Remembering Ralph Yohe

 

 

(If you click on most images in this post, you will get a larger version.)

Ralph Sandlin Yohe, was an important U.S. collector of oriental rugs and textiles during the approximate period from 1945 to his death in 1994.  He is one of those who is gradually disappearing from historical view and this program is an effort both to make his work visible and to lay down a documenting marker about it.

 In 1965, Yohe was an early member of the International Hajji Baba Society, in Washington, D.C.  He was also a member of the NYC Hajji Baba Society, co-founder of the New York Rug Society (1970), and of the Moroccan Rug and Textile Society (1991).  In 1989, he received the Joseph V. McMullan Award for Scholarship and Stewardship in Islamic textiles.  In 1994, he was honored as a Life Member by the Chicago Rug Society.  He was a long-time Trustee of the Textile Museum.  At the time of his death, he was President of the Near Eastern Art Research Center and a Trustee Emeritus of the Textile Museum.

Yohe was born in 1920 and reared on a family farm, near Mount Erie, Illinois. 

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He graduated from the University of Illinois, School of Agriculture, in 1943.  He then served three years as a naval officer in the Mediterranean.

Yohe established a career reporting on agriculture.  In 1946, he became the executive secretary of the Illinois Poultry Improvement Association.  In 1948, he joined the staff of the Prairie Farmer, as science editor.  For a number of years he was Editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturalist.

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Yohe took jobs, but may not have needed one much.  He had independent means that enabled him to work, as he seems, often to have done, as a free-lance reporter, traveling internationally, and writing, largely, as he pleased.

bookwhatusfarmerscanlearnIn 1953, Y0he published a book, “What Our Farmers Can Learn from Other Lands.”  The dust jacket says that “in 1949-50 he traveled through 15 European and Middle Eastern countries.  He returned to Europe for five months, in 1952, a trip that took him to the Arctic Circle.  Over a period of three years, Yohe traveled more than 40,000 miles abroad gathering material.

Yohe had a crisp, clear, journalist style, easy to read, and he wrote in areas beyond agriculture. 

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I found a geography-sociology-history textbook ,“Exploring Regions of the Eastern Hemisphere,” that he wrote, seemingly, as the lead author, with three associates, sometime after 1965.  It treats the countries of the eastern hemisphere, broadly defined.  Great Britain, France, Germany and some countries of Eastern Europe, are included. 

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Interestingly, there are sections of this book that treat northern Africa, so Yohe had some familiarity, then, with Morocco.  As many readers will know, Yohe, Pickering and Pickering’s daughter, Brooke, subsequently, did seminal work on Moroccan rugs and textiles that resulted in two important books.

Pickering reports that Yohe’s interest in oriental rugs began in 1948.  One day, Yohe noticed a Persian rug, over the bar, at the famous Shepeard’s Hotel in Cairo.

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(The Persian rug may have been “over the bar,” in 1948, but apparently, nowadays, one is on the floor.)

Jerry Franke,

an important figure, himself, in the Chicago area club, says that Yohe’s initial interests were in more “classic” rugs.

Yohe must have been collecting seriously in the 50s and the 60s because he is one of ten businessmen-collectors featured in a Fortune magazine article, May, 1968. 

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Mike Tschebull, looking at this picture, could identify many of the rugs in it and even the plaques on the wall at the back left.  Mike sees only one “city” rug in this array: a solitary Saruk, so Yohe must have before 1968 broadened his collecting interests well beyond “city” rugs in the direction of more “tribal” varieties

That same year he and McCoy Jones of Washington, D.C ,curated an exhibition of Turkish Rugs at The Textile Museum here. 

They also published a catalog for this exhibition under Textile Museum aegis. 

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This catalog, mostly in black and white images featured material from the TM collection, but also that from a number of noted collectors.  Yohe owned two of the rugs in this exhibition and one of them (on the right above) was one of only three selected for treatment with a color image.

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In 1969, Russell Pickering and Anthony Landreau curated and wrote the catalog for the ground-breaking exhibition “From the Bosporus to Samarkand,” the first effort to treat flat-woven textiles seriously. 

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Four of Yohe’s pieces were selected for this traveling exhibition, none of them in color, but here, above, is one with good graphics.

