Archive for the Swan, Wendel Category

Reflections on Harold Keshishian and the RTAM Programs

Posted in Seidman, Michael, Swan, Wendel on February 23, 2011 by rjohn

On November 13, 2010, the Textile Museum’s Rug and Text Appreciation Morning program was devoted to reflections on the late Harold Keshishian’s

fecund relationship to, and work with, these free Saturday morning programs that have been, for nearly 40 years, an important part of The Textile  Museum’s  public outreach efforts.

The Myers Room was full.

Michael Seidman (left) and Wendel Swan (right)

led the efforts to organize, produce and conduct this session.

Via Powerpoint, 150 images of Harold and some of his pieces in RTAM sessions over the years were projected in background during the program.

I am going to try to provide you with an approximation of this session as it was conducted, but am also going to take some liberties with it.

In particular, I am, from time to time, going to:

1.  Show you, without comment,  some of the images from the projected Powerpoint array, and

2.  Use particular images, or groups of them, from the Powerpoint array and, then, repeat an associated Harold comment, or tell an associated story.

As one example of each of these points of punctuation, here is a first set of images from the Powerpoint array.

And here is an image illustrating a comment that Harold frequently made in these RTAM sessions.


Harold comment:

“The weaver of this piece would not recognize it.”

Fading of synthetic dyes is notorious and often obvious, but Harold’s point is different: natural dyes fade too, and often the colors in a given piece with putative natural dyes, have likely changed, sometimes considerably, since the piece was new.


Such comments and stories will, I think, to a degree convey, concretely, the sort of “force” that Harold was in the RTAM sessions.

Maryclaire Ramsey, The Textile Museum Director, and Bruce Baganz, the President of the Museum Board, spoke to Harold’s contributions to the textile world and to the TM in  particular, saying that the Museum today especially wanted to acknowledge Harold’s role in fostering the RTAM programs.

To that end she said, the Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning programs will in the future by presented “in memory of Harold and his many contributions and accomplishments.”

They presented Melissa Keshishian, Harold’s widow, and her two sons and daughter, with a plaque with this indication.

Wendel Swan spoke next.

Wendel said that the Rug and Textile Appreciation Mornings were a rare occurrence in today’s museum world:  a series of quality programs offered to the public free and without reservations.

He acknowledged the presence in the room of some people who had contributed to the RTAMs over the years: Russell Pickering, Michael Seidman, John Wertime and Ed Zimmerman (a long-time president of the TM board).

He further noted the absence of others who had sent their best wishes for the day, but regrettably could not attend: Leonardo Contardo, Virginia Delfico (the head of the TM’s Education Department for 11 years and a brilliant producer of RTAM programs), Jerry Thompson and John Howe (that’s me) .

(Wendel, himself, has worked actively with the RTAM sessions for years, and has presented frequently.  He is, currently very active, in producing them.)

He said that those in the room: trustees, colleagues and friends, were here to discuss and illustrate the contributions of the late Harold Keshishian to the RTAM programs, Harold’s contributions being one example of how individuals help the Museum fulfill its mission.

History recedes rapidly, and the origins of the RTAMs are a little murky.  But the best memories and information  suggest that the notion of the RTAMs originated in 1973, while Tony Landreau, later The Textile Museum’s Director, was a TM curator, and that Harold was asked to implement it.

Wendel said that the TM was managed very differently then.  Generally, speakers would go into the vaults and bring up pieces to show and tell on the floor in the galleries.

Wendel said that he arrived in the Washington area in 1986.  The first RTAM that he can remember is one given by the late Gayle Garrett on yastiks.

This was a time when objects from the TM collection were shown in RTAMs three or four times a year, and Gayle had some Museum material in her yastiks session.  Wendel said that he especially remembers this particular RTAM because he innocently reached out toward one of the Museum pieces, triggering a strong reaction from Gayle.  Wendel said that if Gayle had been holding a ruler, the back of his hand would have had a red welt… possibly his forehead as well.

Harold was a frequent RTAM presenter at that time and in subsequent years.

(Harold and Virginia Delfico)

Courtesy of Barry O’Connell

His programs were always popular and people were sometimes turned away because the capacity of the room had been exceeded.

Wendel said that he had often maintained that Harold knew more about more kinds of rugs and textiles than anyone else he had ever known.  Harold spent a lifetime in the rug business that his Armenian father founded, learning about the production, importation and identification of rugs and textiles from all kinds from various regions of the world.

Harold, Wendel said, owned a lot of rugs and shared them with us, generously.  Scarcely a topic could be presented here to which Harold could not bring an interesting example to share.

Most important, Harold had a passion and enthusiasm.  Passion and enthusiasm for the material,  for The Textile Museum and its programs, but especially for these Rug and Textile Appreciation Mornings.

Harold believed that those who have accumulated a certain amount of experience or knowledge, or who have attained some position of leadership in the rug and textile community have an obligation to participate in the RTAMs and, whenever possible, to present programs.

Wendel said that Harold’s absence in the RTAM sessions would be keenly felt.  His passing leaves a large hole in our access to an extensive and valuable, knowledge and experience.  A question is going to arise in an RTAM, and we are going to turn to the chair at the side where Harold often sat, and be a little surprised to find it empty.


Frequent Harold comment:

“I think this piece is older than we think it is.”

Harold noticed that the most frequent responses to the question of how old a given piece might be were: “Last quarter of the 19th century.” or “Turn of the 20th century.” or “Probably before 1930.”

He said that it was not plausible to him that nearly all of the material we have was woven in years between 1875 and 1930 and that more of the pieces we have, than we might think, were woven before 1875, we just don’t have reliable bases for identifying them.


Wendel called on several folks in the audience to talk about their experiences with Harold vis-a-vis the RTAM.

Russ Pickering noted  that the 70s were an exciting time at the TM.  Good work was done, and they had a lot of fun, despite the fact, Russ said, that they often didn’t really know what they were doing.

John Wertime said that Harold was likely the only person in the world who could identify some textiles accurately.

Michael Seidman echoes this indication, saying that once in a TM session someone brought in a textile that was very unusual, something that even the experienced people in the room could not identify.  But Harold said, “This is an Indian piece, right after WWII.”  Harold did not collect in this area, but he could recognize a great range of things.  As I heard him say once in another context, “If you live long enough, you see everything.”

Bruce Baganz said that it was likely that Harold was the last person still active in The Textile Museum and its programs, who personally knew Mr. Myers, the TM’s founder.  Part of what is noteworthy about Harold’s passing is that that personal link to the TM’s founder has now been lost.

Wendel concluded this part of the program by talking to the audience, even challenging them a bit, about their relation to the RTAM programs.

How, he asked, can you make a contribution to the continuation of these RTAMs?  There are several ways.  You can attend.  You can bring material to them.  You can express yourself in them (the more you give to these sessions, the more you will learn from them). You can encourage others to attend.

He said that Michael was going to take us through some pieces that he and Melissa had selected from Harold’s collection, but that the audience was encouraged to participate with questions such as:

Do you remember your first RTAM?  Tell us about it.

How can we best carry on the mission of the TM and the RTAMs?

How did Harold specifically, or the RTAMs more generally, affect your interest in rugs and textiles?

Michael Seidman now began to treat selected pieces from Harold’s collection.

Comment on the long red piece on the right: 19th century Italian velvet panel, still with an ogival pattern, so typical of the influence of Ottoman design introduced a few hundred years ago.

Here are some closer looks at this piece:

Comment on close-ups: wonderful condition, essentially two colors, aubergine pile and ivory ground.

The next piece was another fragment of what,  given the scale of the devices on it, must have been a huge carpet.

Here is an unobstructed image of it.

Comment on fragment above:  17th century fragment of a carpet from Herat.  Often referred to as Indo-Herat in recognition of carpet production in both India and Herat.  The design is a two plane  lattice formed by two vine systems with palmettes and floral devices.  Note the Chinese inspired cloudband adjacent to the palmette.

Here is a closer detail.

The next piece was the one Michael is drawing attention to below.

Here’s an unobstructed view of it.

Comment on fragment above: Another fragment of a different 17th century Indo-Herat carpet, this with very clear cloudband, palmettes and saz leaf.

Both carpets have variations on the typical  purplish red  ground.

The next piece treated was this one:

Comment on piece above:  18th century Greek island embroidery- Epirus.  A happy piece as Harold liked to say.

One day in an RTAM, when Harold was showing this piece, he mentioned that it was part of a woman’s undergarment.  A lady in the audience asked whether it would have been visible when worn.  Harold smiled and said, “Not usually, but perhaps, on a special occasion.”

Here is one closer detail of this piece.

The next piece was difficult to photograph in this session.  Here is the session photograph.

Here is a series of photos of this piece from another occasion to let you see its qualities.

This is a rare Kerman shawl, fragmented and then reconstituted from several pieces.  Estimated to have been woven in the 18th century.  Persian botehs in field, with a border from another piece.  Note the difference  in coloring between the two elements.

Here are some additional detail images of it.

Michael now moved to a second level of Harold’s pieces on the board, starting with one Harold often described as a real favorite.

Harold believed it to be a Laver Kerman weaving.

A very whimsical, pictorial piece, very nicely woven.

Here are some closer details of this piece.

There was another pictorial rug on the board and Michael discussed it next.

This is another rug that Harold described as one of his favorites.

Michael said Tabriz.   Harold always felt that this piece was probably woven specifically for a client, presumably one who had a valued cat.

Here are some closer details:

Harold often said that 1) collar indicates cat was owned, 2) henna-dipped feet indicate cat was loved, trying to make it especially beautiful, parallel to use of henna by women, 3) Kaiser Wilhelm mustache is a reflection of the fact that, at one time, things Kaiser Wilhelm were all the rage in Iran and many men adopted Kaiser Wilhelm mustaches.

The next piece was a “Transylvanian” rug reconstituted by couching the four quarters (into which it had been divided) onto a backing.

Here is a closer corner:

This is an example of Harold’s range.  he had something from every period.

The next two pieces are from Northwest Persia with very similar boteh designs.

The first of these is a mafrash side panel done in extremely fine sumak wrapping.  It is perhaps the most famous piece that Harold owned.

Here are some closer details of it.

This mafrash side panel was published in the seminal flatweave catalog “From the Bosporus to Samarkand” and drew a full, two-facing-page treatment in John Wertime’s “Sumak.”

Wertime spoke to it and a larger piece with botehs on a blue ground but done in slit tapestry (kilim) technique rather than sumak wrapping.

