Collecting the Small and the Beautiful
The following three, apparently diverse textiles from Syria, Iran, and China,
were collected primarily because of their common aesthetic: small size combined
with openness and elegance of design.
The small Chinese pile rug, although coarsely knotted, uses wonderful wool and understated but saturated color to highlight a single blue peony floating on a beige field.
The Syrian silk purse is worked in the finest imaginable slit tapestry and has as its focus a single elegant tulip within a luminous orange arch.
The little Sehna rug, so finely knotted that it handles like chamois cloth, effectively contrasts a fine-scale Herati design on a charcoal-black medallion with an empty ivory field.
Such pieces, although small, often have an indefinable, almost metaphysical beauty that evokes a sense of peace and calm. The relative merit of each of these pieces, however, is necessarily subjective, dependant upon ones own focus. Therefore, the viewers should decide which, if any, of these pieces they consider "collectable".
I'd really like to avoid getting bogged down in the question of what is "collectible". Maybe we can just look at how various collectors react to the three pieces.
As a collector, I have different reactions to all three.
1. The Senna rug: It's clearly an excellent example, and I can see much about it that will appeal to many collectors. I'm not in "Senna mode" this year, so it doesn't move me even though I understand why it will move some others.
2. The Chinese rug: I've never been able to get my brain to like Chinese rugs. I've made a serious effort, including attending a Textile Museum Rug Convention devoted to Chinese textiles, but no fire gets lit within me by them. This is a personal quirk, I guess. Several collectors of tribal textiles whose opinions and taste I respect highly have developed a strong feeling for them, so I know that tribal rug collectors can also appreciate Chinese rugs.
3. The Syrian purse: This one sings to me. It is an exquisite little bag that would make me extend my already eclectic collection into yet another country (Syria) if the opportunity arose to obtain it.
Many thanks for sharing these pieces with everyone.
There is one thing quite similar about all three of these pieces. They all
have a soft orange color prominent in them.
This may be due to the vagaries of internet color, or to the taste of the collector.
The Chinese rug is elegantly simple in design. The black-on-blue of the central peony has always been a favorite color combination of mine. This interplay focuses the eye on the center of the rug, with the soft orange or tan field offering a relaxing, restful surrounding.
Contrarily, the vibrant orange background surrounding the tulip on the Syrian purse is a vigorous, forceful contrast to the subtle, pale appearance of the rest of the piece.
The asymmetry of the nominally symmetrical Senneh jostles the attention, making the eye jump from medallion to spandrel to field. The off-center medallion gives this diminutive rug a heavy feel, as though it were sagging under its own weight.
Each of these three pieces has its own merits, making a decision which is better too subjective to be satisfactory.
Beauty, to coin a phrase, is in the eye of the beholder.
The beauty of these pieces eludes the eyes of this particular beholder.
(I know we try to be very polite here on Turkotek, careful not to step on toes and all. So if your sensibilities are easily offended, hit the "back" key now.)
They all seem amateurish...even the Senneh which has a reputation for exquisite workmanship (workwomanship?). I'm a big fan of elegant simplicity, but the Chinese piece - while uncrowded - looks clunky to me. The luminosity of the purse, too, is lost on me. Even if it's very finely woven, the black and orange say "Halloween" to me.
These pieces don't make me feel calm or peaceful. They make me wonder what the same wool would have been had it been in the hands of an artist.
Hi. Thanks for your post. Honest criticism is one way we grow as collectors.
(However, in defense of the orange color in the purse I can say that it is
softer in person. Unfortunately, Internet images often misrepresent color
balance and also colors as either too garish or too subdued, but rarely "right
on"). If you think about it, though, having differences of opinion is one of the
things that make collecting interesting - not everyone likes the same things or
sees the same object in the same way. But in addition to our differences of
opinion we probably have some common likes too…
Anecdotally, once (when my skin was "thinner") I owned a white ground Yomut asmalyk similar to Steve's first piece. A dealer that I showed it to called it common but decorative, which may have been true but was not what I wanted to hear. Shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to buy relatively inexpensively another white ground Yomut asmalyk in perfect condition that was similar in design, but I declined. This piece seemed to have "better" colors, drawing and spacing, and was a little different in the "small" details. Among other things it had a reciprocal medachyl minor border, a rare design feature that was later to be associated with some 'Eagle Group' weavings. But I couldn't "see" those important differences at the time because I was still smarting from my earlier "mistake". Some years later (older and hopefully a little wiser) I saw this asmalyk again, now in the possession of a knowledgeable dealer/collector, and confirmed that it probably was Eagle Group and early 19th century. I still kick myself for that "sin of omission" far more than the earlier "sin of commission"…
Later I was lucky enough to find this "common" Yomut chuval face that I didn't let get away... By the way, it's another piece that I collected because of its "open" design and (perceived) beauty. However, since it's more tribal, it may be of more general collector interest than the other 3 pieces I showed.
Sorry for the digression… But I guess what I'm trying to say is that one thing I've learned as a collector is not to take opinions personally but use them to "grow" and if necessary put them into perspective, sometimes even taking them with a pillar of salt.
Originally posted by Anonymous_1
...one thing I've learned as a collector is not to take opinions personally but use them to "grow" and if necessary put them into perspective, sometimes even taking them with a pillar of salt.
"Henry's List": Kicking some issues around
Not surprisingly, there were major differences of opinion over which of the
pieces shown in this thread could be considered collectable or desirable. This
seems to stem from each individual's perception of the merits (e.g., beauty,
interest, etc.) of the pieces, which ranged from positive to fairly equivocal to
negative, and each individual's current focus in their collecting. Therefore, it
would seem to be difficult to define what is "collectable" or the criteria for
"collectability" without first knowing more about the specific collector. In
general terms, however, a "collector" could be described as "one who pursues
various objects that to him/her give emotional or intellectual stimulation, with
the aim being to acquire the objects for purposes other than solely need or
practical use". These purposes might be study, enjoyment, prestige, etc.
