” Flat-woven pieces were even less valued (collector interest in flat weaves was really only visible beginning in the late 1960s), and because shipment charges depended importantly on weight, the backs of such bags were often cut off and thrown away.
As a result, Gordon said, while he would show a few complete khorjin halves (one, continuous, front and back), most of the pieces he would show would be single pile fronts.
With this introduction, Gordon began to treat the pieces on the board.
Comment on GP1:
A Baluch bag, with the face and back intact. The other half of the pair is in my collection, but they are separated and, of course, the bridge panel is missing. Similar coloration, but the pile has had almost no wear, and the wool is even richer than the preceding piece. A Baluch such as this really needs to be viewed at poolside for maximum appreciation.
Here is its back.
Most Baluch pieces tend to have a similar, darker palette.
Here are some detail images of GP1.
A second Baluch piece was also a complete khorjin half.
Comment on GP2:
A Baluch (northeast Persia / northwest Afghanistan) khorjin half, consisting of a pile face (with closure panels) and corresponding flat-woven back, which has been un-stitched. A typically somber palate, but very lustrous wool.
Here are some details of GP2
The next piece, another Baluch, was smaller: closer to a “chanteh”, or vanity bag, in a leaf design.
Coment on GP3:
This piece has more tan and brown in it, but also a seeming purple that would attract collector eyes.
Here are some details of GP3.
A much better view, which may have been caught directly in the spot lamps. This again demonstrates how these Baluch weavings require a lot of light to strut their stuff.
Comment on GP3:
Interesting, abstracted “leaf-like” devices in its field.
Gordon said that the next piece has the look of a saddle rug, but is not one.
Comment on GP4: A khorjin face from the Qashqa’i, from southwest Persia, presented in a faux saddle-cover design. A typical palate from this tribe, with bricky red and deep indigo, complemented by white, orange, and blue-ish green elements.
The inner border features miniature boteh. Note the fugitive red dye in the corner of the white outer border.
Three-pronged floral devices in its field.
The next piece was also Qashqa’i. Not a rare design, but very well executed.
Comment on GP5:
This is an Afshar piece, from Kerman Province, in south central Persia. It was brilliantly composed by a veteran weaver of considerable technical skill and artistic flair. There are 3 aspects particularly worthy of note: The strikingly-hued floral blossoms and latch-hook motifs seem to float in the midnight-blue field; the white main border with the delicate meandering vine sharply frames the field and the central medallion; and the multiplicity of design and colors in the brocaded closure panels constitutes a distinct work of art within the overall production.
Here are some details of GP5.
The next piece was the one below.
Comment on GA6:
A bit of a puzzler; perhaps a Khamseh, from southwest Persia, but plenty of room for other opinions. The whirly-gigs appear to hover above the darkened sky of the field, and are reproduced in the closure panels. It has significant warp-depression, and thus a fairly stiff handle.
A close-up of the whirly-gigs, or pin-wheels:
With complementary application in the small spaces between the loop slits at the top:
Four borders surround the field.
A white-ground, striped and instrumented main border is flanked on both its sides by red-blue “checkerboard” minor borders. Outside that array is a narrow border in which, 2-1-2 ( “quicunx”) elements alternate with solid-colored squares, each with a contrasting center dot.
The next piece was an Afshar chanteh.
Its white-ground border also frames it effectively.
Here are some details of GP7.
The next piece was a smaller Afshar chanteh with very similar designs in its field.
This time, the border treatment is minimal.
But the dominant flower form in the field is nearly identical.
The next piece was also a Bakhtyari, from southwest Persia; typically, it is single-wefted.
Good color and more attractive asymmetry. Another nicely framing white- ground border. A very good green. Gordon was most captivated by the over-lapping waves, or flying bats, in the field. But Michael Seidman noted that this motif is referred to as “split-leaf”.
Here are some details of GP9.
I mentioned from the audience that there are some Tibetan flower form usages that resemble this field device.
The next piece was this one.