Below is a detail of the drawing of the botehs in the larger piece that shows how similar their designs are (compare with the detail of the mafrash panel two images above).

My notes on what Wertime actually said about these pieces in this session, are not good, but,

in his book “Sumak Bags,” he gave the bag panel a dramatic, two opposing page, display and said that it is “recognized as one of the masterpieces of sumak bag art.”  He said that the weave is “unusually fine,” and this face “must be one of the oldest of the Shahsevan-Persianate sumak pieces to survive.”


Here is a second set of images of Harold in RTAM sessions:


Harold frequently said:

“The three most important things about a weaving are color, color and color.”

Harold did not claim to have originated this mantra, and lots of folks have said similar things, but it articulates something widely believed.

It is not necessary to ignore other aspects of weaving such as design composition,  drawing, graphic contrast, texture, and even technical quality, to acknowledge the importance, even the primacy, of color to many collectors.


The next piece illustrates Harold’s concern for. and appreciation of, color in his own collecting.

This is an Alpan fragment and was Harold’s most favorite piece.  Wendel said colors are “terrific”  and cited the yellow, burnt orange,  and the dark blue ground as examples of great color combinations.

Wendel further commented that Harold seldom, if ever, made critical comments about pieces that the audience brought in to the RTAMs.  For example, synthetic colors that Wendel or other purists might dismiss or disdain were usually found by Harold to be “happy” colors.

Focus now moved to pieces members of the audience had brought in.  In some cases, a connection of the piece to Harold was described.

The first piece was the item of embroidery below.

Classic 19th century Turkish “towel”.  The kind of piece Harold owned and valued.

Here is a close look at part of it:

Now we moved to a yastik.

Southwestern Anatolian, shown in the RTAM on Harold’s Anatolian collection about two years ago.

Here is a detail of one quarter.

The color in the above image is off.   The green is much clearer and brighter.

The next piece was the one below.

Wendel said that this piece has a Saruk look, but is a distinctive type.  It is a Jozan, from between Arak and Malayer.  Shown in Harold’s last RTAM, with Kirk, on Persian carpets.  It has many colors.

Wendel said that Jozans can be recognized in part by their symmetric knots.

The next piece was a small, embroidered Central Asian panel.

Its owner said that this piece originally belonged to Harold, but once she made the mistake of admiring its colors and Harold gave it to her.

She said that she thinks it is Kungrat rather than Lakai.

The next brought in piece was an item of “zili,” a species of brocade.

Here is a closer detail.

You can see its “corduroy” look.

This is the next brought in piece, had an asymmetrical field design.

The warps indicate that it was woven in the orientation of the image above, but it was turned on the board with its “niche” at the top for a more “balanced” viewing.

Here is a closer look at one corner.

The last piece of the morning was a 4.5 x 6.5 Caucasian sumak, which the present owner acquired from Harold in 1975.  Melissa did some restoration on it.

Here is a corner detail:

Here is a third set of images of Harold at various RTAMs.

I have a couple of thoughts of my own about Harold and the RTAMs.   I was an instructional designer for over 40 years.  So my eye goes to instances of learning.  There were two qualities of Harold’s that continually impressed me.

First, despite his vast experience and knowledge, he was never too proud to continue to learn, and to be visibly interested in doing so.  And he was willing to learn from anyone.  A novice would ask a question that attracted Harold’s attention and he would probe it.  The novice would start to back away and Harold would say,

“No, no.  Let’s look at your question.  I want to learn.”

A second quality is admirable because of its care for less experienced folks.  Harold never forgot, was ever alert for, instances in which basic things that many have mastered long ago could be made clear to novices.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen him take out his handkerchief and do what he is doing in the image below,

using his fingers as warps and showing newer folks how a symmetrical knot is tied on them.

I’m going to end with another set of Harold in the RTAM images, but first I want to tell my own story about this second admirable Harold quality: being alert to the potential learning needs of newer folks in the rug and textile world.

One morning, when someone else was presenting and Harold was in the audience, one of the pieces brought in was a fragment of  a Bijar runner that had been cut off on one end.

Harold came quickly to the front of the room insisting that this was something we needed to look at.

In many rugs, Harold said, the warps are all level with each other, that is, they are all in a single horizontal plane.

But pile Bijars like this one are famous for having alternate warps fully depressed, that is one set is directly below the other.

Ordinarily, Harold continued, this structure is nearly impossible to see, even on the rug’s back, but the fact that the end of this one is cut off provides a rare opportunity to look directly into a fully-depressed warp structure.

We will be able to see clearly that one set of warps is directly under another.

Now this was not Harold’s program, but he was irrepressible in such situations.

He even got Wendel Swan to look.

For me it is a classic instance of Harold taking care of the learning needs of less experienced folks.

Who would have thought that depressed warps could be this dramatic?

A final set of images of Harold at RTAM sessions.

Unavoidably, this post is a little “in house” in the sense that what it tries to convey has more concrete meaning to those of us who “haunt” the RTAM programs.

But I hope that it has spoken a bit to others as well, and has conveyed both enjoyment and a sense of what it was like to have access to a resource like Harold Keshishian.


R. John Howe

The “Tree of Life” Design, Part 2, The Pieces Brought In

Posted in Swan, Wendel on June 6, 2010 by rjohn

Dear folks –

This is Part 2, The Pieces Brought in of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program that Christine Brown gave on November 21, 2009 here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on the “The Tree and the Tree of Life Design.”

Part 1 of this program was a lecture by Christine.  If you have not seen that, you can reach it using the link below:

Wendel Swan assisted Christine by facilitating Part 2.

The first piece was the square-ish fragmented one below.

The owner of this piece described it as a  Baluch or Timuri bread sofreh from northwest Afghanistan.  All wool and all natural dyes.  Lat 19th – early 20th century.  Although in bad condition, this rare bread sofreh is a wonderful example of a playful tree of life design, boldly and randomly placed on a camel-colored field.  This is a rare weaving, albeit worn, with powerful, simple graphics.

A couple of closer details.

A bright blue is more visible in these closer images.

The next piece was another sofreh, this time of the “dining” variety.

Columns of “tree-like” forms decorate the field.

The owner described it as a Baluch dining sofreh, from NE Iran or NW Afghanistan.  All wool and all natural dyes, except for traces of one fuschine.  Late 19 or early 20th century.  Double or triple tree of life design on a camel ground.  Sumak technique throughout the field, with nice end finishes and workmanship.

Again some closer details.

One more similar, but distinctive sofreh format piece, was the one below.

Its owner described it as Kurd-Baluch or or Baluch dining sofreh from NE Iran or NW Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Wool on wool with a possible synthetic pink.  Mid-20th century.

A large dining sofreh with Kurdish influence.  Can be called a mixed group weaving from the Baluch and/or Kurds, and could even have been made in a Peshawar refugee camp.

Sumak technique; distantly related to the second sofreh (above), but with less refinement and a heavier handle, which are typical of Kurdish weaving in NE Iran.

Some closer detail images.

Its range of color is wider than is suggested by the initial overall image.

The next piece was the band below.

This is a Shahsavan piece, sections of which have quite explicit “tree” devices with perching birds.

A closer detail.

Camel ground Baluch balischts, like the one below, are frequent, but can be graphically attractive.

Tree devices are frequent in such pieces.

Here is another.

I’m not clear why the Baluch seem so attracted to this tree design, but variations of it are very common  in Baluch balischt and rugs (especially those of niche design).

The next piece was also a Baluch balischt with a tree-like field.

The darker image makes the border hard to read.

The next piece was again Baluch with a “tree-motif” field design but this time a rug in a niche format.

A couple closer details.

We went on with another small Baluch rug with a tree-like field design.

This time an ivory ground provides more contrast and the scale of the “tree” elements is larger.

Yet another Baluch with a niche design and a tree-device field followed.

perhaps overall the darkest we have seen in this Baluch series.

The next piece was a large fragment, perhaps a little more than 3 feet X 5 feet and probably the oldest of all the examples shown in this program.

It has some field devices that are arguably tree-based.

This fragment is from a large rug.  Not only is one side border missing (preventing us from estimating its width accurately), its bottom border has been reattached, indicating that it was longer as well. Estimates in the room were that the original rug was at least 6 feet by 9 feet and perhaps longer.

Here is a closer look at a couple of the tree-like devices in its field.

Also seen as Baluch.

The next piece was a Bakhtiari rug, here folded to examine details.

It was most likely woven during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Here is the full view.

And some closer details.

If you have attended many RTAM programs in recent years, you will have seen, and not have forgotten, Wendel’s glorious Kerman meditation carpet below.

Unlike nearly all other tree of life rugs, the field design is asymmetrical.  The birds, fruits and flowers are exceptionally realistic.

A translation of the top central cartouche says “Work of ostad (master) Muhammed Ali” while the bottom central cartouche translates to “made to order of Nasrollah Kermani”.  Poetry in the cartouches around rest of border express love of and admiration for a woman.

Christine treated this piece in her lecture, but it is a piece always worth further looking at and into.

The quality and range of its colors are of a high order

and it has what I think are the most effective minor borders I have ever seen.

Under a niche, its field design, full of flowers, trees, animals and human figures, is asymmetrical,

and the inscriptions in the cartouches are exquisitely drawn.

The next piece was a small, opulent, Jozan mat, called a “pushti.”

A closer detail, below, makes the tree-like device in the center of its field more explicit.

The following piece was the large, Luri rug below with a “shrub” field and a dramatic meander border.

Up close, the field is seen to be composed of two columns of tree-like designs with abstracted leaves or blossoms on their branches.

The components and colors of the unusual meander border also become more visible in closer isolation.

The next piece was the Shirvan below.

It owner suggested that it might be questioned whether the central array in its field is a tree-image.

It might also be seen as a variety of the “Kuba eagle” design.

The next item shown was a fragment of a Turkmen horse headdress.  It is silk embroidery.

A noted Turkmen expert and his German friend who collect Turkmen embroidery described this design as a “tree with buds,” called attention to the generous amount of green employed in it, and said that they had not seen an instance of this design previously.

There is some question about the optimum orientation for viewing this piece.  The image above shows how it would look on the forehead of a horse when one is facing the horse while standing on the ground.

The orientation below is closer to what one would see looking over the horse’s head while on its back.

We have laughingly called this its “Christmas tree” orientation.

It is a nice example of a fragment that retains a holistic appearance.

