Rick Seyford on Nomadic and Traditional Weaving
On February 23, 2013, Rick Seyford
gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. , on Nomadic and Traditional Village Weaving.
Rick is a long-time collector who lives in Staunton, Virginia. He has taught theater at Mary Baldwin College and teaches film production at Virginia Governor’s Program. He has attended the TM “rug morning” programs for 30 years, but has not presented one previously.
He said to me after that he wanted to do “something different,” and he did. He mixed some excellent material with prints of famous paintings, some readings, and even a little banjo playing, to make some interesting and informative, analogous observations about nomadic and traditional village weaving.
He began by displaying and analyzing, briefly, a print of Da Vinci”s famous painting “The Last Supper.”
He drew attention to the devices Leonardo used to impose order on and to guide the ways that our eyes track as we look at this painting. He noted how the size and shape of the windows on the sides draw our attention toward the center of the painting. Rick said that the use of lighter-colored windows draws our eye deeply into the back center of the painting. Christ’s image then works to punctuate the end of this “aesthetic composition.” Rick said that the “rules” Da Vinci was following (creating?) here, dominated western art from the late 15th century until Modern Art appeared.
(He put the painting away, smiling, that he “had to get this back to Milan.”)
Rick contrasted the kind of art Da Vinci was doing with that by members of nomadic or traditional village members working in an entirely different media: textile weaving, and within a very different tradition.
He said that nomadic and traditional village weavers did not have access to a wide array of strategies for indicating, for example, depth in a given design. But they are not without tools of their own. A frequent one was reciprocal use of design devices. Rich employed a nomadic kilim to illustrate such reciprocity.
He drew attention to the latch hooks in this piece as an example of a nomadic strategy employing reciprocity to relative suggest depth. Some see the white latch hooks as more prominent (forward of the black ones). Others see the black latch hooks as more prominent, suggesting that they are closer than the white ones. Either way, such a use of reciprocity works to suggest depth and invites us into the kilim.
Here are some detail images of RS1.
Rick said that in our effects to attribute nomadic and traditional village textiles, we treat structure importantly. Structure, he said, doesn’t lie.
Structure can also be seen to affect design usages. For example, this kilim is woven in tapestry, most of it in slit tapestry. Slit tapestry works very well to define color changes clearly. But vertical color changes result in slits and it weakens the structure of the textile if such slits are too long. The result in the frequent use of diagonals in slit tapestry designs, something you can notice in this kilim.
Rick drew attention to the abrash in the largely plain red central field area, an indicator that dye lots were small, something characteristic of nomadic and weaving.
Another distinction is that the identity of the artist who created a particular painting, like “The Last Supper,” can often be determined. Nomadic and traditional tribal weaving is almost always anonymous.
Within the community in which it was woven, it might have been possible determine who wove a given piece, but that information is lost to us. Invariably, we have just the weaving itself.
Among nomads and village weavers the standards of the tradition are passed from parents to children (most frequently mother to daughter) without recourse to any written literature. The traditional standards and designs are mostly in the heads of the migrant or traditional village weavers (reference to design-color cartoons would be rare).
Rick moved to an Anatolian rug from Melez, with a niche design, to talk about how we analyze and attribute such anonymous weavings.
He said that the purple rosettes of “swelling buds,” in the main border of this rug, are a village version of one called “Kara Kecili.
“Kara Kecili, which is Turkish for “with black goats,” is also the name of an Anatolian tribe that was nomadic.
Rick said that fact that the main border system is not resolved (does not turn corners smoothly) is also an indicator that this is at least a traditional village rug. He said that the “butted” character of the main border is best seen in the upper corners of this rug.
You can see in the detail above that at one point the weaver simply stopped weaving the version of the main border that goes up the right side of this rug and began to weave a version of it oriented 90 degrees differently that moves the top. One kara kecili device is ended when only half finished. Butted borders are one sign that this rug was woven by traditional Anatolian village weavers.
Here are some additional detail images of RS2.
Rick produced a Bible
and read a passage from the book of Job, describing Job thusly: “His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousabnd camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.” Today we might refer to Job as a khan.
The passage also contains two sections that rehearse in almost the same words two conversations about Job between God and Satan.
Rick said that this is a poetic, literary device, called “incremental repetition” that repeats with only a little variation, something the nomadic and village weaver did, too. It is one kind of thing that made weaving “from the mind” more accessible.