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And here is another, an Anatolian kilim with some complexity.  Woven in two pieces.

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In 1971, Yohe and McCoy Jones were joined by Jeff Boucher to curate another Washington Hajji, Christmas exhibition, at the TM, this time on “Persian Tribal Rugs.”  A catalog was published entirely in black and white.

Yohe contributed eight pieces to this exhibition.

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Here, on the left is an Afshar rug with a “tulip” design that Yohe contributed.  The image on the right is of a very similar piece in color that lets you see its richness.

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In 1971, Mike Tschebull published his still admired and useful catalog, “Kazak.”  Mike says that Yohe was one of a group of collectors who “knew much more than I did.”(Joe McMullan wrote the Introduction for “Kazak”)  

Tschebull says that Yohe was very helpful as Mike prepared this first ever study, strictly focused on Kazak rugs. He was impressed with Yohe’s interest in and knowledge of textile structures and with the “anthropological” perspective he took on textiles. He was interested not just in the weavings, but in who the weavers were and how they lived. 

Yohe contributed two rugs to “Kazak.”

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This is one of them.  Tschebull says that it is precisely drawn, has wonderful color and is entirely unworn.

Beginning in 1973, Yohe joined Anthony Landreau, a curator at the TM (who would eventually be acting TM Director) and Landreau’s family to conduct field research in Turkey.

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They were studying a particular group of Yoruks in coastal, south central Turkey.

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The group of Yoruks they were studying lived in coastal areas during the winter and migrated north into the mountains during their summer yaylas.

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This Landreau-Yohe field work continued for a number of years, with several more trips, culminating in their curating the traveling TM exhibition “Flowers of the Yayla.”

They also wrote the catalog for this exhibition.

I’d like to delay saying more about their effort, until we get to 1984 in the chronology, but it is important to note here that both Yohe and Landreau were among the last collectors and TM curators who did actual field research.  I mean that they did not just travel to weaving areas, and observe weavers, but that they conducted systematic, structured, field research during their stays.

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Russell Pickering reports that in 1976, he and Yohe took the first of many collecting trips to Morocco.   Russell’s daughter, Brooke, joined them in a number of subsequent trips.  These trips would, eventually, produce two or three collections and two important books.

I want to defer treatment of these books on Moroccan weaving until we get to the dates on which they were published.  The first, “From the Far West,” came out in 1980.

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In 1977, Pickering published his remembrance of Joe McMullan, entitled “Don’t Forget to Smell the Flowers Along the Way.”  This volume contained a series of “portraits” of McMullan by people who knew him.  Yohe wrote a wonderful Introduction, so good I want to include it here.

(If you click on each of the two images below you will get an image with legible size type.)

Here is the first page.

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And here is the second.

slide23There’s a story that goes with this Introduction. 

In 1976, Yohe and Pickering stayed in the MaMounia Hotel in Marrakesh.  This was during their first trip to Morocco – the only time Brooke was not able to come with them – as she did for the next 12 years.

Russell says: “On the second evening, we met a charming and attractive lady from Paris in the cocktail lounge and invited her for drinks in our suite.”  He says this suite was quite something, with a balcony overlooking the hotel’s larger garden, and a view, beyond, onto the High Atlas Mountains.

En route to the suite, Russell says he is thinking “How do I get rid of Yohe so I can take the lady on a moon-lit carriage ride around Marrakesh?” Russell was making the drinks and admits he may have “loaded” Yohe’s.  

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After dinner, Yohe decided that he would write his introduction for their book on Joe McMullan’s life (Russell said that he’d been pressing Yohe to do this).  So Yohe headed for the garden and Russell and the lady had the carriage ride (Russell says that this carriage ride is a must for anyone who goes to Marrakesh.)

After the carriage ride and back in the lobby, the lady turned and said in her attractive French accent, “Roosell, I sinck you are very attractive, but my boyfriend arrives from Paris tomorrow morning and I do not think he would like to see you around.  Good night!” and she disappeared into the elevator.  So much for Romeo Russell.

Upon his return to the suite, Russell found Yohe asleep on the couch with the draft of the Introduction: “The Second Day of Ramadan.”  As you have seen, it begins “At my back a fountain splashes in a small pool, edged with bright spangles of mosaic tile…”  It goes on in that vein for a page and a half.  Russell says often that he thinks it is the best piece of writing he has ever seen in a rug and textile book.