The piece below is a mounted Anatolian fragment.

It’s central tree-like field device draws attention.

But a very similar device is used in its borders

and half-version in blue intrude in its field all around.

The next to last piece shown in this session was the Ladik niche design below.

This piece exhibits a nice red, a pale green and a strong lighter blue.  Its border is often seen on Bergama rugs.  It has a spare tree-like form in its field under the niche that has an archaic feel to me.

Wendel noted that Anatolian pieces with “tree” designs are not frequent and that it was a little remarkable that we had three in this session.  They were the two immediately above, and the tulu in Christine’s lecture.

The last piece in this session was not a textile, but rather a plan for making one.

This is a model and design for a needlepoint with an elaborate family tree design.

One does see needlepoints in antique stores that display some modest family pedigrees, but this one, completed, would be the most ambitious I have seen.

The session came to an end and the audience moved to the front.

I want to thank Christine Brown for researching, designing and presenting this interesting program, for agreeing to make it available in virtual form, and for important editing of the latter.

Thanks too to Wendel Swan for his facilitating of the “pieces brought in” part of this program, and for his editing of my description of the pieces brought.

Finally, thanks to Pat Reilly for another useful set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of what seems to me an interesting topic and session.


R. John Howe

“Potpourri”: by Michael Seidman and Wendel Swan

Posted in Seidman, Michael, Swan, Wendel on May 10, 2010 by rjohn

On February 20, 2010, Michael Seidman (right) and Wendel Swan (left)

conducted a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. entitled “Potpourri.”

Maryclaire Ramsey, The Textile Museum’s Chief Executive Officer, (the photo I took of her in the room did not turn out),

introduced them.

Since they are familiar figures on these pages and in the TM “rug morning” programs, I will not give the full-faced version of what Maryclaire said.

Michael is a molecular biologist, actively engaged in research.  He and his wife have collected seriously for a number of years.  Wendel is trained as an attorney, but has been engaged in various facets of real estate and is currently an M+A intermediary.  He is a figure in the international rug world and has collected with a visible passion since the late sixties.  He is currently very active in identifying, recruiting and mounting interesting, useful RTAM programs.

Both Michael and Wendel are Museum Trustees.

Now programs with the “Potpourri” title have been given at the TM for years.  The usual practice has been to press this term in the direction of “the speaker will  bring a variety of pieces and the audience is invited to do so, too — no holds barred.”

But the announcement for the version Michael and Wendel conducted said something about “what you always wanted to know,” which seemed to suggest that attendees should mostly bring textiles about which they had questions.

But in the session itself (while everything brought in was examined and commented on)

Michael and Wendel had themselves brought items that focused attention on some particular sets of similar textiles.

These two aspects of their treatment of “potpourri” made me go look the word up again, as we prepared this virtual version of their program.

One dictionary said that “potpourri” refers to “a combination of various incongruous elements.”  Another, perhaps somewhat more authoritative, said more leniently that “potpourri” denotes “an unusual and interesting mixture of things.”

The session that Michael and Wendel conducted was not devoted to “incongruous elements.”  It did seem to meet the “unusual and interesting mixture” test.

But one had the sense that they were a little dissatisfied with the possibility that the particular “potpourri” that might emerge from that label, uncued, could be a shade too unstructured for their taste, and to that end they had designed an improved version, not  dependent on complete serendipity.

Anyway, this program was more shaped and focused in some areas  than the RTAM “potpourri” programs I have attended in the past.

The program began by showing pieces that the audience brought in and the first was the piece below.


Michael said that this pile piece

is a multi-niche, “prayer” design woven in Turkey in about 1900.  He said that the pile and foundation seem to be of mercerized cotton, sometimes used to mimic silk.

It is too small to be used as a prayer rug with devotees kneeling side-by-side in its niches.

The piece has small images of the Haghia Sophia inside some of its end “lappet” devices.

The second piece moved sharply in a different direction.


It was woven in four sections on a narrow loom and then sewn together to produce this larger format.

There were guesses in the room that this piece might have been woven in north Africa, but its owner said that it was made by Pomaks, a group of Turks who speak Bulgarian (there is a Pomak minority in Bulgaria, too).

He said that such pieces have begun to appear in the market only recently and estimated that this one is about 70 years old.

There were questions from the audience about whether this piece is warp-faced as are many Persian jijims which seem similar.

The owner indicated that the weave is a kind of twill.

The third piece was this NW Persian cargo bag-type “mafrash.”


This piece was complete and assembled.

It is completely woven in varieties of kilim.

It exhibits some bright colors that suggest that it was woven in the first half of the 20th century.

The next piece was a single side panel from a similar mafrash bag.


This time the weave is sumak.

It was estimated to have been woven, probably by Shahsavan, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, although somewhat earlier dates are often given for similar pieces.  Wendel commented that it is one of the most common for mafrash side panels, but that it is quite fine and has excellent colors.

The next piece was a carrier bag.


The thinking in the room is that it was likely by the Char Mahal or perhaps by the Qashqai.  It was woven about 1960-70 and features a leather handle and trim.

Jenny Housego shows a very similar piece (leather handle and trim included) as Plate 107 in her “Tribal Rugs,” and gives a similar south Persian attribution.

The next piece was a contemporary Central Asian felt.


There was conversation in the room about the abortive-seeming bottom border and what this might indicate about intended use.

Here are two closer looks.

The colors are from synthetic dyes.

A seventh piece was potentially a puzzler.


Michael and Wendel said that this is not a contemporary piece and that it could be Caucasian.  It is done in a coarse sumak weave.

What can it be?  It has a shape and size similar to that of a Baluch “balisht” or a Kyrgyz “chavadan,” but is clearly neither of these.  Did some other folks make similar bags?

Its  odd border treatment likely provides some hint of the format to which it belongs.

Here are some closer looks at various details of this piece.

Michael and Wendel indicated that this piece is one front chest tab that was part of a horsecover.

In his book “Oriental Carpets,” Jon Thompson provides an example of a similar horse cover in use.  Thompson’s example is Qashqai.

So to see this piece in its likely “in use” orientation, it needs to be turned to a position something like this.

This is how it would have appeared if it is the left front tab on such a horse cover.

Pieces like this can both puzzle and lead to strange attributions when they are encountered.

The next piece was another but smaller cargo-type mafrash side panel.


It features a parade of “animal-forms.”

It was attributed to NW Persia or the Caucasus.  The weave is sumac.

The next piece was the rug below.


The owner believes that this rug looks Caucasian (mainly because of the reciprocal trefoil border, the end finishes and the selvedges), but it is loosely woven and has cotton wefts.

Here are some closer details of it.

Notice darkish warps.

Michael and Wendel thought that it could be either a Persian tribal piece or a primitive Shirvan.  If it is from the Shirvan area, Wendel noted, the weaver was imitating a South Persian gabbeh.

The next piece was a Shirvan.


Wendel said that this piece is classically Shirvan in structure and design and is probably earlier than most Shirvans that we see.  It is prototypical Shirvan because of its

narrow stripes in the field

and a so-called “crab” border.

It is quite fine, even for a Shirvan, with 140 knots per square inch.  There may be some camel hair in it.

The next two pieces provided a seemingly unlikely comparison.

First, was an Afshar pile khorjin face with the distinctive “tulip” design.


Here are a couple of closer details.

This design is seen in very impressive rug versions.

The other piece in this unlikely “pair” was the one below.


This is a carriage cushion cover (called an agedyna) embroidered in southern Sweden about 1825.  It is part of Wendel’s collection of Swedish folk weavings.

Again, some closer details.

Wendel said that the similarities in color usage and design, including, the cruciform devices within a lattice, and the use of tulips, is remarkable.

The thirteenth piece was the one below.


It is a Baluch khorjin face.

The two devices in its field echo Turkmen turreted ‘Salor’ gul usages.

Here are two details of its border systems.

Michael and Wendel said that it has very nice wool.

The fourteenth piece was a Qashqai khorgin face.


Here are two closer details of it.

The colors of its borders give it an overall lighter look than many such Qashqai khorjins exhibit.

The next piece was the one below.


It is a Jaff Kurd bag.

Two closer looks.

The narrow checker board “elem” at the bottom provides interest.

Piece sixteen was also a small pile bag.


It’s owner thought that it had been woven by “Bulgarian” weavers. (Notice the unusual color change in the side borders.)

Michael and Wendel noted that it has a cotton foundation and estimated that is was woven about 1930.  They suggested that it could be Persian, perhaps Luri.

The next piece was the pile rug below.


This is a piece that some would guess might be a Saruk.

Michael and Wendel said that a closer look at its structure indicates that it is a Bijar (of a type usually referred to int the trade as a “Kurd Bijar”), using Saruk motifs.

It has some nice animals (deer?) at the “top” of its medallion.  I have flipped the image below so that you can see the animals right side up.

Animal even closer in the image below.

There is calligraphy at its other end, but I didn’t get it close-up.

The next piece was an unusual, “rare” is probably not too strong, Turkman rug.  This is one of Wendel’s pieces.  He is not a Turkmen collector, but this appealed to him because if was so unusual.  Wendel is reluctant to use the word “unique” but he hasn’t seen anything else like this.  Turkmen experts who have seen it say that it is clearly from before 1850 and might be 18th Century.


This is the sort of piece that we used to call “Ersari,” but about which “Middle Amu Dyra” is the current recommended description.

Despite a seeming fragmented character,

it is “complete” in the sense that its very narrow borders

are visible and intact in areas on all four sides.

There are traces of pile elem on both ends.

The next piece was held up by someone in the audience.


It was described in my notes as (ed: part of?) a bedspread.  It is crocheted.

A closer detail.

The next four pieces comprise  one of the small focused groupings I mentioned at the beginning.  This is a grouping Wendel assembled of pieces thought to contain some camel hair.

“Wool” is usually said to be composed of three distinctive fibers: wool, hair and kemp.

But I think Wendel’s reference here is to “camel wool.”  Camel wool, Eiland says, is “made up of extremely fine fibers, and it is distinguished from sheep’s wool mainly by a characteristic scale pattern and by the distribution of pigment granules.”  Both of these are visible only by microscope.

This makes Eiland suspicious of claims of “camel hair or wool” in rugs without microscopic test.

Nevertheless, there are many who believe that there are tactile and visual indicators of “camel’s wool” that often permit its detection without resorting to microscopic.  I think Wendel is likely one of these.

