Saul Barodofsky on Favorites from His Trunks
On August 16, 2014, Saul Barodofsky,
gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, in the old S Street location of The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C.
Saul is a long-time dealer with a shop in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has traveled to rug-producing countries to buy for over thirty-five years. He has spoken frequently here at The Textile Museum.66
Saul is also a collector and keeps his dealing and collecting separate. He collects, but does not sell, Koran bags and animal decorations.
He said that, as a dealer, he has to be eclectic and so his “trunks” contain a wide variety of textiles. He said that in this program he would share favorite pieces from both his collections and his trunks.
Saul began with this piece.
He said that S1 is one half of an opened Central Anatolian bag. He said that we call the open bag half “butterflies.” He noted that there are specifically-woven straps are used to tie the bag to it’s animal. This piece was woven in the Konya Mountains, by nomads who maintained their Turkomen heritage – note the embroidered square panels holding the straps: Used for both symbolical (good luck symbols) and structural purposes (holding the strap on the bag). Age is from the early 20th century.
Here are some details of S1.
The second piece was this fragment.
Saul said that it was part of a long Karapinar rug. Estimated to the 17th century. Its full-pile wool and colors are spectacular. Note the intact selvedges. Reminiscent of an early example in Haarlad Bohmers book, Weavings of the Peasants and Nomads of Anatolia.
Here are some detail images of S2.
The next piece was a Caucasian fragment.
Again part of a longer rug. Saul said that he thought this piece was likely woven about 1850. A strong, graphic central medallion.
The dense “filler” devices include some animal forms, the largest of which is likely worth explaining a bit.
In another program, a few years ago, Saul elaborated on this particular design device. He said that such creatures are a kind “nazarlik.,” (something to distract the “evil eye”) and attract good fortune.
Saul explained (and this is likely true for much of the Middle East generally) that the belief in the “evil eye” and in “nazarlik” likely belongs to pre-Islamic eras when shamanistic beliefs were predominant.
Conversion to Islam has not, seemingly, led to the shedding of some pre-Islamic beliefs. Islam is experienced as a kind of firm overlay, but previous beliefs still operate strongly without any experience of contradiction.
As a modern example: He said that in Konya, a highly religious and conservative area of central Anatolia, the locals find no apparent contradiction between their formal Islam and their usage of a symbol from pre-Islamic, shamanistic times for example — the Shah Miran, the Queen Goddess of the Snake.
Here is a Taimany Baluch example from Afghanistan, with a Shah Miran design.
If locals are queried about this seeming contradiction, they merely state, “She is a nazarlik.”
The large “animal” forms in this Caucasian fragment may be seen as abstracted versions of the Shah Miran snake goddess. It is always important to remember that the Silk Road went in both directions. And, information and customs were sent in both directions – so that a pre Christian Anatolian snake goddess, can wind up as a Nazarlik in Southern Afghanistan.
The next piece was a border fragment from a “Transylvanian” rug, woven in Turkey and often bought by Saxon Romanians and displayed in their Christian churches.
Saul said that once some of the staff at the TM were interested in this fragment and asked him to provide its “provenance.” He said that he thought this request was backwards until he realized that they were asking for its “path of ownership,” not “where it was woven.” Many “Transylvanian” rugs are estimated to be 18th century or earlier.
Saul placed his next rug in the Bergama area of western Anatolian.
Saul said he bought it for restoration, but has never done so. He said that he likes its colors and its design balance and harmony. Note the usage of a natural dyed pink.
The upward pointing white-ground armature extensions, at the bottom of the central “niched” center of this piece, may be traces of Anatolian “animal” rug usages.
Estimated to have been woven in the first half of the 19th century.
Here are two details of S5.
There is no S6.
The next fragmented piece is from the Caucasus, and is very unusual.
Some see it as an unusually narrow “prayer” design, or even a panel from a prayer saff. Others have conjectured that it might be a side panel from a mafrash cargo bag. Saul said that, if it is the latter, it is the only such usage he has ever seen.
Here are some detail images of S7.
Saul’s next piece carried a story. This is a neck piece for a camel, heavily decorated with cowry shells. Early 20th century, and from the Toros Mountains.
