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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.

Mini-Salon 31: Which Stars Shine the Brightest? ‘Baluch’ Star-in-Octagon Bags

by Joel Greifinger

Much of the discussion concerning ‘Baluch’ weaving on Turkotek recently has centered on questions of attribution. Where were distinctive groups of items made, and by whom?  These discussions can be both interesting and frustrating, eliciting some satisfying insights amid broad speculation. Unfortunately, little dialogue in those discussions has been devoted to the aesthetics of these weavings. And by this I mean, not the aesthetic perspectives we project onto the weavers of these objects, but rather those we use in evaluating their appeal for us.

Among the most ubiquitous pieces in the marketplace for antique, collectible weavings is the type of ‘Baluch’ khorjin (or its remaining bag face) that is characterized by a central motif of a star in an octagon. The number of these that appear in both online rug sites and at auction is probably only rivaled by Jaff “diamond” bags.  And, like their Jaff counterparts, they range from stiff and pedestrian designs with mediocre wool to creative variations on a restrictive but evocative design coupled with sensuous materials.  I’d like to raise for discussion the criteria we use for judging some of the star in octagon ‘Baluch’ bags to be examples of highly-inspired folk art while seemingly similar bags fail to stir the blood.

While the range of motifs in ‘Baluch’ weaving is extraordinarily large, these bags generally depend on a smaller set of both field devices and borders. After surveying a large sample, I’ve settled on three borders that predominate among several other common but less frequent alternatives: those with “lightning”, “chevron & diamond” (a/k/a “fishbone”), and “pinwheel” motifs.  Many of the ‘classic’ examples of star in octagon bags use one of these types of borders.

Another way these bags have sometimes been categorized is by whether the “animal-tree” motifs surrounding the central star in octagon medallion are encased in a square or octagonal compartment.  But, as in so much of the aesthetic attraction of particular weavings, part of the allure is in those that transgress some of the usual expectations.

My approach will be to start us off by presenting some examples that have served to establish standards. The first group were acquired by key institutions, specifically, the Victoria and Albert and the Boucher Collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  These are followed by some of the star in octagon bags that have been selected by authors of the major specialized publications devoted to ‘Baluch’ weaving for inclusion in their books.  I assume that the presentation of these as worthy of publication substantially reflects the aesthetic judgements in the collector/dealer ranks when they were chosen.  It’s also safe to suppose that their presence in these publications has had an ongoing impact on collector tastes.   However, the real fun will be finding out whether this is actually the case, at least among those Turkotekers willing to hazard some comparative judgements on these and other examples.  And, after the established examples, I’ll throw in some others that I think are notable (including one of my own) in the hope that if I show you mine, you’ll show me yours.

The star in octagon bag with the earliest known provenance of which I’m aware was acquired by the Victoria and Albert in 1876.  This provides us with an introduction to both the lightning border and the so-called animal tree figures surrounding the central motif:

Col. Boucher’s collection in the Indianapolis Museum of Art provides a selection of star in octagon bags with the lightning border that probably set the standard for the type:

The pinwheel border is used in this piece, acquired by the V&A in 1922:

These bag faces from Black and Loveless’ seminal Rugs of the Wandering Baluchi  (1976) illustrate both the chevron and diamond border and the use of what Wegner calls the khaf gul in the field:

David Sorgato’s Baluch catalogue includes this chevron and diamond border bag with an octagonal compartment and complete with birds:

Another chevron and diamond border example (this one with a hexagonal compartment) comes from Powischer’s massive volume of ‘Baluch’ motifs:

Of the published pieces that start from the star in octagon central medallion, many enhance their appeal with variations from the most common field and border designs and additional ornamentation.  This bag, from Frank Martin Diehr’s Treasured Baluch Pieces (1996) has another common border and still has bands of weft substitution:

From Three Dusty Dozen (2001), this bag has a “tobacco" pattern reminiscent of the design on the prayer rug on the book’s cover:

Gary Wisdom’s Baluch Tribal Weavings (2008) provides both this combination of chevron and diamond border and khaf guls in the field:

  and this intact double khorjin with a curled-leaf border.

Neither Azadi (1986) nor Craycraft (1983) include star in octagon bags, but Craycraft can justly be credited with this bag (from the Anne Halley collection) published in Oriental Rugs From Pacific Collections (1990):

Here are a few others that are not published, as far as I know.  The first two are examples of substantial design variation starting from the star in octagon form.  Here’s a chunky little bag with teal:

This one is  a hybrid of the star in octagon and Baluch bird bag.
This is another striking lightning (lightning striking?) bag.

Last, to finish bringing us back from the realm of published examples to the ones we might have around the house, here’s one of mine. It’s a lightning border model with a range of colors including both madder and cochineal reds.  It has some quincunx designs in the “animal-tree” figures and a piled panel of stars that I haven’t seen on other pieces (perhaps they’ll start popping up now that I’ve said that).

Users of this site are well aware of the limitations inherent in attempts to evaluate textiles from their presentation on any computer monitor.  Even the best photographs, taken with the intention of accurate representation (without hopeful enhancements), don't reflect even the visual aspects of the piece to our satisfaction.  For the other important sensory information, verbal description generally has to suffice. As rug commerce has moved online (including internet bidding based on such images common even at the major auction houses) we have had to learn to base our tentative aesthetic judgements on this limited information.  Let’s go into this exercise in the same spirit.  The fact that 'Baluch' color choices and juxtapositions make photographing these bags particularly tricky will only add to the...fun.

What gives the allure to some of these otherwise mundane objects?   Which of these (and hopefully many examples to be added along the way) do you like most?   Which least?  Why?

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