And there often seems something to it.  For example, it is often held that “camel’s wool” is detectably “softer” than sheep’s wool that may surround it (this despite it being known that the softness of sheep’s wool varies widely even that taken from a single sheep).  It is also held that “camel’s wool” will often have a “fuzzy” appearance in relation to surrounding sheep’s wool.

What follows is the kind of thing that can make a claim of non-microscopic identification of camel’s wool plausible.

A few years ago a Turkmen lady I met here in DC (she is a scholar and lives in Turkmenistan) gave me a contemporary plied strand of what seemed like wool.  She said that one of the strands, the tan one, was “camel’s wool.”  Here is that strand.

And here is a closer look at one end section of it.

This plied piece is compose of five differently colored strands.  There are black, white, orange, red and tan strands plied together.

I think you can see that in the braided areas there is visible fuzziness.  More the character of the braid used has the effect of placing the tan sections in a kind of line along the cord.  I have just looked at this braided strand with a magnifying glass and can testify that the fuzziness seems entirely to emerge from the tan strand areas alone.

I have also felt the individual strands at the ends of the plied cord where they can be felt individually and can testify that the tan strand IS very much softer than the other four.

Now I do and say all this, not to doubt the need for Eiland’s caution, but to show the plausibility of these two non-microscopic tests to some.

Wendel pointed out that there are that there are two kinds of camel hair.  One is the outer, coarse layer that is usually called guard hair and the second is the fine, soft undercoat.  The latter lacks the scales of sheep’s wool and therefor does not spin as tightly.  This accounts for the obvious fuzzy appearance that we sometimes see on the backs of rugs.  Camel wool most commonly comes from the Bactrian, or two-humped camel.  Camel hair can be sheared or it can be plucked or gathered from the ground during moulting season.

Anyway, I think it is such non-microscopic indicators that Wendel is relying on when he suggests that each of the following pieces likely have some “camel wool” in some areas.

Wendel brought in this minimalist prayer rug with a “ghostly” mihrab.  He indicated that it could be late 19th or early 20th Century, but fixing a date is very difficult because it is of an extremely rare, perhaps unique, design.


This piece is austere in the extreme, with a Persianate border surrounding a tan field.

There are six small animal forms (probably goats) along both sides of the field.

And the “ghostly” niche-like device at the top.

Wendel believes that the ground of the field of this piece contains camel hair.

A second piece has a similar coloration but is actually very different.


Experienced folks have suggested that this is a leg wrapping (a “puttee”) used to protect the leg and possibly to keep debris out of one’s shoes or boots.  Puttees were a frequent item of 19th century military dress and may have been picked up primarily from such usages although the format is so simple and the need so obvious that it seems likely it existed in traditional societies before European contact.

This piece is decorated with twining and sumak at particular points

and with pile bands on both ends

(these pile bands are woven like Turkmen mixed technique tent bands, that is symmetric knots tied on alternate raised warps; the pile design is very faint on the back).

Wendel has since found the pair of this piece

and believes that the tan ground areas of both of them are of camel’s wool.

The seeming presence of camel wool also unpins the attribution of these two puttees to East Anatolia, where it is known to have been used.

Wendel brought in this third example – an unusual small, complete khorjin with what he believes may be a plain camel ground.

The colorful decoration is in sumak.  Notice the long connecting section and the absence of closure systems on the two bags.  Both of these features, as well as, what Wendel believes, is the presence of camel’s wool in the tan ground fabric, press this piece toward Eastern Persia and possibly to the Lurs.

One more piece thought to have some camel’s wool in it.

This is another piece that Wendel brought in.  He attributes it to the Shahsavan, based upon some the sinuous warps and what he fells is almost certainly camel hair used very sparingly.  The Shahsavan owned camels and used them for transport.  They were the most valuable of all the animals.

Wendel believes that some of the tan areas in it are likely camel’s wool.

The next piece examined was the one below.


It was felt that this piece might be Persian.

Here are some closer details of its field and border systems.

The next item of the morning was the coat below.


Here is a closer detail of what was called, in the room, its “piano-key” design.

In his book “Persian Flatweaves,” Parviz Tanavoli provides a photo of seven men wearing such coats.

The caption provides most of what we might want to know about such an item.  Wendel said that it is done in a fine and very tight slit tapestry that may even be water repellent.

Two kilims and a pile rug from Central Anatolia provided another area of seeming focus that Michael and Wendel had assembled.

The first of these was the kilim fragment below.


This piece is nearly a textbook example of the glorious use of color.  It is one of four known fragments from a larger whole kilim apparently divided between family members.

Here are two closer details of it.

The wonderfully clear, saturated colors of this piece are difficult to capture in photographs.  This piece is estimated as 18th century, conservatively ca 1800.

A second Central Anatolian kilim, below, was small, intact, and younger, with a dating  estimate of late 19th or early 20th century.  ca 1900.


The marked bluish-red in this piece is from “cochineal” and tempts one, perhaps, to think of the more eastern part of central Anatolia.

Here are some closer details.

The third piece in this central Anatolia grouping was this pile fragment below.


This is the top part of a long rug that may have had three large medallions.

Its design echo some kilim usages and

This piece has a good aubergine and a strong yellow that Wendel described as a “quercetin yellow,” which occurs in a variety of Anatolian plants.

Quercetin yellow, while readily available is not by itself very light fast.  Bohmer reports that its light fastness can be improved with alum or calcium salts mordants.  To be light fast, Wendel said that quercetin requires copper sulfate, which could have been introduced intentionally by the dyer or unintentionally by reason of imperfections in the tinning of copper pots.

Since this fragment is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century, an appropriate mordant has clearly been used and has made it possible for the strong yellow in this piece to retain its power.

The next piece was another kilim.


This piece was thought likely woven in southeast Turkey.

Here are some additional details of it.

One orange in this piece was suspected as a synthetic.

Piece number 30 in this Potpourri session was the one below.


Its owner, who had the earlier pieces that he thought were woven by Bulgarian-speaking Turks, thought that they may have woven this one too.

Here are closer details.

Notice that while this piece exhibits some suspicious colors it also has generous use of what appears to be a good aubergine.

Michael provided another area of focus, by presenting the following two embroideries.

The first of these was the Central Asian suzani panel below.


Again, the color is simply marvelous and the embroidery is of a very high quality.

Michael’s second embroidery example is much harder to convey with photographs.


He described it as Indian export embroidery,

made in a commercial workshop,

in about 1750,

for the English market.

He called particular attention to the fine needle work and the skillful way that close colors are used side-be-side, often without intervening outlining, to portray shading.

The next piece was a table block-printed table cloth.


This piece is also Indian with floral motif reminiscent of Mughal usages.

Another printed table cloth was also offered.


This circular piece was described as a “Tehran” table cloth.

Three pre-Columbian pieces comprised a final area of focus that Michael and Wendel had selected.

The first of these was a narrow band that Michael owns.


It has been mounted in a “back and fourth” mode for more accessible display and appreciation.

Here are some closer details.

This piece is estimate to have been woven in 500. A.D.

You can see its split tapestry structure clearly.

Wendel brought in two pre-Columbian pieces.

The first one you may have seen in my recent post, but it is unusual enough to examine again.  It is a narrow, “furred cord” from the Nazca culture in Peru and probably woven between 200 and 500 A.D.


This piece is made by tying a single row of knots (perhaps as long as 40 or 50 feet) on a pair of warps.  The colors are changed at intervals.  When the length estimated to be needed to make the furred cord desired the single row of pile is wound around a core.

The second pre-Columbian piece Wendel had brought was the one below.


This is a complete, intact headband decorated with typical iconography and is attributed to the Huari culture in Peru, circa 500 – 900 A.D.

It is decorated with god figures and birds.

Despite its age, it is in pristine condition.

Michael and Wendel took questions

and brought the session to an end.

The usual ensued.

One of the TM docents was wearing a striking sweater that she let me photograph.

She said that it is quite old.  Not all of the interesting textiles in the room are always on the board.

I want to thank Michael and Wendel for permitting me to construct this virtual version of their program and for some editorial assistance that involved.

Again, I owe Amy Rispin for a good set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed have enjoyed this version of “Potpourri.”


R. John Howe

Color in Oriental Rugs and Textiles, Part 1

Posted in Swan, Wendel on February 8, 2010 by rjohn

Dear folks,

On  September 12, 2009, Wendel Swan


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. entitled “Explring and Explaining the Appeal of Color Rugs.”

Michael Seidman


introduced Wendel, saying that Wendel is a long-time, passionate collector of oriental rugs and a well-known figure in the international rug world.  He was for some time the president of the Washington, D.C. area rug club and has been active in the International Conference on Oriental Carpets, serving as the head of the local organizing group that successfully presented ICOC-X in 2003.  Wendel is the Chair of the ICOC Executive Committee and is currently working on ICOC-XI, to be held in the summer of 2011, in Stockholm.  Wendel is also a member of The Textile Museum’s Board of Trustees and has presented frequently, both in the RTAM setting and to rug clubs and in rug conferences world -wide.

Wendel began with an interactive, PowerPoint assisted lecture,


then illustrated some of his points with “in the room” examples.

In addition, members of the audience had brought pieces in.


This virtual version of Wendel’s session is divided into two parts.

This is Part 1 and will present, as faithfully as we can manage, a virtual version of his lecture.

Part 2 will be devoted to showing you the pieces “in the room” and to comments on them.

Here is Part 1, Wendel’s PowerPoint presentation.

“This is a program in which I want to explore and explain, I hope, the appeal of color in oriental rugs and textiles.


It will be an interactive program in which I will ask you for your comments.


So please shout outppt5your responses or any questions you may have.

Whenever rug qualities are discussed, the mantra




is invariably used, just as “location, location, location”  is used when discussing real estate.

While it may be the most important factor in rugs, color is an extremely complex phenomenon.

Collectors often associate superior color with natural dyes.


while the quality and properties of wool


affect our perception of color and clearly influence our preferences.


Courtesy of Suzanne Grosjean

Color, of course, may refer to individual hues of which we all have favorites.

However, what we might call a single color is often more like a musical chord.  Take this example.


The blue in this motif


Is actually composed of various hues of blue, from light,


to medium,


to dark.


By itself, this blue has what we will later call “contrast of saturation.”

As to individual colors, I think this medallion is fantastic


in part because of the exquisite purple ground.

Even though I love the purple in the medallion,


I don’t own a purple hat.


or a purple coat…and the reason is context.