Rick now moved to two Qashqa’i khorjins on the right side of the board. The first was a complete half opened up.
Rick said the devices used in these bags show how incremental repetition made weaving from memory somewhat easier. The stepped usage is a kind of repeat with slight variation.
The Memling gul is famously described as a two-dimensional device, easier to weave; again note that elements are repeated with slight variation.
Here is the second of these two Qashqa’i khorjin pieces.
The version of the “endless knot” used as a center device is composed of the same “quarter element, in four different orientations, but does not include any “over-under,” depth-suggesting aspects, as some Holbein devices do.
Examined closely, almost every design device is composed of slightly varied repeats that would be more accessible to memory.
Rick picked up his banjo to demonstrate how the kind of repetition used in Job and in the design devices above, is also present in the playing of a musical instrument.
He said that there is a specific way the hand and fingers have to be held and used in a particular strumming of a banjo. He said that it took he a couple of days to learn how to do it, but once he had mastered it, and had done it enough times, he no longer had to think about it: it was in his “muscle memory.”
Next, he played a short passage of music in five different banjo playing styles, after which Rick said that he doesn’t read music. Everything he knows about banjo playing is, like a nomadic and village weaver, is “in his head,” and that incremental repetition is a large part of what makes it possible for him to play and for them to weave.
This is also why weavers, sitting side-by-side, can weave, fingers flying, and talk constantly at the same time. They don’t have to think about their weaving at all: it’s in their “muscle memory.”
Rick picked up a felt okbash,
saying that all nomads have felt. Felt is the first thing that goes on the ground.
There are some fairly recent, dramatic examples of how useful and critical the use of felt can be. Rick said that during the WWII campaigns between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Russians were equipped with felt liners for their boots. The Germans did not have such liners and suffered tens of thousands of amputations from frostbite.
Most nomad/village felt designs were applique, but one can also create designs in felt pieces as they are being made.
He called particular attention to the curvilinear character of the “ram’s horn” devices on this okbash. Curvilinear designs are within the reach of felt makers.
He said that when nomads took this design to kilims, say, in slit weave tapestry, they were forced to translate it into a geometric version.
He used another large Anatolian kilim to illustrate this point.
Rick also called attention to the smaller devices that move down the sides of the field of this kilim, inside its borders.
Notice, he said, that they are somewhat different, likely indicating two different things: first that it is likely that this kilim was woven by two women, and that this side area seems to be one in which the weavers, working within a tradition, felt freer to express themselves.
Rick’s next nomad/village piece was this grain bag.
I have followed grain bags for a while, and this one is one of the best I have seen.
Here are some details of RS7.
The next piece was a zili bag attributed to the Azerbaijan.
“Zili,” many will know, is a form of brocade that produces an distinctive “corduroy” effect.
Here is an additional detail of RS8.
Rick said that sheep were domesticated long before they produced the kind of wool useful in weaving.
He then moved to a piece from Siirt in eastern Anatolia that is a version of one of the earliest woven structures known. This textile is of mohair wool rather than ordinary sheep’s wool.
Although slits are not prominent, this piece is woven is slit tapestry to produce its “diamond” design.
The colors in this piece are entirely from natural, un-dyed, “off -the-sheep” wool.
These pieces are woven in traditional tapestry flat-weave, appearing the same on both sides. The are then subject to a process whereby a teazle is used to draw up the otherwise flat wefts and thereby create a “faux” pile. The result looks like this.
Such rugs are not old. They can some times still appear inexpensively at flea markets, but they are of interest to some serious collectors because this is likely one of oldest woven structures known.
Rick next showed a complete, blue and white, Qashqa’i khojin set.
This piece is warp-faced, with white cotton wefts and blue wool warps.
One interesting feature of this piece is that the blue areas stand higher than do the white ones.
Here are two additional details of RS11.
This khorjin set is estimated to have been woven in the late 1920s.
Next Rick treated a very graphic, Armenian kilim.
He said that some design elements in this kilim are likely sourced in Central Asia.
Here are some additional details of RS12.
Next Rick brought out a jajim with wonderful color.
Here is the most comprehensive, unobstructed view I have of it.
The color palette is narrow, but demonstrates that fabulous color is not dependent on range.
Here are some details of RS13.
There are traces of seeming Russian trade cloth at one edge.
It was seen likely to have been woven by the Shahsavan.
The next piece you have seen at the beginning, but is worth considering in more detail.