So while “Romeo Russell” struck out, the “Flowers” Editor in Chief, Russell, struck gold.

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In 1980 (a year full of important rug books), the first 20th century book on Moroccan weaving, “From the Far West: Carpets and Textiles of Morocco,” was published. 

It was edited by Patricia Fiske, a curator at the TM, and by Pickering and Yohe.  There were, also, important contributions by a number of other students of Moroccan weaving.

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Pickering wrote the introduction, saying in part that “this book is the most definitive work on Moroccan carpets in over half a century.”  He also said that it was the result of “interest, travel and study by representatives of The Textile Museum over the last ten years.”

Yohe wrote a 10-page contribution, entitled “Al Maghrib Al Aqsa: Islam’s Far West. 

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He said, in part, that Morocco is “further west than Spain or Portugal, or even Ireland.”  His writing is concise and accessible, even elegant, and a bit poetic, in places.  It is another instance in which he has demonstrated that he can write.

A number of Yohe’s pieces are included in this volume in color.  Here are three.

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On the left is an older High Atlas pile rug, Ouaouzguite.

On the right is its back.  The structure of this rug is such that the bright colors used for the wefts show only on the back.

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Above is an Oulad Bou Sbba pile carpet.  A 4-1-4 plus 2 array of diamond devices with small human figures.slide30

A third carpet is wonderfully abstract.  Its design resembles those of some paintings, such as the work of Mondrian (we’ll see this rug again).

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In 1980, Yohe became an active breeder and promoter of the Turkish Akbash dogs, a large white breed that lives with and protects livestock (not a herding breed).  These dogs are familiar with their owners, but wary of, and alarming to strangers. 

Jerry Franke tells of visiting Yohe at his “farm” with some other rug collectors.  Yohe told them, “When you arrive, stay in the car.  I’ll come get you.”  Yohe had a number of these dogs and continued to work with them until his death in 1994.   

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Now let’s return to the 1983 exhibition and catalog, the result of Landreau’s and Yohe’s field work with Yoruks, in the south central Turkish coast and the mountains immediately to the north.

There are a number of pieces in this catalog, presented in color, but there is no ownership indicated for any of them.  They seem to be older Yoruk material. 

Here are two of them.

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Strong graphics.

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Yohe, of course, contributed a number of pieces to this catalog.  They are all in black and white.

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The Landeau-Yohe field work also illustrates how difficult it is to do this, unless one is a near member of the group being studied.  “Outsider” field researcher, especially males without the language of the studied group, are, unavoidably, and seriously, dependent on others to facilitate their research. 

Landeau and Yohe openly state that a primary facilitator of their research was an Anatolian dealer.  They say in their beginning Acknowledgements that this dealer “…traveled with us, along many dusty roads and frequently treacherous miles, through the the “yayla,” and on roads clinging to the sides of the mountains. He introduced us to the people in the Yoruk villages and camps; he acted as friend, guide, adviser and activator.” 

Now every field researcher needs such a facilitating resource, but there are signs that those on whom Landreau and Yohe were dependent had objectives distinctive from those at which they aimed in their field work. 

Some familiar with Turkey and this research effort say that the folks helping Landreau and Yohe took them to ostensible “Yoruk” villages in which there was no longer active weaving, and may have sometimes “seeded” them with possible “Yoruk” weavings to be bought (Landreau and Yohe acknowledge that some of the “yayla” locations they visited had no looms set up).

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On the other hand, Landreau and Yohe show several women, held to be Yoruks, spinning and weaving.  Here is one example.  This woman is said to be weaving at Narhkuyu on the Mediterranian coast, using a vertical frame loom (as we have said, some Yoruks lived on the coast part of the year, but migrated to the cooler mountains during the summer).

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Above is another piece woven in the area that Landreau and Yohe visited.  Good color. (From their article on their Yoruk field work in Hali, Vol.3, Issue 3, p 184)

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Now about Landreau and Yohe being dependent on their Yoruk hosts, here is a seemingly, telling example.  The catalog caption for this piece says that it’s a Yoruk weaving from the Kozan-Digne area.  Digne is in eastern Anatolia due east of Konya.

