ICOC X: A Gathering of the Non-Believers

by Jerry Silverman

The Omni Shoreham (and other venues around Washington, D.C.) was a pretty good time for those who showed up. The Exhibitions ran the gamut from overwhelming to underwhelming to, well, whelming. The Dealers’ Fair made me gnash my teeth at not being wealthier. The Academic sessions (lectures/presentations) just made me gnash my teeth.

Attendance seemed to be down from previous ICOCs.  Estimates (ICOC organizers weren’t quoting numbers) had attendance between 350 and 500.  In my opinion that’s just about the ideal number of people for a rug conference.  Organizers probably would have liked more.  The academic sessions’ seating was never more than half full - with some running only a quarter full.  Again, not really a problem from the point of view of the attendee.

Scheduling the conference to run over the Easter and Passover weekend guaranteed many who would have otherwise attended wouldn’t.  The organizers thoughtfully made arrangements for Easter services and a Passover seder, but that didn’t meet the needs of those who celebrate those rituals with family.  Hence, A Gathering of the Non-Believers.  On the plus side, room rates were only $149 a night at a seriously grande hotel (check out the restaurant and one of the men’s rooms).

Washington was vividly in bloom.  Trees, bushes, flowers - everywhere you looked there were blossoms.  But none could rival the visual fireworks of the exhibition of Kaitag Embroideries in American Private Collections.  So little is known about them.  So much is conjecture and hypothesis.  The claims of great age are arguable.  But their power is undeniable. Here are just a couple, extremely compressed, but you’ll get the idea.

Parenthetically, the entire Kaitag exhibit along with all the other exhibits are shown in a catalog “A World of Carpets & Textiles” edited by Murray L. Eiland, Jr.  More about this later.

The other exhibit that left viewers slack-jawed was Khorjin & Mafrash of Northwest Persia and Transcaucasia held in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery at George Washington University.  The Brady Art Gallery is a jewel box of a location - small, low-ceilinged, perfect for the display of small pieces.  Wendel Swan curated the exhibition, and it bore the hallmark of his passion for perfection.  Folks, this was the Good Stuff.  Arguably the best khorjin extant greeted you almost at the front
door.  A better illuminated picture is available on the front cover of   “From Bosporus to Samarkand” - the groundbreaking Textile Museum exhibition of sumak bags.

Another pretty stunning bag was nearby.

What makes these bags outstanding isn’t just the perfection of their weaving (in stitches so small it’s hard to imagine a human hand steady enough to make them).  It isn’t just the artistry of their use of space and color in the design.  There is a palpable plumpness to each piece - a moist shimmer like a ripe peach.  Yeah, I know, the verbiage is kind of over the top; but that’s what this exhibition encourages.

Here are a couple more.

Then there was the one that - had there been a power failure for about 30 seconds - I would have scurried out the door with. (Sorry, Mitch and Rosalie.)

The Turkmen Ensi exhibit was either spectacular or boring, depending on your fascination with the minutiae of subtlety of ensiis.  I found it not to the standard of the preceding exhibitions.  Which isn’t to say that there weren’t pieces that moved me.

The Textile Museum favored us with two exhibitions from their collections: Mamluk Rugs from Egypt and Carpets of Andalusia at the Textile Museum.  Sorry about the lack of pictures.  The Textile Museum is particularly cranky about folks making photos in their galleries.   I’m not sure how much you’d have been able to see, though.  Mamluk rugs are not very bright to begin with, and the Textile Museum seems to believe if there’s enough light to see the rugs there’s an unacceptable
level of fading possible. (We’ve discussed this on TurkoTek in the past - to absolutely no effect whatsoever.)  Suffice it to say that most museums would be thrilled to have one or two of these ancient beauties; the Textile Museum has several galleries full.

I didn’t get to the exhibit of Traditional Textiles of Uzbekistan.  Perhaps someone else can report on that.  And I’ll leave the exhibition of Jim Burns’ Kurdish rugs for another posting. 

Now for a brief comment on the exhibition catalog. The mere act of creating an exhibition catalog with so many color plates in the face of an immoveable deadline like the opening of the conference is fraught with peril. There is little or no time for revision, refinement, or reflection.  I learned this the hard way as anyone with a copy of the ACOR II catalog Mideast Meets Midwest can plainly see (our bindery showed it was possible to create an imperfect perfect binding).

That limitation is evident in A World of Carpets & Textiles.   The color is inconsistent.  The printing probably isn’t at fault as the images from the Textile Museum were spot on.  But the others are not.  The Kaitag images are dull, flat.  Other pieces are too blue or too red or too bright and artificially vivid.  The photography may be at fault.  Whatever the reason, the images in the catalog are not up to the level of the pieces they record.

My first walk through the Dealers’ Fair almost stopped before it started.  At the end of the first row of booths I passed was a rug that set off alarms in my memory.  Do any of you remember the Anatolian piece in my exhibit at ACOR6 - the one that was deliberately made to deceive?

Well, here’s what I saw hanging in a dealer’s booth.  According to the dealer, it has been sold; so we are free to discuss here on TurkoTek.

The design caught my eye.  I don’t know of anything else like it.  Then I looked closer.  There was absolutely no corrosion in the blacks and dark browns.  On closer inspection the wool in the knots had very little spin to it - as though it had “bloomed” from being unravelled from a kilim and re-knotted in the rug.  As luck would have it, Jerry Raack (the owner of the rug from ACOR6) was in the booth when I saw the rug.  He and I both examined it.  He agreed that it might be of a similar vintage as his.

The Academic Sessions were wildly inconsistent. A couple were great.   Most weren't.  These presentations need to be vetted.  Too many suffered from "vacation slide-show-itis".  Too many lacked thesis statements, allowing the speaker to wander wherever his/her scanty evidence led.   Too many were written in English but read by a speaker unfamiliar with
the language, rendering them incomprehensible.  If they were written out for the speaker, why not just hand out copies to the audience so we can read along?

Finally, what is a rug conference without a little zaniness?  Without further comment I offer this picture of a poster presentation and a picture I call “I Don’t Wanna’ Be Your Beast of Burden”.