We should now revisit Henry's list of criteria that a Turkoman rug should possess(?) in order to be considered collectable, which if I remember correctly are beauty, age, rarity, X-factor, and perhaps one more. Presumably, these can be applied to other textiles as well. I think he said that beauty and age were the most essential. It's interesting that in no one's comments on the posted pieces was age or for that matter rarity (or lack thereof) mentioned specifically.
Perhaps these were just too obvious to require comment from experienced collectors; alternatively, it might be that they are important secondary factors but not the most important ones for determining collectability/desirability, at least within this small "peer" group. However, beauty and artistic finesse were specifically addressed or at least alluded to by all as important factors in their decision making process.
Whereas age and rarity are inherent properties of an object, which can be objectively assessed to a degree, beauty, as confirmed yet again by the widely diverse comments, is subjective, likely deriving from personal preferences, experiences, peer pressure, the opinions of the perceived "fashion leaders" and "decision makers", etc. We could consider replacing "beauty" with something else, e.g., a collectable object must "possess intellectual or emotional appeal". Unfortunately, while this is more broadly encompassing, it is still elusive, subjective, and dependant upon the individual collector, no less so than "beauty".
Paradoxically, the one criterion that is probably the most important is also the most difficult to adequately describe, define, or quantify. In an earlier discussion with Henry, Steve seemed to favor the more mainstream, practical definition for "collectable" that takes into account a rug/textile's ethnographic significance, making a distinction along ethnographic/collectable vs. non-ethnographic/decorative lines, if I remember correctly. Although it is sometimes a little ambiguous whether or not a given piece is "purely" ethnographic, unlike beauty there are at least certain defining characteristics that can be objectively assessed.
In this thread none of the posted pieces with the possible exception of the Yomut chuval could be described as ethnographic, but how this affected their perceived collectability was again not explicitly mentioned, although in his comments on the Sehna rug Steve alluded to the fact that such pieces were outside his present collecting interests. Nevertheless, ethnographic interest alone would appear to be insufficient for determining an object's desirability (unless one is practicing "anthropologic" collecting), however, in my opinion it should be added to the list of other criteria.
I like your definition of "collector" very much. It seems to me to capture the essence of this particular neurosis.
One way to approach defining "collectible" is that it is something that is the focus of a collector. Since there are collectors of just about everything imaginable, everything is collectible to some and nothing is collectible to all. The term is, obviously, context-dependent.
To most collectors (no matter what they collect), rarity is a very important factor. I recall a conversation that I had with a dealer in Turkey some years ago. He asked me what I collected, and I told him that my taste is broad, but includes a special attraction to old Turkmen things. "But those are very hard to find", he said. "Why would anyone collect anything that isn't hard to find?", I replied. He nodded in agreement. And that was the end of our chat.
You said, In an earlier discussion with Henry, Steve seemed to favor the more mainstream, practical definition for "collectable" that takes into account a rug/textile's ethnographic significance, making a distinction along ethnographic/collectable vs. non-ethnographic/decorative lines, if I remember correctly. That's more or less true. It isn't that I favor it, just that I recognize its widespread use in the world of rugs.
In 2002, I put together an exhibition for ACOR 6 called "Rugs of Rare
Determining what is "rare" was easy. Not so for what is beautiful. The study of beauty is the study of aesthetics - about which their are libraries full of thoughtful volumes.
Rather than wade through that morass I chose to offer pieces that I, me, Jerry, found beautiful. If anyone else disagreed, they were entitled to their opinion.
I didn't consider "collectibility". As you've discussed above, it's also a pretty slippery concept (not as slippery as "beauty", but pretty damn hard to get a good grip on).
People collect everything: what would eBay be were that not so? Some collect only the ancient. Others are content with the merely antique. Still others collect the new.
The test I use, FWIW, is to try to imagine what might be in a museum/library 100 years from now.
Finally, it's my opinion that a collection tells at least as much about the collector as the pieces collected.
While I've stopped with the red rugs for now, I like your Yomut very much.
"While I've stopped with the red rugs for now, I like your Yomut very much"
<Chuckle> <Chuckle> <Chuckle> <Chuckle>
Marvin - I like this comment very much. It brings a huge smile to my face :-)
Oh the torment !!! I decided a while back not to buy anything except Shahsavan. But those damm Kurd pieces .......
With regard to collecting, one factor that does not seem to have drawn much comment is "Why?"
Why do we collect textiles? What is the purpose?
Appreciation of an art form?
Respect for an extinct craft?
A life experience to share with others?
This is something that I have grappled with for 3 years. For me, I cannot buy something that I would not see as 'beautiful'. So no matter how old or rare a piece is, if it's ugly, I will not buy it. (I have bought a few-with regret!!)
I like to display my pieces. They are EVERYWHERE. There seems no point in wrapping something up.
Unfortunately I live far far away from the 'rug collecting' world so I am the only person who really appreciates the pieces I have.
Am I a collector? I do not know. It's nice to know I have a piece that other collectors appreciate. But I have many pieces I consider A+ pieces that are scorned by the rug collecting community.
I guess we all grow as collectors, finally searching for old and rare pieces. We all end up buying books that show us what is "truly" collectible, as opposed to the average. But I sometimes wonder. There are some pretty aweful pieces in these books :-(
It's a real struggle ..........
Am I a collector? I do not know.