Posted by R. John Howe on 05-23-2005 09:02 AM:

Is the range of color we tend to see as that produced by natural dyes accurate?

Dear folks -

This may not deserve a separate thread, but some of the aspects of Vincent's "subject" seem to me to be getting mixed a bit. Steve or Filiberto can move it if they want.

Assuming for the moment that natural dyes are on some bases preferable to synthetic ones, is this a standard we can usefully apply?

On one hand, since synthetic dyes can be identified through chemical test, the answer is "yes," and some of this is done.

But more usually we attempt to judge (visual test only) whether the dyes in a piece are within the range of shades we have been socialized to see as likely natural similarly we have been taught to see some shades as "hot" or "suspicious."

What I want to ask is how good we think we are at recognizing natural vs synthetic dyes without resort to chemical test?

My sense is that we're pretty good at recognizing such things as synthetics that are visibly fugtive on the front, but still to some extent present on the back, at recognizing bases of knots that have colors much different than the upper sections, at recognizing faded tips (although the latter are sometimes claimed to be present for pieces done in natural dyes).

But I think we may be mistaken often about the range of colors that can be (and were) produced with natural dyes.

I have told the story of Jim Ffrench coming to the TM with a Caucasian rug from a friend that was full of garish colors. Ffrench admit he hated them, as we likely did too, as likely produced by synthetic dyes.. Then he took out a silk Turkish textile with very similar colors and said that the inconvenient thing about our reaction to these colors is that those in the silk Turkish piece had all be chemically tested and found to be the result of natural dyes.

He suggested that at a minimum we needed to be resocialized sharply about the actual range of colors that can be produced by natural dyes; that more often than we might suspect, we were rejecting pieces as likely dyed with synthetic which were not.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 05-23-2005 11:15 AM:

Hi John

The range of colors that can be produced by natural dyes is, as you point out, widely underestimated. Still, the range of colors that actually were produced with natural dyes in central and western Asia is pretty limited, as nearly as anyone can tell.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-23-2005 12:44 PM:

Hi Steve -

We certainly act as if we think only a particular range of shades was mostly produced and we may often be right, but I think that is Ffrench's argument.

That we may well also often be mistaken in this belief. That our natural dye recognition skills are not what we think they are.

Mind you, I don't expect to convince many of the experienced collectors in our collecting universe.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 05-23-2005 01:23 PM:

Hi John

No disagreement from me. In fact, I sort of recall suggesting some years ago that someone do a little experiment of the following sort:
1. Have samples of a number of colors on a number of rugs subjected to chemical analysis so he would know which were synthetic, which were natural.
2. Set up a booth at ACOR or ICOC where visitors (mostly or exclusively ruggies at such a venue) would spend few minutes filling out a questionnaire that asks which color areas they think are natural, which are synthetic.

If someone did this, we'd have a good handle on how reliable the experienced eye test for natural dyes really is. My guess is that it's pretty good, but some concrete evidence about its reliability would really be comforting (or unsettling, depending on how it came out).


Steve Price