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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.


On Sunday morning, there were two plenary sessions.

The first of these was a version of something designed and conducted widely by Mark Hopkins, entitled "Good Rug, Great Rug," moderated here by Fred Ingham.

Many will know that this session proceeds by projecting images of two rugs in the front of the ballroom and asking the audience to indicate which they prefer. Once this has been done and three person panel, in this case Mary Jo Otsea, Danny Shafer and Daniel Walker, equipped with numbered cards which they hold up indicating how they rate each rug on a 1 to 10 scale. Once they have held up their cards, the judges give comments indicating the basis for their respective evaluations.

This session is always a crowd-pleaser because of its participative character, despite its unavoidable subjectivity. It may also have something to do with the enjoyment available in being able both to see and hear expert evaluations and rationales while still providing the chance for private disagreement.

The last session of each ACOR (and of the U.S. ICOCs) has traditionally been about "mystery rugs". Organized and moderated by Wendel Swan (on the right with Eric Risman in the photo below),

who selects the most mysterious pieces he can find and convinces four truly experienced ruggies to suggest where this pieces were woven and sometimes (when this may be part of the mystery) to suggest how they were used.

The experts have to be good-natured because the pieces are often difficult and although they "get" a good proportion of them, they are continually exposed to demonstrating their ignorance in public. The audience, of course, likes nothing more than seeing real experts stumbling about searching for words to cover what can often be the true nakedness of their inability to answer.

This year's experts were Danny Shaffer (left below) of the higher levels of the organization that produces Hali, and Bob Mann, the rug restorer par excellence from Denver on one side of the room.

Paul Ramsey, the dealer, collector, rug scholar also from Denver, sat on the other side with John Collins, introduced as "Mr. Bijar."

So with the experts in place the first rug was brought out. (I am merely going to present these pieces only occasionally saying a little about them. Wendel has agreed to comment over the next few days on the thinking and decisions about each piece.)

Here is the first piece.

This is an austere pile piece with a tan ground, a rather precisely drawn Persianate- seeming border, a ghostly niche device at one end of its field, and small devices down the sides of the field what could be read as birds.

The second mystery piece is the one below.

Wendel said that one odd feature of this rug is that the dark outside area may have been added. At least there are areas that appear to have selvege-like areas between the light center and the darker outside area. Suggestions abounded including one person in the audience who said he had a rug similar to this in his childhood room in Algeria. There was some hooting about that indication later at the dealers' fair but there is also hooting about some of the indications of the experts. I'll let Wendel tell what else was said about this one.

Here, below, is mystery rug three.

It is maybe 4.5'; X 8' without borders. It has Anatolian-like corner brackets and central medallion and its colors would fit some Anatolian areas, but it has small animal and human figures, something very unusual in Turkish pieces.

Mystery piece four (below) is of needlepoint.

It has a very attractive green ground and the drawing of the three medallions is exquisite. There are Swedish needlepoints of note, but they seem distinctive from this one. Wendel settled this one with some specific information about provenance.

Here, below, is the fifth mystery rug.

Many of us saw its basic Central Asian look but it was hard to go beyond that.

The two pieces below taken together are mystery rug six. (Wendel will be able to supply much better photos of them and may want to.)

I will only say that John Collins said that he thought they were done by two different weavers and he liked the one on the left above better. Then someone pointed out that the two pieces are woven differently with regard to the design and that in the photo above, the pile on the piece on the left points up making its colors seem lighter. When the piece on the left was reversed the color was, in fact, closer to that of the one on the right. This direction of pile point also seemed to indicate that these panels may be part of a single khorjin-type bag set.

Here, below, is the seventh mystery piece.

Its niche arrangement was puzzling and its size was small.

The next mystery piece, number eight, was great fun. Wendel first put up the piece below and encouraged conversation about it.

There was some, mostly about attribution. Then Wendel asked what it was, what was its function? Most agreed it looked like a salt bag.

Then Wendel brought out a second very similar piece. It has the same basic shape as the first piece, same materials and designs and colors, but its "neck" is shorter. Wendel pointed to the seeming precision of the weaving and drawing and asked what we should make of this difference. Some were not discouraged, arguing that there is not reason why someone might not have woven two salt bags of slightly different dimensions. But now Wendel brought out a third rectangular piece, again with the same materials and designs.

"What now?", he asked. "Aha!", some said, "a mafrash!", and two of Wendel's assistants set about putting it together as a mafrash.

They held up the result.

"An interesting possibility", Wendel acknowledged, "but have you ever seen square end flaps on a mafrash that don't really cover?" (ed. Look at the right side. Tab is much narrower than side. Wouldn't function to close.) And notice that when arranged as a mafrash the center connecting section (done in full pile by the way) is off center. That seems not to fit either with the visible precision undertaken in making this item.

After some further conjecturing Wendel suggested that another possibility might be demonstrated. "Could it be some sort of horse cover-trapping arrangement?" Again his assistants went to work. Here, below is the result.

Here are two more images while Wendel argues his case.

So what do you think? Convincing? Regardless, this piece demonstrates why mystery rug sessions can be so engaging.

But we're not quite finished yet.

The next mystery piece is this mixed technique tent band. It was full length and I'll show you all the images I took without comment.

It looks vaguely Central Asian (the ground it cotton), but more precise suggestions seemed to peter out.

The next mystery piece is one I showed you before from the first night on dealers' row.

The dealer had written "Balouch?" on it, but most felt it wasn't that. I'll let Wendel talk about what was eventually decided.

The last mystery piece below was also vaguely Central Asian in its look.

But again, when examined more closely, things got difficult.

So that is the mystery rug session for ACOR 8. Hope you enjoyed it. Wendel did a good job of finding interesting pieces with which to tax his experts and was masterful in uncovering the possibilities in his "horse cover set.'

This is my last report from ACOR 8. I do have lots more images to perhaps share over the next few weeks. ACOR 9 will be in St. Louis three years from now. Start planning.


R. John Howe

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