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Jerry Thompson's Exhibition of Caucasian Carpets

by R. John Howe

Jerry Thompson, a Washington, DC, dealer and collector (and one of the founders, long ago of the “rug morning” programs at The Textile Museum) has drawn from three local collections to present an exhibition of Caucasian carpets. The venue is the Washington County Fine Arts Museum, Hagerstown, Maryland; it will be on view from February 1 to April 23, 2006.

The 38 “carpets” included are mostly pile (although there are a few nice flat weaves) and are presented in two galleries in a little jewel of a museum, invisible to me previously, despite that fact that I have driven near it for years and actually lived not far away in West Virginia for several.

Jerry intended to produce a softbound catalog for this exhibition and obtained Russell Pickering’s permission to reproduce as part of it the text from Russell’s The Treasure of the Caucasus: Rugs from American Collections (1992), but problems of finding a place to do the needed photography intruded. Instead, Jerry has produced a nice printed, walk-through guide with Russell’s text, all of the gallery labels and color thumbnail photos of the exhibition pieces. It is a great more than most exhibitions provide. And it is free.

Jerry walked with me through the exhibition and picked out a few pieces that he thought might interest you. I photographed them, taking at least three images of each. What follows are these images and the associated gallery label information to give you a hint of what this nice exhibition is like. I have used the numbers in the gallery labels. Additional comments I have made are prefixed with “Howe:…”.

9. Shirvan Bidjov
Eastern Caucasus, 19th century or earlier
Wool, 4’5” x 3’2”

This coarsely knotted rug is possibly the oldest rug in this exhibition. Considering that the format is only 4/5” x 3’2”, the design elements are much too large.

However, it is this very fact that gives this rug so much dynamic power.

Howe: Here is an image of a lower corner of this piece.

10. Shirvan
Eastern Caucasus, 19th century
Wool with cotton selvedges

Typically rugs from the eastern Caucasus display many, sometimes minute, design elements.

Therefore, this rug is unique because of its paucity of design.

It is drawn very much like a carpet from the southern Caucasus and yet its eastern Caucasus origins are unmistakable.

13. Perepedil – Shirvan or Kuba

Eastern Caucasus, early 20th century
Wool and cotton, 5’8” x 3’8”

The distinguishing characteristics of this rug are the “Kufic” border

and the “ram’s horn” design in the field.

Howe: …and of one corner of this piece.

17. Seichur Kuba
Eastern Caucasus, second half of the
19th century, Wool, 9’10” x 3’6”

This Seichur is characterized by bold colors and geometric shapes. The four “St. Andrew’s crosses are particularly dramatic against the ivory field.

The border consists of an inner and outer pair of “running-dog” borders which frame a pink and red “flower and vine” border with beautiful green highlights.

The rich palette of colors in this classic Seichur design makes this runner highly desirable.

30. Eagle or “Cheleberd” Karabaugh
South Central Caucasus, 19th Century
Wool, 8’3” x 9’2”

In the carpet trade these striking rugs are usually called “Eagle Kazaks,” but carpet scholarship has determined that they were woven in nearby Karabaugh. In any case, this rug has both dynamic design and vivid color, thereby producing a brilliant example of south Caucasus weaving. The design origin of these rugs is obscure. Some observers see the main motif as a geometric rendering of a two-headed eagle, the imperial Russian coat of arms.

In fact, these rugs may have been commissioned by Russian army officers who were posted in the southern Caucasus in the 19th century. Another possibility is that the main motif is a geometric rendering of the rising sun. The presence of both yellow and green wool enhances the color palette of this carpet.

This carpet exhibition is fortunate to have another “Eagle” Karabaugh woven in a relatively rare design, “the “Eagle” in the center with the “crab claws” both above and both above and below the main motif.

Howe: In a long article in the Italian rug magazine, Ghereh, Christine Klose, a German student of rug design, argued that the central device in the “Eagle” Karabaughs is a flower form sourced in 17th century Persian “vase” carpets(Ghereh, Issue 14, December, 1997, pages 7-21). I have seen no comment on the merits of her argument. She provides detailed images describing what she sees as the four-stage, design evolution of the “eagle” device.

34. Caucasian Saddle Bag Face
Moghan-Savalan, last quarter
of the 19th Century
Wool, 1/11” x 1’10”

This is the face of a khorjun or saddle bag. For utilitarian purposes, the bags were generally woven by nomadic people. This particular bag face is more commonly called a “beetle” bag by collectors due to the shape of the six legged center medallion.

These particular bags are very sought after because of the high quality of the weaving, bold design, and rich color.

Those are the pieces that Jerry and I selected, but I have one more to show you.

My wife, Jo Ann, travels often with me to rug events and bears up nobly in the face of what must be excessive ruggie conversation. I asked her if there was one additional piece that she though you should see in this exhibition and she picked out the one below.

26. Borchalu or Fachrolu Kazak
Central Caucasus, late 19th century
Wool, 4’11” x 3’11”

The dark field with niches at the top and bottom is often referred to as a “double prayer niche.” The two boldly drawn reciprocal arrow borders, dark-brown and ivory in one and bluish green and red in the other, are often found in the Borchalu prayer rugs. The dotted white outline of the latter adds definition and interest in the design of this border.

My thanks to Jerry, and his fellow collectors, and to the curatorial staff of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts for their permission and help in sharing part of this exhibition with you. If you are within striking distance of Hagerstown during the time when this exhibition is up, I encourage you to stop by and enjoy it.

The Museum web site (with directions) and phone number are:


1 310 739 5727


R. John Howe