Now one needs to remember how relatively little was known about textiles, even in the early 1980s, but this piece would now be firmly attributed to the Fars area of Iran.  It is not “Yoruk.”  It is not even Anatolian.  It is the kind of thing that indicates how dependent field researchers are on their cultural facilitators.

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There is also some of Yohe’s “Yoruk’ material visible in Walter Denny’s Hali review (32, 49-51) of a 1986 exhibition curated by Jerry Franke and displayed at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee gallery.

Denny described the piece, above, as a Yoruk “keyhole” rug from east central Anatolia.  He said that it has some age.

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Denny described this Yoruk rug as one with a “sensationally sober, multiple-gul field from the Malatya area.”  He praised its colors and said that, despite its late age, it was “one of the most evocative and beautiful pieces on exhibition.”

We need to back up a little to see something else that Yohe was participating in in 1983.

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The Mary Block Gallery at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, in conjunction with the Chicago Rug Society, staged an exhibition entitled “Discoveries from Kurdish Looms.”  A catalog was published, edited by Robert D. Biggs.  Yohe contributed seven pieces to this exhibition.  Here are two of them.

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First, is this interesting Kordi bag shown in a black and white photo.

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Second, is this Kurdish kilim woven in the Malatya area of eastern Turkey.

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In 1987, Jerry Franke curated an exhibition in Chicago, at the Nahigian Bros. Gallery, and two of Yohe’s rugs appeared in it.

The first of these (above) is a Yuncu kilim from western Turkey.

 

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The second of these is a crisply drawn, spacious, niche-design kilim from the Sivrihisar area of Turkey.  Note the pale green ground.

We talked to a number of people who knew Yohe.  (Some of what we report below, from these conversations, will echo a bit what we’ve said above.)

Mike Tschebull was one of these.  Here are the questions we asked and the answers he gave. 

When did you first meet Yohe?

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Through Russ, probably in 1969, when we lived on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. We had a blowout rug collectors’ party around then with Joe McMullan and Ralph included. A lot of gin was drunk (it doesn’t stain rugs when spilled). At that formative event, I got a polite bit of feedback that what I thought was good in the rug world really wasn’t.

What was Yohe collecting then?

Ralph was on an eclectic collector. He had great Remington bronzes, and all sorts of other applied art.

Howe: Let me stop here a moment at the beginning of my interview with Mike to show you something of Yohe’s eclectism.  Mike has already said that there were Remington bronzes, but there was much more. 

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Joe Fell, another close friend of Yohe’s, pointed me to the catalog for an exhibition put on by the The Art Institute of Chicago, but that drew on items from a number of collectors, including Yohe.  This exhibition included textiles, paintings, ceramics and metalwork.

Yohe had 20 pieces in this exhibition.  Some textiles from Yohe’s collection were included.

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But a number of the metalwork items were also his.

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The piece on the left, above was the back cover of the catalog. 

On this page, alone, 14 of the metal objects included in this exhibit were Ralph’s.

Back to my interview with Mike Tschebull.  (This is Mike talking, again.)

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Yohe had at least two world class Caucasian rugs and lots of early Turkish pile pieces, bags and kilims from all over.

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Yohe had been in Iran before “Bosporus” exhibition and catalog (1969) was put together.

He had a set of attributions for a class of Fars nomad bags, from the Bassiris in Shiraz, that may still be the be the most accurate available, because it was gotten way before these things were popular and people formed unfounded opinions. The type of bag in question is #91a in Bosporus (see above).  Yohe owned this piece. 

I still use his attribution indicators for these “complementary weft” (Marla Mallett’s recommended term) bags, even though names coming out of Iran for these have changed.

 What kind of person was Yohe?

He was a valuable look-over-the shoulder editor for the Kazak catalogue. Lent several pieces,
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including a drop-dead gorgeous, large rug with Memling gulls. He seemed diffident to me, but there was an age and experience gap between us. He helped me a lot.

 Yohe loved gin. It made him make sniffing sounds.

 What is your evaluation of Ralph’s collection?

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We had a collectors’ weekend in Racine in 1972 and we got to see everything in his apartment. Pretty, pretty good.

What are some other things you can remember about Yohe, about which I should ask you?