This medallion is part of a fabulous rug at the Vaklifar Museum in Istanbul…which so captured my imagination that I put it on my coffee mug.



Perhaps my predilection for purple in rugs is partly due to the learned convention that purple is associated with greater age and, therefore, those rugs with purple are more desirable.  But the purple is not the only reason I think this is such a great rug.  I’ll return to it later.

Today I want to explore the appeal of “color in context” and some aspects of “color theory,”


not color symbolism, or color as an indicator of age, or the qualities of dyes, or about preferences for certain colors such as purple.

We’ll focus on how color contrast, or more properly, color contrasts (in the plural)


are essential to creating some of the most beautiful and dynamic textiles such as the stunning Central Asian silk velvet ikat panel below.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder,


So is color.


In essence, colors don’t exist.  They are “perceived.”

Perception of color stems from the varying cone cells in the retina to different parts of the spectrum.


So colors may be defined and quantified by the degree to which they stimulate these cells.

Because of individual differences in those cone cells, we all perceive color differently, some of us quite differently.


Our individual perceptions, undoubtedly relate to our individual preferences.

In fact, let’s experiment a bit with some standard tests of differences in perception.  The “circles” below are parts of Ishihara tests for color blindness first developed in 1917.

I am going to show you each of four circles in turn.  Each of them is diagnostic for a particular kind and degree of color blindness.

Here is circle 1:


Do you see a number in it?  If you see a number, what number do you see?

(Scroll down for the “book answer.”)










With normal color vision, one should see the number 74.

Here is circle 2:


Do you see a number in this circle?  If so, what is it?

(Again, scroll down for the “book answer.”)









Those with normal color vision should see the number 6 in the circle above.

Circle 3:


Do you see a number in this one?  If so, what is it?










Those with normal color vision should see number 29.  Those with red-green deficiencies should read number 70.  Those with total color blindness will not see any number at all.

Circle 4:


Do you see a number in this circle?  If so, what is it?










This time the “book answer” takes a different turn.  Those with normal color vision should not see any number at all.  Most  with  red-green color deficiencies will see number 5.  (Look back and check.)

More men than women have red-green color blindness.  Studies are being conducted to determine whether a small number of women can actually perceive a wider range of hues.

Great painters, like Michelangelo


and VanDyck


magically capture the way we perceive color and texture.

Da Vinci referred to “color theory” in his notebooks.

Sir Isaac Newton, based on his observations with a prism, developed this


the first circular diagram of colors, in 1666, correlating colors with musical notes and symbols for the planets.

Goethe developed the color wheel below.


Scientists and artists have created many variations of this concept.

Although there are differences of opinion, any color wheel


which presents a logically arranged sequence of pure hues has merit.

Today, art students learn color theory.


whether they are studying traditional media,


or web design.


But modern study may merely reflect what artists have known about color for millennia, without articulating or memorializing that knowledge except in their works.

This baby mummy in Urumchi, from 1,000 BC


demonstrates that we may have an innate sense of color and color contrast.

In trying to analyze what made some rugs are more appealing than others, long ago, I sensed the importance of contrasts both of color and graphics, but had great difficulty expressing that sense until I became somewhat familiar with color theory.

I would have said that I was attracted to this Bordjalou Kazak horse cover


because it is bold, because the open red ground shows off the design elements in it, and because of the strong, but well-proportioned reciprocal border.

Now, I am more apt to think in terms of the vocabulary of the color theorists, that is, of contrasts of light and dark, of hue and proportion, and of complementary contrasts – concepts I’ll try to explain.


Recognizing these aspects of contrast, identified by Itten, a teacher at Bauhaus and a noted color theorist and author, should provide a better understanding of why you like or do not like a given rug.

“Contrast of light and dark” is the simplest of the contrasts to understand.



“Contrast of saturation” is a rather straightforward variation of “light and dark.”



Contrast of hues is also relatively easy to understand.



Red, yellow and blue are extreme instances of “hue contrast.”  All other colors are derived from these three hues.

As you will see later, when these three colors adjoin, there are special perception issues.

Although there have been many scientific studies verifying the physiological effects of various colors, the “contrast of warm and cool” is the most difficult for me to demonstrate.

Blue-green is said the be the “coolest” color and red-orange is the “warmest.”



Van Gogh


captured the coolness of the evening blue,

while Grunewald, in 1515,


symbolically depicted a vibrantly living resurrected Christ with shades of orange and red.

The yastik on the left below has tremendous warm-cool contrast throughout,


while the Salor on the right remains warm because of the dominant red.  Note how a very comparable pattern yields two entirely different results because of the use of color.

Next we treat “complementary contrast.” (ed. notice the “e” after the “l.”  This is not the same as a compliment that one person gives to another.)

All color wheels show the primary colors red, blue and yellow,


and those colors that are directly opposite one another are called “complementary” colors.

The further one moves away from a given point on the perimeter,


the greater

ppt46and greater

ppt47and greater the contrast becomes.

ppt48(Ed.: Color theorists usually designate colors close to one another on a color wheel as “analogous” and reserve “complementary” for those on the opposite side of the color wheel.)

To repeat the colors at the opposite points on the color wheel are the “complementary” colors.

Here are six examples of “complementary” colors.


We perceive complementary colors as extremely high in contrast.


Just as high as “light and dark,”


although it may seem less obvious.

As to the physiological basis of complementary colors, you may be able to experience it if you do the following.   First, look steadily for a few moments at the red circle that follows below.  Then, move to the next black screen, stare at it, and see if you see an image on it.


Now stare at the black screen below.


You should now be seeing a color that is generated by the receptor rods in your eyes.

(Ed.: This effect may not occur in this medium but it did for this same image projected on a screen.)

If you saw a color when you moved your eyes to the black screen, it was probably something like this


Notice that this greenish blue is the complementary color of the red you stared at initially.

Next, stare at the black device in the center of the image below.

As you stare at the center, you may see a yellow ball rotating around the center, displacing the blue balls in rotation.

(Ed. Again, this effect may not occur in this medium, although it did dramatically with Wendel’s projected image.  If you do not see motion, double click the image, which will cause it to open in a new tab and you should then see the motion.  Read the directions for performing this test and then view the image in the new tab.)

Now, move your eyes out from the device at the center to the blue balls on the perimeter and move back and forth between them constantly.  Try this before reading the next paragraph.







The yellow ball may disappear.

Now move your eyes back to the black device at the center and stare at it.  The circulation of the yellow ball may resume.  Keep staring at the center for while, then look steadily at the screen below.


When you look at this green screen after looking steadily at the center of the previous one, a circle of yellow balls appears.  The cones in your eyes are transmitting green’s complementary color yellow.  You likely see it for a moment, then it fades away.

(Ed. We did ourselves see this effect in this medium.)

Now let’s do some comparisons with images of actual rugs and textiles.


The image above is of an Anatolian kilim exhibited at the ICOC in Istanbul.  It is relatively simple.

The fragment below


is of an early 19th century kilim, with decorated bands separating the panels.  Like the previous kilim, it may be a multiple-niche “prayer” design or saph.

The individual hues in these kilims are all from natural dyes and equally attractive.  But now I ask you to tell me which of the two you would prefer to have on your wall at home?



The one at the top or the one at the bottom?

Here is a full-length image of this spectacular Anatolian kilim.


It is about 16 feet wide (as oriented in the above image) and dates possibly from the 17th century.

It may be a multiple-niche “prayer” design or saph, but the design is almost irrelevant.  There are only a few repetitions of specific color combinations, but the combination and juxtaposition of colors is most important.

The adjacent ground colors and design colors have been woven in complementary colors,


with the result that each hue is enhanced and made attractive by its neighboring color.  This skillful use of complimentary color makes it my choice between these two.

Next, we see a portion of an extraordinary kilim


depicting mosques and their minarets, but using strong complementary colors, this time with an ivory ground.

It looks, in the image above, as if the ground at the bottom is gray, but it is white and the darkening is the result of available light.

This kilim differs from the previous two in that all of the design elements in this one have been outlined in a dark color — a topic I’ll address later.

Here is a fragment of a kilim


that was probably similar to the preceding examples, but there are dividing stripes between the mosques in this example.

Here are the above two pieces together. Which of these two do you prefer?  And why?












The colors are complementary in both, but the “mosques” kilim at the top has the added attraction of having contrast of light and dark as well as contrast of proportion (addressed below).

Contrast of proportion or extension influences the way we perceive colors and the ways in which colors appeal to us.   In general, designs with significant contrast of proportion will be more appealing than those with little contrast of proportion.

Wendel then asked the audience to compare the two kilims that seemed favored in the first two comparisons and to express a further preference, if any.  He asked whether the graphics of the mosques would be preferred over pure color.












The audience seemed divided and unable to select a preference between them.  Wendel’s perspective was that he also couldn’t choose, that the complementary colors of the top kilim are compelling, but color alteration and dark and light contrast of the bottom piece have equal appeal.

Although my purpose, here, is not to discuss dyes, I want to use the two pieces below to make a point about “color balance” that is, in this instance, dye-related.


One problem with synthetic dyes is that, if the colors change as the fuchine dye in the reverse sumak on the left has, it completely changes the color balance.  No such change has taken place in the pile bag on the right.

Synthetics are not necessarily bad.  I’ve always assumed that the cotton cloth in this mola


was dyed with chemicals, but the colors have not changed and the use of contrasting hues in this humble little reverse applique makes it very appealing.  Especially since I paid only $3 for it in Cartegena in 1977.

Next we have two small pile rugs, each about 3 feet by 5 feet.


The one on the left is Caucasian or Northwest Persian and the one on the right is Kurdish from Northwest Persia.  Both use diagonal stripes that have minimum floral decoration.  I put it to you, which of these two do you prefer and why?  Please evaluate these two pieces especially using Itten’s contrast of “proportion” or “extension.”










The simple way of putting it is that the one on the right is almost monochromatic.  It lacks contrast of hue, proportion and complementary colors.

In addition, if we remove all the color



the bold reciprocal border is appealing even without it.

Below are two Caucasian rugs of approximately equal size, condition and age.


Which do you prefer?  The one on the left? Or the one on the right?










I expect that most prefer the one on the left.   This preference is likely the result of the fact that the Fachralo, on the left, exhibits greater contrast of proportion (that is of scale or extension) than does the so-called Chi-Chi on the right.



In the Fachralo, there is greater contrast of proportion between the main border elements and those of the field.  And the large, open field is proportionally contrasted with the medallion and field elements.