Comment on GP10:
This one has the same dimensions as the first bag face, but the field features a barnyard of stylized chickens (“morge”), a ubiquitous motif in Khamseh rugs and bags. It is, however, another Afshar; as Harold Keshishian would observe: “just look at the hubcaps; they say ‘Afshar’ ” (ivory warps, 2 thin orange wefts, a supple handle, and expertly-contrasted uses of midnight-blue, scarlet, cornflower-blue, and white. Another indicator is that Afshar saddle bags tend to have more width.
Next was a complete, probably Kurdish, half-khorjin, with an abstracted dragon motif in its field.
Comment on GP11:
It’s had little wear, and is surprisingly heavy; one is able to feel how sturdy and durable these utilitarian items were in their original condition.
Triangulated groups of squares in the corners of the field may be intended to represent lilies.
Here are some additional details of GP11.
Note the pile panel that continues to form the bottom of the bag (it continues up the other side to the red-blue barber pole border before moving into a flat-woven back). This is where the most kinetic contact with the flank of the pack animal would have occurred, and the plain flat weave in the upper 80% of the back would not have long sustained such wear.
Comment on GP12:
The next piece was possibly a small wagireh (sampler), or, like GP18, a practice piece by a young weaver. Weighing against the latter is the fact that all elements of the design appear to have been executed with fair precision. There are actually 4 distinct border designs within only 2 borders, per se, and the off-center placement of the bold medallion, as well as the serendipitous positioning of the other field designs, argues for a sampler. If this was its purpose, it certainly serves as a strong advertisement for the skills of this weaver, for the overall impact is one of significant primal power, of which her use of autumnal hues and a dense, rich highland Kurdish wool are significant elements.
Here some details of GP12.
Comment on GP13:
The next piece was an unstitched khorjin face, in reverse sumac, with pile elem (where the bag has maximum contact with the pack-animal), and plain-weave back, produced by the Shahsevan, in northwest Persia.
Not an electrifying specimen, but accomplished with great technical skill, such as the spacing of the field octagons and the resolution of the corners.
Note the fine mix of colors within each of the border stars, as well as from one star to another.
A broad palate in the field, as well.
The image below is of the bottom band of pile that continues, briefly, unto the back.
The back itself is striped tapestry with a few lines of two-color twining.
A handsome piece.
The last piece on the top level of the board was this one.
Another smaller square-ish bag face, attributed to “Kozak”, which seems to be largely synonymous with Bergama, in western Anatolia, and outside of our theme. Of course, it would thus be a “heybe”, rather than a khorjin. In any event, it has a rustic charm, and a successful use of earth-tones.
Here two details of GP14.
Gordon moved to the next level of the board.
Note: There is no piece GP15, nor is there a GP16.
Comment on GP17:
Kurdish bag face, with an overall repeat field of rectilinear floral forms. Contrast with the Khamseh piece displayed earlier (GP6). Here, the somewhat cramped and overly complex motifs, and the more mundane blue of the field, create none of the drama of the former.
Here are some detail images of GP17.
An unusual main border of blocky “Zs”.
Comment on GP18:
Here’s a curious item with an appealingly primitive simplicity. Best guess: Probably not a bag face, but a practice set by a young weaver just learning her craft. Things are a bit off-center, and the stepped polygons in the upper third get crushed; she runs out of beige yarn at the end and has to complete the top 7 or 8 rows of the border with the red wool used in the field. But the colors are complementary, and it possesses an uncanny visual power. Probably Kurdish, but one’s gut reaction is some sort of Kazak sampler.
Details of GP18.
Comment on GP19:
An odd Kurdish bag face with muted coloration, but a hauntingly archaic rusticity, to which the simplistic totemic figures in the field contribute significantly. Again, the unconventional horizontal orientation adds interest.
Details of GP19.
Comments on GP20: This is a side panel of a 3-dimensional bedding-bag, known as a mafrash. The blue-and-red horizontal plain-weave at the top is actually about one-third of what would have been the bottom of the container. This one is a Saj Bulaq Kurd. Deeply-saturated colors. Main border is seen in some Caucasian pieces.
Details of GP20.
A Karabagh bag face from the southwest Caucasus, with an accomplished use of color throughout. As with many khorjins, it frames a single representation of an infinitely repeated pattern, in this case, the Herati.
