RTAM on “Mike” Tschebull’s New Book

Dear folks –

On November 2, 2019, Raoul “Mike” Tschebull

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gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation program here at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC on the occasion of the publication of his book “Qarajeh to Quba: Rugs and Flatweaves from East Azarbayjan and the Transcaucasus.”

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Mike is a long-time figure in the rug and textile world.  Most of us know him first through his catalog “Kazak” 

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for an exhibition he curated in 1971.  This catalog is seen as a pioneering effort. It seems to be the first serious treatment of Kazak rugs, as a discrete group for exhibition purposes. It is also noteworthy because it resists descriptions that draw on the market place but instead offers “taxonomic” ones that center on materials and structure.

Mike has also been visible elsewhere in the international textile literature. Robert Pinner and Michael Franses selected an article Mike wrote, on Lori pile weaving, for inclusion in the first issue of Hali ever published. 

He contributed to the catalogue “Yoruk: The Nomadic Weaving Tradition in the Middle East,” edited by Tony Landreau, 1978.

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Has been a frequent contributor to Hali and curated one of the first on-line textile exhibitions “To Have and to Hold,” January, 2004, for the New England Rug Society.  You can still see it on their web site.  http://www.ne-rugsociety.org/gallery/bags/index.htm,  

He has lectured and given textile presentations around the U.S. and overseas, including several RTAMs here at the Textile Museum, the most recent one of the latter was on Zeikhur Caucasian rugs.  

https://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2016/08/24/mike-tschebull-on-zeikhur-caucasian-rugs/

Last year, he worked with James Opie to give a talk at a collectors’ event in the Santa Barbara, CA, organized by Brian Morehouse.  Their talk was entitled “Structural Variation and Design Evolution in Lur/Bakhtiyar Bags.”  That indicates that Mike’s interests and the perspective in his Hali 1 article have persisted. He wrote about an unusual pile rug from the same area for Ghereh43, Turin, in 2007. And in the current issue 201 of Hali, there is an article, “Kazaks Revisited,” extracted from the book that is the focus of today’s program.

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For years, Mike has worked on the book he talked about in this session.  Some of us have hoped that Mike might write a book on Caucasian rugs to replace Schurmann, but if you devote years to writing a book, you are entitled to write the book you want.

And that is what Mike has done.  He has written a book about rugs and flatweaves from an area that has long attracted his interest and attention.  

Broadly speaking, he has a strong interest in, and has collected rugs and pile-less textile material woven by, nomads and villagers on an “unsupervised” basis in an area “in northwestern Iran” East Azarbayjan, plus the Transcaucasus and part of Dagestan.  

He says in his Introduction that he was very taken with the possibility of “understanding the various inputs into this weaving culture” and he managed in 1996 and 1997 to travel to and do field work in rural East Azarbayjan.  The edited results of this observation are included in this volume in marked passages describing the geography, its inhabitants and living conditions. Inclusion of his expurgated and edited field notes was a major motivator to move ahead on the effort. 

As his book title indicates, one of Mike’s agendas is to bring English spellings closer to the way that given words are pronounced by native speakers. Danny Shaffer, the book’s editor, has adopted the shorthand “Q2Q” for the title.  Even I can say that.

There are a lot of Transcaucasian and Azarbayjani pile rugs treated but a lot of attention is also paid to jajims and tapestry-woven kilims, whose warp and weft-faced structures are restrictive and so less likely to be made for sale. 

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Jajims, which can be beautiful, are a format often not treated as seriously as they are here.

Mike writes a good English sentence and his text is accessible. His descriptions emphasize “taxonomic” aspects, but he still also celebrates what he sees as design progression.

This book is a Hali Publications product.  Mike entrusted the photography of the pieces in the book to Don Tuttle and the result is of the superior sort we have come to expect from him.

We need, also, to say that this book is published under the auspices of the Near Eastern Art Research Center, established by Joe McMullan in 1962, to provide support for publications in the field of Islamic carpets.

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With this introduction, Mike began:

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Mike:

Russ Pickering said that your collection will disappear anonymously if you don’t document it.

Walter Denny said you have 50 years of accumulated knowledge and contacts that will disappear if you don’t document them.