While the total amount of ivory, which always provides contrast, is approximately the same in each rug, the larger scale of the ivory areas in the Fachralo on the left makes it seem as if there is more ivory in it.

With the color withdrawn



we can see that the while the contrast of light and dark is about the same, it is the contrast of proportion that make the difference.

Their lack of contrast of proportion is why I think most Chi-Chis are duds.

Now, for the next few moments I want you to forget about cultural context.  Tell me, solely on the basis of color, which of the two details below do you prefer?


Do you prefer the one on the left or the one on the right?  And why?













On the left is a Salor gul with the typical warm Turkmen reddish hues, while the one on the right is a very rare Karakalpak, using essentially the same Salor gul motif.

How do we evaluate the various contrasts in these two guls?



The Salor shows contrast of saturation as well as moderate light and dark contrast, while the Karakalpak has contrast of warm and cool hues, complementary contrast in addition to light and dark contrast and that of proportion.

So how, on balance, do we experience the overall effect of  the various contrasts in these two guls?  Is the Salor “subtle” or “boring?”  Are the color contrasts of the Karakalpak “dynamic” or “garish?”

Or is the answer “all of the above?”

Our individual preferences might lead to a real food fight over the answers.

(Ed.: And notice how difficult it is, once the tribal labels are provided, to keep cultural context out of these evaluations.)

Now, look at the pair below.



I collected the complete Ersari checkerboard rug on the left about four years ago because I was intrigued by its rarity and because I like checkerboards.  Its colors, although good, were not compelling.

Now compare it with to the Qashqai kilim on the right, which has terrific contrast of hues.  If anyone here were to prefer the Ersari, it would demonstrate that our collecting behavior is not always governed by the mantra of color, color, color.

Now, let me return to the Vaklifar rug that I have on my coffee mug.


and compare it to a later Melez that has many good individual colors.

ppt78left ppt78right

In the Vaklifar rug, on the left above, the scale of the central medallion is perfectly set off by the open red field.  The cloudbands in the border have contrasting hues and the border itself is drawn in a smaller scale, thereby emphasizing the medallion.

The Melez, on the right above, lacks this contrast of proportion.  Its design elements are all of about the same scale.   Because we derive no sense of contrast of proportion, its attractiveness is diminished.

This lack of contrast of proportion in the Melez is made further apparent when it is compared to this Mudjur long rug

ppt79left ppt79right

which has similar colors and design elements, but used entirely differently.

It is important to note that the various dimensions of contrast that Itten identifies can work both to support one another and so make a piece more aesthetically attractive, but there is discernible loss of appeal when one or more of such contrasts is lacking.

By comparing the two rugs below, you will see that the term contrast of proportion is more encompassing than just the scale of the drawing.


Note that the drawing and scale of these two pieces is nearly the same.   The sizes of the meander borders are the same.  The outline medallions are similar in scale.  Why do we like the one on the right far more than the one on the left?

It is, I would argue, because the colors of the Oushak on the left lack contrast of proportion between the ground and the elements within it.  On the other hand, the red ground of the early Anatolian rug on the right seems much larger in scale than the elements within it, thereby actually accentuating the small field elements.

The sickly colors in the Oushak may be from synthetic dyes, but more importantly, it is this fundamental lack of contrast that makes it so unappealing.

Further, the colors of the rug on the right seem “rich” to us because in addition to the contrast they have abundant complementary contrasts, hue contrasts, and contrasts of light and dark.   This is “color, color, color.”

How many of you love cilantro?


And how many swear it tastes like soapy dishwater?

Recent scientific studies have shown that the difference in reactions is due to whether one can or cannot discern certain components of its taste.

And so I believe it may be with color and contrast.  Perhaps some don’t like color at all, especially bold colors.

Many home and rug owners prefer the “neutral” look


and essentially bland Oushaks fetch tens of thousands at auction.

Perhaps the market has revealed how much of a dunce I am


in talking about the importance of contrasts.

Woven in Isfahan during the reign of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), the silk rug below


measures 7′ 7″ x 5′ 7″ and is reported to have 14 shades of color.  I have difficulty seeing more than three.

Formerly in the collection of Doris Duke, it sold last year for almost $4.5 million.

While the comparison may not seem or even be fair, solely on the basis of these images,


I find little more to admire in this Duke rug than I do in this bleached out yastik that was offered on eBay.

Although more contrast can be seen in a detail of the Duke rug


when I spend $4.5 million for a rug, I think I’ll insist on a bit more color.

The juxtaposition of colors can affect the way we see scale and proportion and h0w adjacent colors are perceived.

Look at the three squares below.

ppt87The gray centers of all of these three squares are exactly the same size, but the yellow seems to compress the inner box while the red seems to expand it.

The fragment below is from a large, magnificent 16th century Mughal carpet.


It is a perfect example of more being more.  But its splendor can be better appreciated as we move closer.


This rug was probably meant to be viewed and appreciated as you are seeing it in the image immediately above, but its real splendor can only be as we move in closer.


I saw this rug in the Metropolitan Museum in New York about 11 years ago, and consider it to be one of the most beautiful objects that I have ever seen.

There are contrasts of saturation, as seen in the different hues of blue, green and red and yellow.  Part of the majesty of this rug is that so many colors were used.  And they are all enhanced by being set against the rich, almost velvety, red ground.

It has wonderful complementary colors

Mughal with complementary contrasts

It also has superb contrast of light and dark.


Note, in the image below, that the tendrils and all of the flower heads are outlined with a dark color,


something that is a common weaving tradition.

That tradition can be seen in this Seljuk rug from the TIEM


where the bodies and antlers are outlined as are the birds and the tree of life in the center.

Outlining is carried on in the 19th century yastik below.


where even the outlines are outlined.


In Persia, the same is true of the Mazlaghan below.


where, again, we see the outlining of outlining.

We see outlining in Northwest Persian rugs,


Belouch group rug and bags,




and Caucasian rugs,


as well as sumak bags,


and in some Chinese rugs.


It doesn’t appear often in kilims,


but we sometimes see it.


Just as with pile, there is no structural reason for outlining in a kilim.

Why, then, do we see outlining?

In some rugs, like this Persian fantasy carpet below


lines are used to create the image of some of the heads.  But that does not explain why the multi-colored fruits and leaves are also outlined.

If we look at other media, we also see outlining, as in the Iznik tiles below


from the Rustem Pasha mosque in Istanbul.  The argument could be made that the artist first outlined the pattern and then filled it in with colors.

But I believe that the practice of outlining can be explained by color theory.

Traditional, representational oil paintings did not employ outlining,


even though Rembrandt was a master of the contrast of dark and light.

But, from the Impressionist movement forward, it was color itself, not dukes and duchesses, angels and demons, with which artists were concerned.


And so outlining can be seen in oil paintings over the last 150 years.
I asked George Jevremovic why his rugs, which so faithfully create the spirit of antique rugs,


have outlining.

His answer,  “Tradition, tradition,”


was, of course, 100% correct, but not quite what I was seeking.

Yes, outlining is a tradition, but why is it a tradition?

I believe that answer may lie in an another kind of contrast identified by color theorists that is deeply rooted in the past.

Here, below, is another $3 mola


with the primary colors red and blue adjacent to one another and and of the same proportion.

Do you have trouble determining what is depicted?

Any two adjacent colors will change our perception of each of them as the result of the effects of “simultaneous contrast.”

Simultaneous contrast is an effect created by two adjacent colors interacting with one another to change our perception of them both.  This effect is strongest when the two colors are primary hues of the same saturation and darkness.

By substituting green for blue


it may be easier to see that there are two warriors facing left.

Here are these two color combinations side by side.  The warrior figures in green are now much easier to see.


And if we remove the color from this pair,


we can see that one reason why the blue-red image might be more difficult to discern than the green-red one, is that the light and dark contrast of the particular green-red hues are much greater than those of the blue-red image.

Let’s experiment with another example of this red-blue combination.  Look at the image below steadily for awhile.










When two primary colors are adjacent, our eyes have great difficulty determining where one color ends and the other begins.

The edge between the red and blue may almost vibrates and we begin to see black lines between the colors despite that fact than none exist.

For most of us, it may seem as if the red stripes are advancing toward us.

(Look back at the striped panel above and see what your experience is, then return to this place and go on.)

However, when the red and blue stripes are separated by a dark color,


the red and blue lines appear sharper and less visually confusing.

I believe that the origin and purpose of dark color outlining is to prevent this visual confusion of adjoining colors.

Let me share a related experiment that makes the function of outlining clear.  Below, are two outlines of the Mediterranean.


In the top version does either the water or the land mass seem to be  tinged with a certain color?

And what about the bottom drawing?  Is one or the other tinged?

Look back and consider your answers.











In fact, the water and the land are both pure white in both drawings, but the yellow outline is on the water side in the top and on the land side in the bottom.

Our perception makes the yellow seem to bleed into the adjacent white and this may account for the ancient technique of using outlining to prevent the perception of color bleed.

Leonardo Da Vinci said: “Colors will appear what they are not, according to the ground that surrounds them.”

I recently encountered the thought below in Hofstader’s “Godel, Escher and Bach,” a la Lewis Carroll.


I don’t know whether we can analyze beauty or any Capitalized Essence.  But, as we conclude, I’ll show three more examples of the application of color theory to what we enjoy about rugs.

I was only able to capture the detail below


of a very large and very old kilim in what is the “new” Vaklifar in Istanbul.  Do any of you recall seeing it at the ICOC?

The individual hues of greenish blue and red are both decidedly variegated and not particularly saturated.  Some might argue that this is not the highest achievement of the dyer’s art, but the complementary colors alone


create a stunning and memorable image.

And the contrast of proportion and overall scale make it one that I remember most from that conference.

Although far less sophisticated, it has a feeling that is similar


to the  silk velvet ikat I showed earlier.

Perhaps we should think in terms of a new mantra.


So that the next time you’re attracted, as almost all of us are, by a wonderful purple in a rug,


you may notice its context and whether it is in juxtaposition with its complementary color, gold.

And when you see a rug that you really like,


ponder its Capitalized Essences and ask yourself why.

Is it because of the “complementary contrasts” or the “contrast of hues?”  Or is it because of the “contrast of light and dark” or the “contrast of proportion?”

Or is it, as it is for me with this example … all of the above?

And so,


let’s look at some rugs.”

This is the end of this virtual version of Wendel’s lecture.  He had also brought in some pieces to illustrate selected points in it.