Saul said that in 1978 he was driving from Ankara to Konya, and at a crossroads, on the edge of Ankara there was a man, standing, who had some things that, from the road, looked African. Saul stopped and found that these were, in fact, camel decorations made by nomads in Anatolia. Saul also got introduced to the pricing scheme for such pieces: $1 per shell, the dealer counted. It was pretty cheap and he bought them all. He said that when he got to Konya and showed his pieces to the dealers there, they said that more of these could be bought at the local bazaar.
This, Saul said, was the beginning of his collecting of animal decorations. He added that he has stopped collecting such pieces about three years ago.
Saul said that the next two pieces were made by Baluch nomads. This first one was likely displayed inside the tent.
Saul said that his only exception to his decision to stop buying animal trappings are these two Baluch pieces. The lower one (S10) would have been been a camel decoration while on the move and probably used as a tent hanging (Turah) during stops. The first one (S 9) was probably used inside the tent as Nazarlik.
Saul said that he does not collect jewelry but one made an exception. He said that these two items are women’s beaded hair decorations and he could not resist their color. They are Central Asian and were bought by a friend in Ubekistan. They combine beads with shells and semi-precious stones.
Notice the cowry shells and blue beads once again.
Saul’s next piece was an envelope bag that could be used as a Koran bag.
He said this one was woven in western Turkey – circa 1920’s. (he added that there are very few Koran bags made in central Turkey). In 1980 I was visiting a village in Western Anatolia, and was told that they were immigrants from the Caucasus – arriving in the 1300’s – and yes, they did still have their land grant from the Sultan. Please note the similarity between Caucasian weaving and Western Anatolian weaving: And, Koran bags are to be found in both areas, but not in Central Anatolia. It would seem to be Shia related – as is the possible case of using Shah Miran. More research is needed here.
The next piece was an Anatolian “spoon bag” from the same area. Late 19th century.
Saul said that occasionally he has encountered the spoons placed in these bags. He said they are wooden and often inscribed. I asked him if the small side bags were for smaller spoons and he said that that was the case.
He called attention to the horse-hair tassles on the face of this bag and said that they are to distract the “evil eye.” Also note that many people along the Silk Road consider spoons to be a mark of civilization, and our rise above the animals. There are even traditional ‘spoon dances’ in Turkey.
The next piece was this salt bag. Woven by the Baluch in the area of Pakistan that abuts Iran. More flat-woven pieces produced here than pile. Saul noted its long-necked shape and the use of horse hair tassels.
Saul also called attention to the nice details in its designs and weaving.
Saul said that the next piece was one of the earliest he ever bought (about 1979). It is a series of Greek Island embroidery fragments put together to form a triple-niche design.
He said that this is ancient Ottoman embroidery with some pieces estimated to be 16th and 17th century. These were made in religious schools, and used as prayer hangings. He said that a variety of stitches have been used and that he loves its colors, especially its greens and a distinctive blue.
Here are some additional detail images of this nice piece.
Saul said that the rectangular design between the two minarets represents the “kaaba,” the holiest place in the holiest mosque in Mecca. Do note the extremely fine embroidery here – almost “Chinese Blind Stitch.”
The next piece was a koran bag, this time Yomut Turkman. Purchased in Samarkand as a knotted pile “envelope.”
The next piece was also a Central Asian koran bag, this one done in ikat. Likely Uzbek. Ikat material is used in a variety of formats, but Saul said this is the only one he has ever seen used to make an ‘envelope’ or koran bag.
The next piece was this small khorjin face. Lur, South Persian. Bought in 1979 or 1980, and kept hidden until now.
The next piece was woven in the Taurus mountains. Used there as a salt bag. Late 19th century. Seems that the shape we have always associated with salt bags never reached the Konya Mountains.
The next piece was a very fine, exquisite fragment of Greek Island embroidery.
Here is a closer detail. The workmanship is incredible.
Saul said that he loves bags. This one is was woven in central Turkey. Cuval format.
Here are two details of S21
An image of its colorful back.
Saul’s next pieces were a pair of complete grain bags. Woven in western Anatolia. Beautiful, crisp brocaded fronts with silk additions. Probably late 19th century, and dowry pieces. Yunja nomads. They were located in Bergama in 1980. Seems all the antique dealers knew about this set, but wouldn’t pay the asking price. And then I appeared. Actually, I felt that their price was very reasonable.