Valid points, and I enjoyed the R&D. 

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Joe MicMullan’s book (above left) on his own collection is so good that some have said he couldn’t have written it (the ultimate compliment).

And Russ Pickering’s books, first on flatweaves (above right) before anyone treated them seriously, and subsequently, on Moroccan rugs and textiles, are good examples of self published books based on personal rug and textile collections. 

And they both wrote more than these titles above. 

Commercial publishers won’t provide an outlet, for the most part. Some call such efforts “Vanity Publishing,” But these guys had a thorough knowledge of the subject, good contacts for research, made lots of time available, and of course the cash for publication, which is less of a factor.

But the cash issue is not the impediment – it’s the time needed. 

Self publishing and writing up one’s own material is less common than getting a pro to do it. But using an outsider muffles the collector’s message.

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Jim Burns spent 6.5 years working on his book on Kurdish weaving (above lefts). My friend, Hamid Sadighi, self-published his own kilim collection (above right) and donated it to a local Berlin museum.

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A little about “nuts and bolts” of such an effort.

In general, art book costs, over time, have come down and quality has gone up. 

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First chapter heading efforts:. The designers suggested  “tone-on-tone with a detail from a Kazak as background.” (above here) Then, random details on a plain beige background.  (lower above.) 

I wanted to see other versions.

I suggested taking selected motifs from some of the rugs and flat weaves and Photoshopping them into stylized versions. But the designers could not render a clean image – see upper version. But what ultimately worked was taking the PS motifs into Adobe Illustrator and using them as a guide underneath the designers’ drawing. Of course, due to the nature of the motifs, the designers had to use an element of artistic license to capture the motifs as accurately as possible.

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We agreed on which ones worked best, lower in the pair above.  A stylized version, very close to the real version.

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Dark blue background worked well. The motif in the blue ground panel above with the device, above right, taken from a rug

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Below are large images of the two above.  First the one on the left and then under it, the one on the right.

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Here are two larger versions of the two images above, arranged vertically.  First the chapter heading graphic, on the left and then the rug on the right.

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About the Transcaucasus: There is little early fieldwork, data or much current expertise. Limited photos, all late, most from Russian sources. 

One of the best studies of material culture, illustrated, left, below.

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About the Transcaucasus: There is

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Larger images of 8.

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Mike (and some other authorities) believe that the oldest Caucasian village rugs we have are not older than the early 19th century.  He says “The earliest dated Transcaucasian prayer rug has an inwoven date of 1809, and I have a Kazak dated 1808, so there are very early 19th century Transcaucasian village rugs. They just don’t seem to have survived in numbers, and there were probably not very many to begin with.”

How selected designs evolved.

Note: Mike’s estimates of design progression seem based, in the case of embroideries/tiles (which, like pile rugs, are digital), first on age estimates (using traditional methods).  The embroideries used are estimated to be considerably older than the pile rug examples. 

Mike writes this sentence early on in his book: “…While it is correct that many pile rug motifs come from a variety of non-textile sources – including glass, architectural, metalwork, miniatures, stucco and ceramics, among others – they seem largely filtered through some textile medium.”

As Bob Emry has pointed out, the German collectors who selected “older” Turkman textiles for Jurg Rageth to do carbon dating and dye and mordant analysis on, demonstrated that there is something to their traditional age estimates (the subsequent carbon dating and dye and mordant analysis showed that the textiles they selected as “older” were confirmed to be that).

 

 

 

Groups of experienced collectors, using traditional methods of age estimate may be able to identify “older” pieces, successfully and sometimes to place pieces in an age sequence (e.g., given three textiles estimated to be “older,” successfully identify the oldest and the youngest), based on among other factors – dye quality, variety of use, and complexity of design. Traditional age estimates are not scale-able.  To some degree, that had to wait, as available, for the results of the carbon dating, and dye and mordant analysis.

For example, Mike’s embroidery vs pile rug age estimates also seem to draw on the frequent convention that older design versions tend to be more complex and articulated and that a degree of simplification and conventionalization is visible in younger textiles.

And it is widely seen that the range of colors used in given Transcaucasian and Azarbayjani pieces narrows, as we come forward in time, and that multiple shades of a given color, and the presence of yellows, green, and especially complex shades of purple, are thought to be indicators of age.