Early on, he put up a multimedia presentation entitled “People of the Horse.”  He had video, stills, and a tape recording: horses running – hoof beats, snorts, etc. – all in coordination.  It was a fabulous, way ahead of its time, experience.

Howe: a number of people remember this program, but no one seems to have the materials.

Jerry Franke,

shared a number of images of pieces that Yohe owned.

The next few slides feature shots that were taken to select pieces for an exhibition and are often not full “all edges” photos.  But they give a further sense of what Yohe collected.

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Howe:   I have been asking what the textile in the center above is, but have not yet found anyone who can tell me.  I’d be curious to know.

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I think it not inaccurate to suggest that the acme of Yohe’s career as a collector and student of oriental rugs is marked by his work with Russell Pickering on Moroccan weaving. 

The publication of “The Far West…” volume was an important step into this world, but its culmination is unavoidably, the publication, with Brooke and Russell Pickering, of “Moroccan Carpets”

Here, in turn, are Brooke’s, and then, Russell’s remembrances of Yohe, and of their time with him.

Brooke’s remembrances:

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I knew Ralph from early childhood, and from those years remember him as one of the many beloved rug-world characters who came through our apartment.

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I really got to know him, though, as a teenager and later in my twenties on our trips to Morocco.

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The typical routine after a day of pouring over rugs in the medina, was for Dad and Ralph to settle into the hotel room’s balcony at drinks time with a bottle of scotch and some olives and nuts, with their latest purchase draped on the nearest chair or laid out on the floor of the room.  

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As the daylight downshifted in that special Marrakesh way, they’d review the events of the afternoon while admiring the latest great buy.  

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This object would, of course, always grow more fabulous and beautiful as the evening went on.

Ralph had such a spirit of camaraderie – he made these evenings a celebration of our collective eye and of the fact we hadn’t let a “great” one get away.  

What strikes me looking back on those times is not just his joy, but also the fact that, even when I was just a teenager, and still called him “Uncle Ralph”, he always wanted to hear my opinion and treated me as a full, equal member of the crew.   He really seemed to enjoy the idea of our team of three.

Traveling with Ralph was much more than an education in rugs.  

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His knowledge of agriculture and rural life was deep, and for me, born and raised in the city, it was hugely helpful to hear Ralph explain what we were seeing as we drove through the Atlas Mountains.  

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What were they growing/doing/selling over there in the field or by the side of the road?

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Ralph almost always knew the answer.  And because of this, he was able to connect the art with the people who made it and with the way they actually lived. We gained so much from his perspective.  He often related things back to his travels in Turkey.  And so we learned about Turkish rugs and Turkish people too.

He always wore a no-nonsense button down the front, usually short sleeved shirt (white or blue) – very mainstream 70’s – with at least two big cameras around his neck. 

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We frequently had to stop the car, at a moment’s notice, usually at a perilous curve in the road, on the side of a cliff, so that he could take pictures.

I don’t know how much attention my father and I were paying to these photography sessions – we were probably thinking about lunch or dealing with the army of little kids that would inevitably come running towards Ralph (he was, interestingly, kind of a little kid magnet).  

In the early nineties, when I started giving talks on Moroccan textiles, in typical Ralph style, he gave me an enormous box of his slides of trips to Morocco.  

Well, with that I started paying attention!

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There were photos of animals on hillsides, 

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shepherds in the fields,

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women at looms,

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donkeys, 

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craftmen,

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misty mountainsides,

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women,

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people selling jugs,

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loads of produce….

Ralph had the eye of a poet, and of a person who appreciates, not just physical beauty, but the soul behind it.

Here are some photos Ralph took during our Moroccan trips that I put in this poetic category.

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This is a tannery in Fes.

And here are four more that I like.

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This is the road to Chichaoua.

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A view of Fes.

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This is a man clipping the pile of a finished rug with scissors.

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It’s funny about this photo, because I can’t see it objectively.  That’s because I was there for it.

 It was very early in the morning (1977) and we were driving in the Atlas Mountains outside of Marrakesh.  We came around a curve in the road and saw this girl and her donkey in silhouette against the clouds. It looked as though she was walking along the edge of heaven.  

When I see this picture I see my full memory of the scene and I have no idea what it looks like to someone who wasn’t there!  