Backs are mostly striped plain weave with occasional bands decorated with brocaded devices.
The striped backs of these grain bags (also true of the heybe saddle bags) are said to be better indicators of where in Turkey a given bag was woven than are the brocaded fronts.
Saul’s friend Michael Spenser holds the front of the second of these grain bags.
Here are some additional images and details of these two pieces. They are nearly alike and so can’t always tell which image is of which one.
Saul said that, while, as a dealer, he has to be more eclectic (said that he was an “accumulator” rather than a “collector”). But his wife, Ananda, who focuses sharply on Kurdish piece earns the designation “collector.” He had brought a few of her pieces and treated them next.
The first of these was a large, dramatic kilim.
He said this piece was Kurdish from southeastern Turkey – probably Hakkari area. The large field devices have great graphic punch. The white is cotton which implies a special usage – dowry. Used as a tent wall cover for special occasions.
The Kurds use pink to distract the evil eye.
The next piece was the first of two “Not Soffras” in Ananda’s collection. It came from a city near Aleppo. It is dark and difficult to photograph well. Saul said after that it’s dark navy.
Saul said that its shape suggests that it could be a sofra but that it is not. The fact that it is silk suggests that it is not sturdy enough to be placed on the ground underneath dishes. Saul thinks it more likely that it was a table cover. Its typical Allepo designs are in metallic thread.
Here is a detail of S24.
The next piece was the face of a large Kurdish bag. Also square, and sometimes confused with a soffra. The Kurds wove some very large bags. This one was woven in two pieces that were then sewn together.
Good graphics and contrast in scale of the devices used.
Here are some details of S25.
You can see the two halves more clearly in these two detail images.
The next piece begins Ananda’s soffra collection. It hung for two years on Saul’s shop wall, before Ananda got it as an anniversary present. From the Afshar nomads, Iran. First half of the 20th century.
Here are some detail images of S26.
S27 was also an Afshar Soffra . Same area. Nice crisp drawing and good scale contrast. Mid-20th century.
Saul said that a lot of this material is 1930 to 1950. He said that many collectors seem to think that at the end of the 19th century someone said “No more good weaving,” but he, personally doesn’t believe that. The reason that older material often seems better is that it has survived a winnowing process that hasn’t happened as much yet for younger things. Weavers could recognize the better pieces and tended to collect them, for example, as dowry pieces. There were older weavings that were not as good, but they tended not to have been retained. There are quality weavings made after the beginning of the 20th century and even today. So Saul does not “turn his nose up” at more recent material that seems to him to have quality.
He’s also not entirely allergic to synthetic dyes. He follows, what I call the “Russell Pickering Rule”: Russell says that the blanket aversion to synthetic dyes as a group is “The silliest thing I’ve ever heard. Color quality depends entirely on how the colors look.” And, in fact, the distinction being pointed to in usages like the complaint “too bright” vs an admiring notice of “deep color saturation” is sometimes hard to discern.
Here are some details of S27.
The next piece is also a soffra. However, this one has strong Kurdish influences. Note the border technique and pattern – very Kurdish from N.E. Iran. Saul admires its colors and called attention to the charm of the irregularities in the drawing of the central rectangular device. He feels this “imperfection” adds interest, and removes it from the “machine age addiction to regularity and symmetry.”
Here are some details of this piece.
The next piece was also Kurdish. A compartmented field design with a colorful, articulated drawing of the zigzag border stripe. Natural dyes, and woven closer to WWI. It was this piece which sparked Ananda’s love for soffras…it’s Kurdish, and it’s a soffra. What a fabulous combination.
Here are some details of S29.
Notice that the concentric diagonal use of color nicely complicates the rectilinear drawing of the compartmented field
Another Kurdish soffra.
Saul said that the border work is specific to this group.
Here are some additional details of S30.
The next piece was also a soffra, but this time Afghani Bauch. Note the usage of mixed technique weaving: plain weave, open-backed tabby weave, knotted pile, over-stitching, and wrapping.
Here is some details of S31.
One more similar Baluch sofreh – also from Afghanistan. Note the similar weaving techniques, plus the addition of silk tufts. The latter implies a dowry or very special intended usage.
Here are some details of S32.