Mike: Embroideries were a major design source for Kazaks.   Sometimes  also tile designs.

Mike sees the design of the “Lori Pambak” Kazak pile rug, below left, as sourced in the Transcaucasian silk, on the right, below, estimated 17th/18th century. He says that such design progressions are not linear and discusses this one at length in his book.

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Larger images of 11.

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Star Kazak (below, left) – based on a tile design sourced thru embroidery (below, right).

Star Kazak (below, left) – based on a tile design sourced thru embroidery (below, right).

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Larger images of 12.

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Zeikhur rug detail (below, left), from a full rug is 60 on page 237 in Mike’s book.  Woven in the northeast Transcaucasus.  Mike says that this “Alpan” design (he thinks the name may be geographically accurate) likely came to pile rugs, initially via tiles and then through embroideries, (the latter, (below, right) estimated as early as the 17th century.

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Larger images of the pieces in 13.

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13 left, above, is a design device Mike discussed in a previous post.  Because it is one for which he also has a tile precursor, I have inserted it here, below.

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The Zeikhur field design in illust. g left, is of interest, because it is based on a tile design, probably originally unglazed floor tiles, as in the right hand image in illust g above.

The orientation of the slide helps make clear the comparison of the long hexagonal tiles to the diagonal cartouches in the rug, left; the repeat medallions in the rug are represented by the diamond-shaped tiles (see larger images below).

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turned detail of illustr. of g right

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How was the design so widely distributed? Armenian traders?

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Pinwheel Kazak pile rug (below, left), (Schurmann, 4).  Mike estimates that the Schurmann rug was woven about 1850.  He sees the “pinwheel” design sourced thru a simple design used in embroideries and some Turkish textiles and rugs.  He once owned the one (below, right) and estimates it to the 18th century.

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Larger images of pieces in 14.

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Qasim Ushak pile rug (below, left)   Schurmann says the pile rugs were woven by “isolated Kurdish tribes” of Karabagh.  Eiland and Eiland say Kurdish weavers often suggested but Armenian weavers also possible.  Structure of some Qasim Ushak pile rugs is similar to that of the “Caucasian” dragon rugs. Mike: “Who says this? My question.”

There seems agreement that the Qasim Ushak pile rug designs (below, left) are, also, sourced in earlier Caucasian embroideries (below, right).  

There are no early pile examples, and the rug design may have been created by dealers some time after about 1875, based on dated examples. Transcaucasian embroideries that survived were probably quilt-top decoration for the well-to-do.

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Larger images of the pieces in 15.

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15 right is Schurmann, 139. estimated to the 17 century.

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Warp-faced flat-woven jajims (below, right), a more restrictive structure than pile, is also a likely design source of pile “prayer” rugs such as the one below, left.

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Kashmiri and Indian textiles (below, right) as a design source – widespread.  Botehs, or flowers in a grid are a 19th century Indian import (below, left).

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Larger versions of 17.

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Marching peacocks fragment (below, left) + detail (below, right). Rug design likely derived from sumak bags, but an earlier origin is likely Iranian bronzes.

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But specifically illustrated here by a sumak bedding bag side, viewed vertically. The only logical way the village weaver could have come up with the pile rug design idea was to have seen the similar design bedding bag. How else would the hooked medallions in the rug have been rendered in the squeezed way that they are? The marching peacocks in both objects march north.

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Larger versions of details of borders of pieces in 19.

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Burns frag, Armenian script, two frags assembled (below, left) and bird detail (below, right). The rug is photographed from the top end, so the peacocks appear upside down.

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Larger versions of 20.

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Complete Rippon marching peacocks (below, left) vs. fragment (seen above).  There are so few rugs with this design. 

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The Rippon example, 21 left.

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Mike: “Weaving in East Azarbayjan: A society composed of urbanites, villagers and nomads, each turning out distinctive products, the latter two groups much less affected by commerce than weavers in the Transcaucasus. Most of the field pictures are mine.”

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Next slide is a map of East Azarbayjan (below), from Mike’s book, showing topographical features.