To see these, and the related pieces that members of the audience had brought in, use the link below:

R. John Howe

Color in Oriental Rugs and Textiles, Part 2

Posted in Swan, Wendel on February 7, 2010 by rjohn

This is Part 2, of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning that Wendel Swan


gave on September 12, 2009 on the subject of “Color in Oriental Rugs and Textiles.”

Wendel began this program with a lecture augmented with projected images.  If you have not gone though that lecture, you can reach it with this link:

In this second part of his program, Wendel illustrated selected aspects of his lecture with pieces he had brought in.  Members of the audience had also brought pieces.

Wendel began this second part of his program with the “cover piece” from his lecture.



This simple piece projects great color.  Several aspects of Itten’s varieties of contrast are visible.   It also features the use of both lighter and darker colored outlining.

Here is a closer look at its field.


Wendels’ second “in-the-room” piece was also treated in his lecture.  It was the Anatolian yastik below.


This piece was treated in Wendel’s lecture as an example of superior “warm-cool contrast.”

Here are some closer details of it.   First, a lower corner,


and then an upper one.

(Notice that the coloring of a top strip is different.  It is an old repair with synthetics that Wendel has decided not to tamper with.)


Although, the piece above does not need this advantage, Wendel showed it side-by-side with the faded yastik below.


It is evident  that the piece above lacks most kinds of contrast that would enhance our evaluation of its aesthetic qualities.

And a closer look at it does not improve things noticeably.


Wendel had two molas to illustrate “simultaneous contrast” and the effect of outlining to eliminate its adverse visual effects.

The first was the red-blue example without outlining that he used in his lecture.


His second in-the-room example had outlining,


and illustrated again both the source and reason for that frequent tradition.

Here are these two pieces side-by-side.



The next piece was one brought in by a member of the audience.  It was a fine, old Belouch group bag face with wool of spectacular quality.


This is a piece with very little color contrast, because its colors are, except for the blue and a sparing use of white, mostly close to one another on the color wheel.  And since both the reds and blues in this piece are dark, there is little “light and dark” contrast between them.  The design of this bag face also has less contrast of scale, since its design elements seem to be mostly of the similar sizes.  This piece has more color than this photo shows, but it requires bright natural light to see it.

There were some other Belouch pieces in the room.  The first one was the one below, which belongs to Wendel.


It shows what a more liberal use of white and colors with greater complementary qualities can enliven our experience with them.  Beautiful blues and an aubergine ground.  A bright orange-red jumps out from mostly darker background colors with an electric effect.

The next piece was another Belouch Wendel had borrowed as a less desirable example.

There are some reasonably attractive colors and varieties of contrast in this piece.  The contrast of proportion in it is pretty good.  But the overall effect is that the colors have been bleached out.  They lack contrast of “saturation.”

The next piece was a complete khorjin set of the darker Belouch sort.


This is a variety of the so-called “Mushwani” design.  As with the first Belouch bag face above, there is little contrast of “dark and light.”  The design devices used are of different scales and so project more contrast of “composition,” although the dark colors make it difficult to see.  There are glimpses of brighter orange, of a green, and  a brighter blue, but in general, the piece is very subdued.

Here are some closer details.



Here is a look at its back.  It has more visible contrasts.


The next piece was one of Wendel’s.


It is a panel from a Zoroastrian woman’s baggy trousers.  This panel wrapped the calf area of one leg of such a pair of trousers.


The ground stripes are silk as is the embroidery on them.

The complementary contrast between the stripes is very good, as are the contrast of “saturation” and the contrast of “light and dark.”


The contrast of “proportion” is great, given the difference of scale of the wide stripes and the tiny elements of embroidery


Dotted outlining is used between stripes to preserve clean visual edges of adjoining colors and outlining is used within and sometimes at the edges of the embroidered devices to prevent “simultaneous” contrast from “smearing” their sharpness.  Contrast of “light and dark” is also used effectively to highlight the effect of these tiny embroideries.

The next piece was the khorjin half below.


This piece is very well drawn in a tough reverse sumak fabric, but the dyes are likely synthetics.  While there is good contrast of proportion and reasonable contrast of light and dark, the faded colors lack contrast of hue and saturation.

The following piece was the complete khorjin below, again, one of Wendel’s.


The ‘mullioned” design in the field of this piece is the same as that in the previous one and a white ground border is used in both of them.   But this piece has a great deal more of the various contrasts we have listed. The back of this piece (that we can only glimpse in the bridge area) is also very nice, featuring stripes and zigzags, the latter with a much larger scale.


Notice that outlining is used extensively at the edges of it design elements.

The next piece was the end panel from a large Shirvan cargo bag type “mafrash.”

This slit weave tapestry panel has a relatively narrow color palette, but projects (as designs with few colors often do) considerable graphic punch.

Examining it a bit one can see that its graphic impact is the result of good light and dark contrast, especially a skillful use of white.  The internal instrumentation of the stepped devices in its field ed the use of good complementary contrast.

Notice that, as is the case with many slit weave tapestries, there is no outlining in most of the piece.  Outlining is reserved for the edges.

The next piece was a “Kordi” pushti (little rug) from NE Iran.


This piece exhibits good complementary contrast, and contrast of light and dark, the latter, again depending noticeably on an effective use of white.

There is positive contrast of composition in the use of striped “outing.”  Notice that the outlining is wider than is often the case but still retains a non-competitive scale with the field devices it separates and the borders it edges.

The next piece was a kilim fragment with “old” colors.


This piece is one of two end panels that, together with a brocaded center panel with more complex designs, made up a Central Anatolian “cuval.”


There is strong use of complementary colors and “outlining” effects are achieved by separating the broader stripes with much narrower ones, not of a single darker or lighter color but using the hues of other wide stripes.  So essentially contrast of composition is used to prevent the adverse visual effects of simultaneous contrast.


Wendel called attention to the “old” brown and aubergine.

The next piece was Wendel’s yellow ground Konya pile fragment below.


It is three guls wide rather than the more usual two.

Here is a closer detail of it.


Wendel sees its minor elements as more integrated into the overall field design than is the case with most of the rugs in this group.


He also showed this piece side-by-side with the previous flatwoven cuval fragment to show the similarity of palette.



The next piece was the part of a large kilim shown below.


This piece has great contrasts of “hue,” “light and dark,” and “complementary” colors.  White is often used, seemingly, to prevent too much “simultaneous” contrast, although many colors are adjacent without outlining.

Here are some closer details of this piece.


Notice the particularly effective use of purple with gold.




Truly glorious colors.

The next piece was a silk jajim, made in five strips sewn together.  This warp-faced piece was attributed to the Shahsavan, or possibly, to NW Persia.


It projects an effective use of complementary contrast.


Narrow stripes alternate wider ones and operate (as “outlining”) to prevent adverse “simultaneous” contrast effects.


The next piece was Wendel’s rather well-known “tessellation” pile rug, attributed to the Shahsavan.


It also displays a variety of effect color contrast and a tessellated field design.

Here is a closer corner.


Wendel pointed to the fact that the tessellated device


is composed of a triangle, rotated and reflected and


also internally instrumented.

The following piece was probably Kurdish, possibly NE Persian.  This time a pile long rug with a lot “going on” in it design-wise.


There are medallions, a dramatic striped main border, camels and other critters, “tree-of-life” motifs, etc.


But, as Wendel noted, it is also very colorful and it displays a variety of contrasts very effectively.


Here are a couple more close looks at it.



The next piece was another silk jajim.


Again the striped, instrumented design exhibits good “light and dark” and complementary contrasts.


There are narrower stripes between wider ones, but devices decorating the stripes themselves are not outlined and so some “simultaneous” contrast is possible, especially in stripes with high complementary contrast like the red stripe instrumented in green.

Here is one more closer look at a detail of this piece.


The next item was this small piece attributed to NW Persia, possibly Kurdish.


The excellent colors of this piece are so, mostly, because they  exhibit effective use of the various contrasts treated in this session.

The dark field and the yellow ground framing borders contribute strongly to the aesthetics of this weaving.


The checkerboard area may echo Kurdish “shrub” carpet usages.

The next piece had some similar features, but was attributed to the Khamseh Federation.


Its white ground border does not have as much white and the main borders of the immediately preceding piece had of yellow.

The result is that this piece seems somewhat darker.  The color palettes and design usages are very similar.  The effective alteration of color in its abstracted “boteh” devices drew favorable comment.

Here are some closer looks at this piece.

First, a corner,


And then a vertical slice of the field that includes part of the bottom border.


The next item shown was the one below.


This is a SW Persian rug of the so-called “mother and daughter boteh” design.  It exhibits many of the color contrasts Wendel has attracted attention to.

Here are some closer details of this piece.  First, a top corner,


then the field,


The next piece brought in was the one below.


This was attributed to the west Caucasus and exhibits typical primary colors, excepting that, perhaps of the “Lesghi star” in the center medallion.

Here are some closer details of this piece.




Red, white and blue predominate but there are visible uses of a softer yellow and a purple and, perhaps, a blue-green.  The marked abrash is an instance of contrast of “hue.”

Another Caucasian rug followed, this time with three “Lesghi stars” in its field.


Design-wise there is a great deal going on in this rug and while its colors are striking the large scale of the “bracketed” areas of the main border are nearly as tall on the sides and as wide on the top and bottom as the medallions in the field, and may for some begin to “compete” with the latter.

Nevertheless, the colors in this rug exhibit a goodly number of the contrasts that contribute to aesthetic attractiveness.  Several shades of blue are, for example, instances of good uses of contrast of “hue.”

Again, here are some closer details of this piece.


Notice that most motifs are outlined either with lighter or darker colors.


The “Lesghi star” device is another held to have been generated entirely by reflection and rotation of the triangular devices at the edges of the perpendicular and horizontal white areas of the medallion.


The next piece was the silk Hereke rug below.


This is a piece, like the great Mughal Wendel showed in his lecture, that demonstrates that “more” can be more.

The skillful color contrast usages in this piece speak for themselves in the details of it below.  Perhaps its most unusual feature is its own brown field.


The range of color in it is only becomes really visible in close-up.



A piece that truly exhibits wonderful uses of color contrasts.

There were some other “city” rugs in the room.  The next one, an Ishfahan with an ivory field, was one of these.


Although unavoidably something of a come down from the previous Hereke, this piece displays excellent “light and dark” contrasts.

Here is a corner closer.