Again, the color is glorious. Rick said that this piece was done a weft substitution technique by Persian weavers between the southernmost point of the Caspian Sea and Tehran.
Woven with very fine wool, it five strips and then sewn together without matching color stripes from section to section.
Rick held up a book to show that this piece is of a recognized, published type.
A second book contained a 15th century illustration, that seemed to include a very similar textile.
Rich opened another book to show an image of Vermeer’s “Woman with a Lute..
Here is a more “see-able” image of this painting.
Rick said that it is important to note that the young woman is not playing the lute, she is tuning it.
He said that “tuning” a banjo is more difficult than playing it at a beginner level.
And there are analogues to “tuning” in the nomad and village rug weaving world.
Mark Traxler, who has woven several pile piece rugs with traditional designs, visited recently, and said, looking at a finely-woven, Tekke piece, “Can you imagine how difficult it was to get warps this fine onto a horizontal loom with the kind of uniform tension that would be required to produce this result?”
A similar point can made about Rick’s comment about tuning. It is likely not accident that the task of warping a loom was, in many traditional weaving communities, reserved to older women, i.e., the most experienced weavers. The warps of a good weaving need to be “tuned” properly at the start, and maintained in that state until the piece is finished.
Next was this flat-woven, Anatolian yastik.
This piece is complete and has a striped back.
The front has an unusual construction. It is brocaded, working from the back, and has discontinuous, but not supplementary wefts.
Here are some details of RS15.
The next piece was large, beautiful and rare.
This is the most comprehensive, unobstructed image I have of it.
This, many will know, is a Caucasian camel cover, called a “shaddah.” Their designs are usually brocaded.
Robert Nooter makes one his cover jacket piece in his “Flat Woven Rug and Textiles from the Caucasus,” so he thinks it important, but Nooter’s very nice piece is smaller and less complex than Rick’s example. Rick said, smiling, that he bought his at an auction where “no one else was interested in it.”
Rick called attention to the detail in his piece. First, the camels have saddle covers and each is slightly different.
And there are human figures in it, all together representing a camel caravan.
Rick pointed out that such covers were not only intended to decorate the camel, but to protect it. The “S” devices are particularly aimed at distracting the “evil eye.”
Rick next treated another large flat-woven piece.
This is another brocaded Caucasian cover, but done in a traditional hooked diamond pattern.
Here are some additional images of RS17.
The main border is very unusual.
Both that border and some of the other white elements are in a form of brocading called chii, a technique often associated with the Caucasian Kurds.
Chii is even more fragile than other brocading. It is remarkable that this cover has survived in such excellent condition.
The next piece is another example of brocading, but this is from Northwest Turkey.
Rick said that it might also be Kurdish.
The hanging tassels are characteristic of Turkish weaving.
He noted that the design elements are raised above the surface of the brown ground and would not stand up to much wear.
The next piece was a dramatic Caucasian pile rug with a familiar design.
(it was hung over the display board so that its top is not visible)
Most readers will know that this is an “eagle” Kazak, likely woven in Karabagh.
This version of this design with a single central “burst” device is seen as the older one.
The “armature” devices at the top and bottom echo the lattice usages in the so-called “Caucasian dragon” carpets.
Rick said he sees this piece as an instance of 19th century village weaving.
Another pile Caucasian rug followed, this time a colorful Shirvan with a niche design.
Rick noted that each horizontal row of botehs has its own design but that the colors vary.
He called attention to the “sherbert orange” in this piece.
Here some additional detail images of RS20.
It has a remarkably wide range of colors.
Next, was a small pile bag face.
This pile khorjin face is one of a pair that originally were in Chicago.
Notice the nice, graphic reciprocal main border with effective red outlining.
Also the goats with colored feet.
The next piece was a sumak khorjin face.
Rick said this nice piece is Shahsavan and called attention to the “gul-like” devices that have central rosettes.
Notice that the internal instrumentation of these gul forms is an instance of incremental variation, with constituent forms repeated in various orientations.
The “leg” devices at the corners of most of the “guls,” are not included in those in the bottom row.
Here are some additional detail images of RS22.
The next piece was a larger “torba-shaped,” pile bag from Central Asia.
Until recently, this piece would have been called “Ersari,” is now perhaps among those currently described as “Middle Amu Dyra.”