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(click on the map below to get a larger version)

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Mike drew attention to how trade routes likely moved goods the 350 miles from Baku to Tabriz and beyond. Silk, rice, rugs, textiles, etc. headed south on camels before there were railroads. He traveled a lot of this trade route during his visits to Eastern Azarbayjan in 1996 and 1997.

He is careful to say that we don’t know for sure what these trade routes were but the topography strongly suggests that the must have at least in part been something like what I have outlined in red below.

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Mike: “I didn’t see villages on the escarpment (ed. that is the only really difficult part to traverse). Much of the area along this trade route I think existed is pretty barren.”

In his field notes, Mike talks about one instance in which it was important to be “on the ground.”  This is a long passage that I need to quote:

“The east-west valley between the Bozgush mountain range and the Sabalan rises about 35 km east of Sarab, and there is a series of ridges and canyons through which the eastbound road forms tortuous switchbacks before coming down to a much lower elevation at a town called Nir.

“There one sees the the headwaters of he Qarasu…This river, the major one in East Azarbayjan, runs 180 degrees in a semi-circle around the Sabalan massif (ed. see map) flowing east, then north, then west, before heading into the Moghan to empty into the Aras…The Qarasu valley forms a logical path for caravans to use to transport goods from the Caucasian settlements to Tabriz,” 

Below is a caravansary he encountered and photographed, on fairly high ground, at a high point along this likely caravan route. It might have been about a half way point for caravans.

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“The Sabalan is about 50 km long, in its entirety.

“The traders couldn’t simply follow the river around Sabalan – too long a trip – so they went over the escarpment, up a switchback, down the other side, toward Tabriz and eastern Turkey. So it seems to me, having looked at the actual geography. The escarpment is at the west end of Sabalan, east of Ahar on the map. The topo features make it fairly clear, as to location.

“The caravanseri is there because caravans bearing goods went past it. Food and drink, places to sleep. Animal feed. You don’t build caravanseris in the middle of nowhere for no reason.

“Having gotten around in East Azabayjan, I know about the caravansary stopovers on trade route from Moghan to Tabriz.

“Maybe how Dragon Rugs got to eastern Turkey.”

Villagers live best in this area at about 1500 meters above sea level.

Interrelation between nomadism and villagers in Azarbayjan is  clear: I have always been fascinated by nomad technology.

Settled nomads probably wove the rug (below, left) in a village like this one (below, right). 

Said to have been woven by settled Geyiklu, north of Ardabil, based on local sources. 

Pile weaving done by settled people, limited nomad population in Azarbayjan, many more villagers.  Skill set, time needed to weave pile, capital outlay and marketing not available to nomads. 

Did nomads influence color sense or the other way around?

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Color sense very good in Azarbayjan.

Larger versions of the images in 25.

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Compare the colors betwen a Kazak  (right, below) and a Heriz (below, left) from about the same period, ca 1920.

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Heriz has 9 natural colors;  the Kazak has mostly synthetic dyes. 

There are settled nomad weavers, yes, but most of these Azarbayjani rugs were woven by long-term villagers.

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Larger versions of rugs in 26.

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Nomads relied on flat-weaves; villagers, too.

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First, let’s us consider jajims, vital to nomads, I’ve long had a soft spot for them:  

Tapper picture below, left, 1965, jajim loom.

(Below, right) is a Baku Museum felt-backed jajim.  Jajims are woven with warp-faced structures.  Warp-faced structures are more restrictive than pile.  So pile designs that resemble those on complex jajims likely came from them.

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Even larger versions of images in 27.

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With regard to nomads, at one time, on both sides of the border, jajims were quite important.

The origin of the word is unclear. 

Jajims served many purposes.  They are quite artsy. 

Most of mine are Iranian-sourced.

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There are two types of Azarbayjani jajims.

On the left, below is a “plain” structure. One the right, below is one with a warp substitution structure. 

Both of these pieces have saturated colors.  The relatively high cost of such saturated color implies the value of these weavings to their owners.

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Warp-substitution may denote hierarchy.  Mike explained later what he means here.  “Higher ranked people may have sat on warp-substitution jajims. Most of the ones I see are squarish, which implies they were used to sit on. Did lower ranked people just sit on felts?  I don’t know.”