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I used to love hearing Ralph talk about his dogs, which he did often, as he missed them greatly, when he was on the road.  

I remember him becoming teary one night, talking about one of the dogs he trained as service dog for a woman in a wheelchair.  I loved that about him.

 I think along with Ralph’s understated Midwestern straightforwardness, came an open minded and artistic free spirit. In fact, this combination may be what made him a great rug collector.

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He loved the good traditional pieces.

(Plate #75 From the Far West: Carpets and Textiles of Morocco, TM).

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But he was also charmed by the playfulness of animal motifs (Plate #82). 

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And then there is plate #87.  This one just about says it all.

Russell:

When I bought my first oriental rugs (like many collectors) I was just trying to decorate my NYC apartment.

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But I happened onto a group of folks, who, it turned out, were helping U.S. rug collecting and scholarship get to its initial “feet.” 

We often didn’t quite know what we were doing, but some of it turned to be pretty important, and we had fun – as Mike has pointed out, it was good that we were usually drinking gin, because it didn’t stain the rugs.

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There were some members of this group that were particularly important to me.

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I’ve, long ago, now made my tribute to Joe McMullan, in my remembrance “Don’t Forget to Smell the Flowers Along the Way.” 

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And with the able help of the then TM Librarian, Lydia Fraser, we’ve, recently, tried to make sure that the contributions of Arthur Jenkins are not forgotten.

slide104Ralph Yohe was another of these people.

He had done a lot of work in the world of collecting, before we first met, and since he was a journalist, he could flat out write.

And, like me, he was particularly interested in new things – textiles that had not been collected or treated much in the literature. 

He contributed importantly to the Textile Museum exhibition and catalog “From the Bosporus to Samarkand, Flat Woven Rugs, that drew attention to flat weaves and made it legitimate to collect them.

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He was, as we have said, one of the few collectors, who (with the then Acting-TM Director, Anthony Landreau, left above) did real field research on Yoruk weaving in Turkey’s Toros mountains. 

And when I happened onto Moroccan rugs and textiles as the result of a chance family vacation there in 1971, Ralph joined me (and subsequently Brooke and me) in a number of trips to Morocco, during which we assembled one of the first serious collections of Moroccan rugs. 

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This work also resulted in an exhibition and two books: “From the Far West” and “Moroccan Carpets.”

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I first met Ralph in 1967 at a New York Hajji meeting.  We almost immediately became fast friends, which continued until his death in 1994.

As I said, one of the reasons that we began to work together is that we were both interested in new things:  textiles that hadn’t been treated much.

Secondly, he was one of the practitioners of a kind of collecting creed that I’ve tried to recommend to other collectors. 

I have argued that it’s not sufficient to assemble an array of interesting, even noteworthy textiles.  One should also examine them closely, record your findings, compare them with those in the literature, and even write about your collection, if only for yourself.  This credo underpins the McMullan Award. 

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I see it as a triangle, moving counter-clockwise from the lower left.  First Search and Seizure.  Then across to Study and Analysis, before moving to the acme of Stewardship.

As Brooke has said, Ralph was a real and generous human being.  He had real skills and ability.

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He traveled widely and had seen a lot of the world and its cultures.  He was curious and open to new things.  And he had a record of accomplishment. 

But he was also truly interested in people.  He liked working in a team.  As Brooke testifies, even when she was young, he treated her and her opinions seriously.  You can see why he was a “kid magnet.” 

He genuinely cared about his fellow creatures.  Not just his big, white dogs, but also the lady in the wheel chair that he was training one of them to help. 

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And he was fun, especially, when the gin made him make sniffing sounds.

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Yohe was one of the best people I have known and I’m still daily grateful for our experiences together and our great friendship.

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In 1994, the year in which Yohe died, we published the “Moroccan Carpets” book, based on material Yohe and Brooke and I had collected over nearly 20 years.

It is a fitting epitaph.

John Howe: 

Brooke Pickering wrote me, the afternoon before I was to give this presentation at the Textile Museum, saying that her dad had passed away early that morning. 

Russell was the driving force behind this remembrance of Yohe. 

I gave it to him repeatedly, in practice, and know that he was pleased with the result.

His last phone message (probably the day before Russell died) said that he was not well and apologized for not being able to be there.

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