And a closer detail of its field.


Notice that outlining is used extensively but not everywhere.

The red tendrils were seen to be an effective usage.

The next piece was an Ottoman yastik in silk.


This piece also has good “light and dark” contrasts.


Its owner said that he was attracted by its purple.

Again, outlining is used to separate some adjacent colors, but not others.


The next piece was Anatolian with a niche design field.


It has two cross panels as part of its field.  Cross panels occur in some Turkish rugs, and in Turkmen engsis, but they are relatively rare in rugs from other areas.

Good color contrasts are present in this piece, but the hues used are more subdued.  Here are some closer looks at details.



The “columns” at the edge of the field are featured in a group of Anatolian rugs beginning in the 15th century that may have their source in “Torah” rug designs used by Spanish Jews driven out by the Inquisition and welcomed by the Ottomans.

The turquoise blue hue in the field works in effective contrast with the nearby soft red.

The next rug was also an Anatolian niche design attributed to Kayseri.


It was suggested that this piece is a “funeral” rug.


This time a likely cochineal bluish-red contrasts with a pale green.  An inner of two main borders is a surprising yellow.  Here, below, is a detail of a closer corner.


There is limited contrast in this rug because the general palette is composed of milder hues.  The use of a brightish orange-red close to the bluish-red hue is arresting.

The next piece was the western Anatolian rug below, attributed to the Bergama area.


It design is “architectural.”  It exhibits several varieties of strong contrast, especially that having to do with contract of scale.

Here are some closer details.


The next rug was also Anatolian.


There is contrast in scale between the large open red field, but little contrast of any sort in the rest of the rug.

Here are some closer details.



The next piece was a Caucasian with three field cross panels, something, as we’ve said above, very unusual in Caucasian rugs.


This rug has good contrast of light and dark, and between its mostly primary colors.  It also has effective contrast of scale between design elements.

Here is a detail.


This rug may be dated


but the first two date “numbers” seem to be “1” and “2” and that would suggest an Islamic calendar date that seems optimistic for this piece.  An alternative explanation might be that this is something copied imperfectly by an illiterate weaver.

The next piece was the Balouch below.


Belouch rugs, as we saw with earlier examples, tend to have colors that are closer to one another on the color wheel.  The limits the degree of contrast this piece can project.

Here are some closer details.


Most of the contrast in this piece comes from the electric orange in it.


The next piece was attributed to Khamseh.


Although an attractive piece, the varieties of contrast are limited, especially a good contrast of proportion (scale).

Here are some closer looks at details of it.




The next piece of the morning was the one below.  It was estimated to be a relatively young Afghan rug, but the saturated hue of its red was given high marks even should it be the result of a synthetic.


This is not the best-planned rendition of this well-known Caucasian field design and it doesn’t have a lot of “light and dark” contrasts, but it has some others.

And just because it might be quite young doesn’t mean that we won’t give it a fair shot of display.  Here are some closer details of it.

First, an upper corner,


then part of the center of the upper field.


The last piece of the morning was a little Uzbek band.


This piece has been called a belt by folks experienced with non-Turkmen Central Asian textiles, but Bob Emery pointed out that


the bottom selvedge in the image above is hard and finished, while the top edge (with the trefoil forms pointing up) is folded over but loose, and appears perhaps to have been attached to something else.  Bob suggested that this is a lapel decoration for a longish Uzbek garment and that seems convincing.

On the color side, this piece demonstrates that the palette of natural dye colors on silk is distinctive from that on wool.

So the color contrasts visible in this piece (and there are some despite the fact that little white is used) require a little looking because of the distinctive hues of its  colors.


The session came to an end.

Wendel answered questions.


And adjourned the program.

Movement to the front and after session conversations started up.







I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of Wendel’s interesting program.

I thank Wendel for both permitting this virtual version of something he had carefully prepared and delivered.  His editorial assistance was also critical.

Thanks also to Colin England who took an excellent set of notes.


R. John Howe

Wendel Swan, Rugs 101: The Pieces Brought In

Posted in Swan, Wendel on August 27, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

This is the second part of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program that Wendel Swan gave at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2009.  This program is best experienced by first looking at Wendel’s lecture at the following link:

You can also use this same link at the top of this page.

Wendel had brought some material to illustrate some aspects of his topic, but said that he had not selected what to bring in a systematic way, but had picked related rugs and textiles that had not been shown recently.  Members of the audience also brought in some material.

Wendel began with a filikli from the Karapinar area of Anatolia.


This shaggy piece is of ivory angora wool.  It is decorated with large cruciform medallion.  It is very coarse, having only one knot per square inch.


A look at the tan back of this piece shows how widely spaced the rows of long pile knots are.

Wendel quite likes the strong graphic impact and the archaic character of this traditional Anatolian sleeping rug,


but acknowledges that his wife longs for the day when it leaves their collection.

This illustrates an aspect of collecting not treated in Wendel’s collection: one’s “significant other(s)” may not always share one’s enthusiasm for a given piece.  Ownership of a piece like this can require considerable tact and a lot of perserverance.

Wendel’s next piece had a niche design.


Considered generally, this piece is an instance of Anatolian designs sourced in architecture, geometrics and flower forms.

Its field


is similar to many employed on “prayer” designs from Ladik and its striped main border


is of a sort seen by some to be associated with Bergama.

But Wendel said, that this piece illustrates the importance of looking INTO a rug, not just AT it, since its structure suggests that it was woven in the Konya region.


It has wonderfully full pile, with beveled effects in some areas, due to corrosively mordanted natural dyes, and is dated.

Wendel’s third piece is spare and mysterious.


A precisely drawn set of borders surround a lightly abrashed field that Wendel reported is actual camel hair.

Six quadrapeds are arrayed vertically along both side edges of the field.



One mysterious aspect of this piece is that despite the demonstrations of the weaver’s ability to draw designs precisely, there is a faint, almost ghostly, and awkwardly drawn niche form placed in the top of the field.


This rug was once used in one of Wendel’s “mystery rug” programs at an ACOR.  It is still not entirely clear where it was woven.  The best current guess is NW Persia.

The next piece was this “Ersari” compartmented design.


Here is a close look at the instrumentation of  the designs in these compartments.


The design elements in the compartments could, arguably be simply geometric or perhaps an abstracted flower form with a top blossom and two leaves on the lower sides.

In any event, this is another example suggesting the advantages of examining a piece you are considering, closely.  At first glance this piece may seem a clear fragment and there are parts of its edges missing.  But a closer look at all of its edges


reveals that it is largely complete.  So close examination can produce surprising favorable results as well as the discovery of potential or actual problems.

Wendel’s next piece was the one immediately below.


This is a rare piece: a pile rug attributed to the Shahsavan.  One indicator of this attribution (the notion of Shahsavan pile weaving is questoned by some) is that it has “sinuous warps” (a feature Marla Mallett describes as “lack of weft ease”).

The tan areas in this rug contain some actual camel hair.


There is only one guard border on the outside edge of the field,


a red-blue reciprocal.


The stripes of the field have their own internal decorative devices.


Decorated stripes of this sort are also seen in some Caucasian rugs from the Genje area.

The next piece is one half of a complete khorjin.


This is a Shahsavan sumak piece, very finely woven, with precise drawing and brilliant colors.  Its field design features a bold cruciform medallion.  The back is striped blue and black.

There are a number of Shahsavan khorjins with this design and one of the thing that collectors attempt is to acquire pieces seen to be the “best of type” (there is also a little sneering in some quarters at this latter notion).  Nevertheless, this piece is thought by more than a few to be perhaps the best of this cruciform medallion design.

The next piece was another khorjin face.


It is another cruciform design but this time in pile.  It was attributed to the Kurds.

Wendel’s next piece was a panel from a  sumak cargo-bag-type mafrash.


This piece is attributed to the Hashtrud area.  The white areas are cotton.

Many mafrash panels (both sides and ends) have borders top and bottom but not at the sides.  And that is the case here.  Wendel is, in fact, partial to mafrash panels that have borders all round.  This may seem a minor difference, but it affects the aesthetics of such panels seen in isolation.  Th0se with borders on all sides have a “completeness” that those with borders only top and bottom lack.  The great colors and strong graphics of this piece likely compensate enough in this case to get it included in Wendel’s collection.

The next piece was also a mafrash panel with a stepped medallion.

Wendel8Pile mafrash panels are not rare, but are infrequent enough to draw real attention when a good one is encountered.  This one projects good colors, a simple, but graphically strong field and borders of a smaller scale that do not compete with it. It may have been woven by Kurds.

The next piece was this chanteh.


Wonderful color on a dark ground, effectively again framed by a smaller scale white-ground border.  Its small size is also an attraction.  This is a piece indicating that “charm” is not always in tension with “aesthetic quality.”

Wendel said that he is not always taken with Jaf Kurds but could not resist the one below when he encountered it.


A closer look at one corner.


The feature that, of course, drew Wendel’s attention is its green-ground elem decorated with Memling guls.


This elem is a feature worthy of note.  It is not just unusual, but works to raise the aesthetic quality of this piece considerably.


Wendel next showed two small khorjin faces.



Again he has been attracted to simplicity, good color and drawing, and an overall composition that balances field, field devices and border effectively.

The next piece was another mafrash side panel.


A little closer central detail.


Alternate warps on this piece are depressed, something some say permits a closer attribution.


Wendel used this piece my recent “Easy to Weave; Hard to Weave” RTAM as an example in which the drawing is not perfect (the latch-hooks do not always align).  He sees this piece as older.

The next piece was another khorjin face.


While the colors in this piece are milder, it is interesting because it is well drawn and its structure is reverse sumak with some warp depression.  It is a very tough fabric and would stand up in hard wear.

The next piece was the panel of zili brocade below.


A closer detail.


This piece has good color and drawing.

Zili, with its “cordoroy” appearance looks simple to weave but Marla Mallett points out it must have difficult aspects since with closer examination one can find mistakes in most examples.

Wendel next showed a complete khojin in zili brocade.


A closer look at the bridge of this piece is useful.


The closure loops here are sewn on and there are no slits.  This presses it attribution away from Persia and the Shahsavan.  It is, in fact, attributed to Karabagh.

Wendel’s next piece was also of zili brocade.  It was the complete khorjin set below.


Here is an unobstructed overall view.


A little closer look at the lower face.


Another of its colorful stepped bridge.


This time there are slits as well as loops, a Persian usage.

And here a comprehensive look at its back.