Larger versions of the pieces in 28.

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(Below left) Old jajim in the village of Mehreban, nomad jajim seen as a result of light through a reed screen. 

Reed screen (below, right) keeps bugs and chickens out, allows airflow. In Arasburan.

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Larger versions of images in 29.

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Gilim: ca. 11’X5’ nomad gilim (below, left).  Same format drying on a kume, (below, right) so gelims were used as shown in a kume. 

A kume is a common Azarbayjani nomad dwelling, ca. 10’X18’, covered with felt, held up by an alder (wood) frame, the alders cut seasonally and good for probably a season. Cheaper to construct than an ahlechik, the dome-shaped yurt that is better known.  We’ll see at least one image of an ahlechik in a moment.

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Large images of those in 30.

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Another common AZ gilim style (below, left).  Would have been used in a “kume” yurt like the one on the right, below, with w/smoked felts as covering.

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Larger versions of the images in 31.

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Sumak bedding bags being readied to load on camels (below, left), 1965, Richard Tapper.

Sumak was largely used for bedding bags. Such bedding bags were termed “farmesh” in Turki, not the more common Farsi, “mafrash.”  But the bedding bags are the same thing, no matter what they are called. 

On the right, in 32 below, are my travel companions leaning against farmesh, turned inside out.

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Sumak rugs, as being woven here, are not a period weaving for these nomads. Door covers are usually felt, see ahlechik, left

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Pack and tentbands were complex to weave and vital. Tentbands are used to stabilize oak tent struts in the round ahlechiks.

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Larger versions of items in 34.

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Azarbayjani nomad double cloth bands look pretty much the same on both sides. Besides, I think they photograph better with the ivory background showing. I don’t say in the RTAM narrative that the band illustrated is a pack or tend band. I think it was likely a pack band and was slightly shortened at the buckle end due to wear and tear, and a “make do” repair preserved it . From my experience inside ahlechiks, tent bands are narrower and almost always smoked. Good bands like this one seem to have been preserved as capital. Otherwise, there would be almost none in almost perfect shape. I got this band in a trade with Hamid Sadighi, a Lur who lives in Berlin, for an extra copy I had of McMullan’s Islamic Carpets.

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Village for-domestic-use pile weaving: typical old village rug format on the left, from around Sarab, On the right, how they were used. The right hand rugs in situ in a house in Sarab are comptemporary and not substantially different from the old one, illustrating design and format stability. 

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Larger version of pieces in 35.

35 left: date, detail and a larger full shot after

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This old Sarab has 13 colors and has the kind of field that makes its date,1256/1840, believable

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Left above is a typical old rug from Qarajeh, west of Sarab and layout of newer local rugs in a Qarajeh house 37 right. Layout is typical. The old rug could also date to ca. 1840, but no way to pinpoint date. 

Major export style is said to be from here.

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Export weaving: It’s still being done – woman at loom. Villagers were friendly. Women seemed to do most of the work.

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39 left is an old 4’8”X6’2” export rug. Took over the Kazak market. Old border sampler on a weaver’s bench, with tools

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Mike finished with hybrid export rugs, using unusual designs. 

He said that The left hand rug, below, is probably from near Sarab, uses Kurdish village weaving motifs and coloration in an export format, illustrating a blend of more or less local and export values. 

The rug on the right, probably from a workshop near Tabriz, appears to be a very large sampler, but is more likely a one-off weaving for an unknown purpose.

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Mike took questions, 

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and there was a vigorous ending discussion that even verged onto market tendencies and practices.

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Paul Kreiss, the owner of the Rug Bookshop in Baltimore,

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had brought a supply of Mike’s book and the session moved to a sales and signing and conversation.

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If you missed Mike’s session, you can still buy his book by contacting Paul Kreiss, directly:

The Rug Book Shop
2603 Talbot Road
Baltimore, Maryland 21216-1621
(410) 367-8194
E-Mail: enquiries@rugbookshop.com
Web Site: http://www.rugbookshop.com

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I hope you have enjoyed this brief look at Mike’s magnum opus and his description of how he went about putting it together.

Regards,

R. John Howe

 

 

 

 

 

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