This is a familiar design that is usually said to take its gul-forms from Central Asian ikats. A few years ago, Hans Konig, attended an RTAM here in which such a piece was shown and said that he doubted the ikat connection. I have not seen anything further from him on this notion, but I once owned a fragment of Central Asian ikat,
the designs on which seems very similar. Perhaps, Mr. Konig will yet make his suspicions concrete.
The next piece moved sharply in a different direction.
This is an urban Bijar. Its intense design is full of curvilinear usages.
And it has a cotton foundation.
Its main border and its field are versions of the herati design.
Despite unresolved borders, this piece is too sophisticated to be a tribal weaving.
Rick said the next two rugs were Kurdish, both estimated to have been woven around 1900.
He said the the main border on this rug might look fairly regular, but that closer examination shows that it changes constantly in instrumental details and color usage.
The narrow, striped guard borders change colors.
Here are some additional detail images of RS25.
The second of these two Kurdish rug was more graphically dramatic.
Rick said that the question of whether the plain areas of the field are done in camel hair, is open.
He said that Wendel Swan, who believes that he can identify camel hair without resort to microscope, examined it and said that he couldn’t tell.
Here are some additional detail images of RS26.
With the next piece, Rick returned to Central Asia.
This is a familiar Turkmen weaving: it is the face of a large, mostly, flatwoven chuval, with bands of fine pile weaving. It is called a “kizil” chuval, a reference to its ground color. There are versions of this mixed technique format that have a white ground and are termed “ak” chuvals.
The pile sections of these pieces have very fine knotting, so these pieces, in general have fine warps.
A second Turkmen piece was this one: likely Yomud.
I mentioned from the audience that I own a very similar bag, bought from a dealer in Selcuk, Turkey, who claimed that it was a specific function format: used to sew grain, something that seems doubtful.
What is more noteworthy about such pieces is that the design strips are done in sumak, a relatively rare Turkman usage.
The next piece was also Central Asian, this time a Yomut main carpet with “tauk naska” guls.
This rug has some unusual features for this type. The “heads” of the tauk naska devices instrumenting the guls face in opposite directions (usually the heads face in the same direction).
The secondary gul is also unusual.
Its meander white-ground, main border exhibits a nice green, also present in some of the guls.
It has pile elems that are fully and colorfully decorated.
Rick called attention to some tiny “combs” in its corners.
This rug is estimated to have been woven about 1875.
Next, Rick brought out a complete khorjin set, the front panels of which have a Jaf design in pile.
He said that it is the back of this piece that is unusual. It is done in five different flat weave techniques.
Here are some additional detail images of the back of RS30.
The next bag was a larger, striking Veramin piece, which is probably one side panel from a mafrash.
Here are some detail images of RS31.
Next, Rick held up a flat-woven Baluch bag.
He said that it is very fine,
and done in a weft substitution weave.
Rick’s last rug of his own was a stately one that most would call East Turkestan.
(Note: This is a three-medallion design too big for the board and so extends considerably over its top.)
Hans Bidder shows several similar field designs and attributes them to Khotan. He indicates that the medallion field design is older than is the overall “pomegranate” pattern.
The medallions were described as of the “lotus pad” variety.
Rick called attention to the borders, which feature “Greek key” usages, but also a wider one that he described as representing mountains and clouds.
The corner brackets on this piece,
which appear in nearly all of the Bidder rugs, were described as very Chinese.
There are also some smaller “gul” forms used outside the large medallions in the field (the yellow and blue ones in the image below).
This device appears frequently in East Turkestan pile rugs. There are two versions. First, a “coffered” one in which the gul is surrounded by (nested in) a rectilinear fretwork frame. The second version, the “uncoffered” one is used here. Some Khotan rugs have their entire fields filled with such uncoffered guls.
Two pieces had been brought in by members of the audience and they are treated now.
The first was this Uzbek bag.
Its field is an endless repeat design feature star forms.
Here are some additional detail images of BI1.
The last piece of the day was this small, colorful kilim. Its owner said that this fragment is attributed to Central Anatolia and estimated to have been woven before 1850.
This piece is nicely stabilized on a backing.
Its colors are strong and beautiful. Here are some additional detail images of BI2.
Rick answered questions,
and adjourned his session.
The audience began to move.
Thanks to Rick Seyford for this imaginatively conceived, fluently performed, program. Thanks to him, too, for permitting this virtual version of it, and for his very real help in editing my draft.
Amy Rispin, again, took a very useful set of notes.
This was an unusual, informative and enjoyable session and I hope this virtual version makes it possible to experience some of it.
R. John Howe