Baluch or Baluch-like. This was woven in two pieces and then sewn together. Probably tribal: narrower loom. Ananda ‘purchased’ this George O’Bannon in the late 70’s, and was her First Soffra.
Here are some details of S33.
Saul said that S34 (below) is the largest of these soffra like pieces. Baluch or Baluch like from Afghanistan. Reminiscent of some Turkmen engsis (although there are “elems” at both ends, suggesting that they are not elems; and the center column of field devices including the central medallion prevent one from seeing the field as exhibiting traces of the “hatchli” design).
Here are some detail images of S34.
Saul called attention to the wonderful detailing.
The brocading looks like embroidery in places.
The next piece resembles S33, a bit, and is also a Baluch Soffra from Afghanistan.
Here are some details of S35.
This next one is related to S34 – note the similarity in border design and construction. Also Baluch from Afghanistan. Saul said that the camel-colored field wool in S36 feels like sheep’s wool. Camel hair would be softer. Again, he said, this is a more recent piece made by a weaver who knew her art and craft.
Here are some details of S36.
S36 was the last of the pieces Saul had brought in and he moved to treat those brought by members of the audience.
Its owner said that S37 was woven in the Bergama area of western Anatolia and estimated to the 19th century. Square format. Finely woven.
Here are some details of S37.
Someone in the audience noted that it has a lower cross-panel, a feature seen in a number of Anatolian rugs.
The next two brought-in pieces were Baluch-group sofrehs. It’s difficult, sometimes to distinguish Baluch pieces woven in northeastern Iran and those woven in western Pakistan. The camel-colored field and the zig-zag side borders, in this piece, are frequent sofreh usages . The camel-colored field may actual camel hair. Very fine, dense flat-weave designs on the ends.
Here are some details of S38.
This piece has a old patch in its field, something Harold Keshishian claimed is often better than reweaving, since the latter changes color over time.
The next piece was also Baluch-group sofreh. This is a mixed technique piece with side areas of pile. Its owner thinks that the camel-colored ground may be actual camel hair. Attribution is complicated by the fact that the knotting in the pile areas is symmetric. Good scale contrast.
Here are some detail images of S39.
Saul said that the next piece was a Kurdish baby carrier. I would have guessed (from the color palette) a western Anatolian Turkman weaver.
The tassels and beads (Saul also detected some metallic threads) are to distract the evil eye and protect the baby. It has woven straps on the sides (see left side in the image below) that were added later.
The owner was also suspicious about whether the tassels are original because the piece seems older and the tassels are in very good condition. Saul suggested that it was a dowry piece that did not have much wear.
Here are some details of S40.
This is its back.
The weaving is very good.
The next piece was an Anatolian cuval face from the Bergama area. Dyes look natural. Good graphics. Saul estimated it to have been woven in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Here are some details of S41.
The next piece seemed Central Asian, and was purchased in Dushanbe in 2008. There was some discussion about it’s origins. Some suggested Kyrgyz, someone else Tajik.
Color differences are because the images are from two different cameras.
Here is one detail of S42.
The next piece was constructed. A vest made in part from a suzani-like textile with a different format.
Here are two images of its back.
Saul said it was cute.
Its owner said that the next piece was a Kurdish saltbag, purchased in Istanbul.
Here are two details of S44.
And a look at its back.
The next piece was described a “knitted.” But someone else suggested a jacquard loom. I didn’t handle, it but wonder whether its designs are not brocaded.
Here are two details of S45
The owner of S45 also had the last piece of the day, S46 below. It looks warp-faced and is woven in naturally dyed wool, in one continuous strip, that does not change design or technique.
Its long connecting panel could suggest Anatolian heybe, but it lacks the characteristic slit. There was a suggestion that it might be Zagros Mountain nomads – perhaps due to the coarse sheep/goat wool used.
Here is its back and one closer detail.
Saul answered questions,
and brought his session to a close.
Conversation began and the crowd moved forward.
I want to thank Saul for sharing this interesting, and often substantial, material with us. Also for permitting this virtual version of his program, and for his considerable help in editing the draft of this post.
Thanks, too, to Wendel Swan for a number of needed, good photos.
Peggy Jones took another good set of notes.
I hope you have enjoyed what Saul described as his last RTAM as a dealer. He said that, next time, he’ll be a “collector” not just an “accumulator.”
R. John Howe