Cochineal dyes likely in central medallion
Detail images of GP21.
Comment on GP22:
As opposed to the many thousands of soumac khorjins woven by the Shahsevan, pile-faced bags are rare. This one features what we might call a “calamari” central medallion. The blocked rabbit ears in the main border are likewise unusual. It has a floppy handle and soft wool.
Detail images on GP22.
Gordon said that the next few pieces would be variations on a familiar latticed-diamonds design employed by the Jaf Kurds. Most likely woven in northern Iraq.
Comment on GP23:
This Jaff has quite striking colors, but it is generally darker in tone than the pieces immediately following, and could have been better appreciated in a bit more direct light. The simplicity of the single blossom border contributes to its impact, but its most compelling feature is its extremely lustrous pile: a tactile feast.
Detail images of GP23.
Comment on GP24: Fewer, and relatively larger, diamonds in the field of this one, with more vertical elongation. The lattice is outlined by white dots, rather than the black lines in the preceding piece. The border blossoms here are separated by vertical bars.
Detail images of GP24.
Comment on GP25:
Gordon’s favorite among the thousands of Jaff Kurd bag faces he’s seen. The broad Carolina blue lattice is highly unusual, and frames each diamond in a more dramatic fashion than the more conventional black, brown, and/or white-dotted outlining. The diamonds are comfortably spaced, and there’s a relaxed, flowing character to their relationship to each other that brings a kinetic quality to the piece. The stepped polygon border, while not unique, is not often seen, and has a skillful juxtaposition of mellow colors, such as the soft green and pumpkin. Even the shape is unusual, being considerably more horizonal than the typical square, or even vertical, Jaff format. Funky, but powerful.
Details of GP25.
A zoom-in on that soft palate and the Tar Heel lattice. Note that the elem, which belongs at the bottom in actual use as a complete bag set, appears here at the top, so that the piece can be displayed with optimum light effect (with the pile running downward). This tells us that, as with the Shahsevan “calamari” bag face (as well as, statistically, 50% of the single khorjin faces extant), this one was the first panel woven in the 5-panel set.
Comment on GP26:
This Jaff has more of a Williamsburg tonality, which even extends to the powder-blue border, which would more customarily have been white. As is frequently encountered in Jaff bags (including the last), there is a diamond at or near the center in white or, in this case, yellow.
Detail images of GP26.
Comment on GP27:
A Jaff Kurd khorjin face, from northwest Persia or northeast Iraq, in an extraordinarily large format. In poor condition, this is nevertheless the sort of acquisition one of limited resources and/or experience might well make for a study of color, design, and structure.
Detail images of GP27.
The main border consists of a highly abstracted, but classical, dragon-and-phoenix motif. The diamond lattice enclosing latch-hook devices is, of course, the universal field design of the Jaff tribe. The ample use of green and aubergine are particularly attractive here.
Gordon says this is his wife’s favorite piece. White dots, again, off-setting the lattice. A very bold, and somewhat unusual, border.
Details of GP28.
Notes: Apron a very plain colored tapestry weave. Lattice lines are dotted.
Gordon took us next to a more fulsome Kurdish bag face.
Here is an overall view of it.
Comment on GP29
This Kurdish double-panel large-format khorjin face has several noteworthy features: the reciprocal blue-on-red and vise-versa of the panels, the strong framing of the mustard border, and the elem in what appear much like Turkman motifs.
Details of GP29.
Comment on GP30:
Another Kurd in the same large size, but here the two medallions are twins, and are not paneled off. The navy-white-green-red transition from perimeter to inner field is also quite effective in drawing one’s eye into the piece.
Details of GP30.
A corner close-up accentuates the color and design dexterity.
The last of the pieces Gordon had brought was this one.
Comment on GP31:
Notes: A small Caucasian rug, not a bag face. Warps modestly depressed. Likely woven in the Seychour sub-set of Kuba, in the northeast Caucasus, where the meandering border of carnations is ubiquitous, and the sea-foam green seen here in the outer-border is amply employed.
Detail images on GP31.
Quite a bit of material had been brought in. To view that and the comments on it, click on the link below.