Posted by Steve Price on 04-22-2003 01:09 PM:

ICOC - Some Exhibition Highlights

Hi People,

ICOC included number of exhibitions, and I managed to get photos of some of the things I thought were wonderful. I wasn't able to get to the exhibition of bags at George Wshington University and photography was forbidden at the spectacular show at the Embassy of Uzbekistan, so I have nothing from those two venues. Here are some things that particularly impressed me.

First, this Akstafa prayer rug seemed especially nice.

I like this Caucasian cover very much.

This Qashqa'i kilim caught my eye.

It will surprise nobody to learn that I found the Kaitag exhibition the best of everything. Surprisingly, in the introduction to the ICOC book, Murray Eiland refers to Kaitag embroideries as having been purely decorative, and mentions that these are the first group of purely decorative textiles to get much play at an ICOC. I'd dispute the purely decorative description of Kaitags, and point to the many Uzbek embroideries that have been included in past ICOC shows as examples of things that were essentially decorative items. Anyway, here are my two favorites (excluding my own pieces from consideration, of course).

This one, of a different genre, is also terrific.

Finally, a series of four of the so-called "Dragon and Simurgh" embroideries, showing a wide range of interpretations of the type.

These images have all been cropped and reduced in size for use on the web. I have the original files as larger, high resolution images, and will be happy to send one or all to anyone who would like to have them. I can also display small sections of any of them in high resolution if anyone would like to see details.


Steve Price

Posted by Sue Zimmerman on 04-28-2003 11:00 AM:

Hi Steve,

This is my first exposure to Kaitag embroideries. Thanks! Were I "investing" now they are where my money would go -- one's like the first two pictured. They will probably be called "purely decorative" until they are all in dealers hands. Then watch what happens. They are awesome. I doubt they will be around long. Sue

Posted by Steve Price on 04-28-2003 11:14 AM:

Hi Sue,

We have two archived Salons devoted to Kaitags. They aren't the best published source on Kaitags (Chenciner's book is), but they are free.

These embroideries were anything but purely decorative, and Eiland must have been thinking of something else when he wrote that they were. They were important elements in key stages in life for the people who made and used them, and are among the very few textiles that are absolutely free of commercial influences. Ignoring the contemporary fakes, none were made after about 1920 and they were virtually unknown in the west until about 75 years later.


Steve Price

Posted by Tracy Davis on 04-28-2003 12:49 PM:

I can't resist popping in here with a comment on the D-word.

I must need to re-read the ruggie dictionary for the definition of "decorative"-- Webster's won't hold. (Peter Stone comes close in his Lexicon.)

I prefer to be logical and descriptive, which leads me to ask: If the needle-women creating Kaitag embroideries didn't make them "decorative", why did they bother embroidering at all?

Posted by Steve Price on 04-28-2003 01:02 PM:

Hi Tracy,

These embroideries served various functions, none of which was purely decorative and most of which didn't even have "decorative" as a secondary purpose.

1. Many of them were draped over the head of an infant's cradle, decorated side facing inward (so the embroidered side wasn't displayed to the passerby). The function was to distract the evil eye, which might otherwise focus upon the baby. This group of embroideries is characterized by very vivid colors, lots of broken patterns and, sometimes, some motifs that were essentially amulets. Most of the ones shown in this thread are of that group.

2. A second group was used to cover the face of the corpse during the pre-burial period. These sometimes include horses with or without riders, designs resembling Moslem gravestones, things that might be interpreted as cosmic maps.

3. A third group was used to wrap the bride's dowry. These are generally rather formal in appearance, with lattices and floral elements similar to many Ottoman brocades and embroideries.

4. Some were used as cushion covers during the mourning period after a death. I don't know what characteristics these had.

Anyway, it's clear that they weren't made just to look pretty, but served important roles in infancy, marriage and death. Suzanis and many Uzbek tribal embroideries are much more nearly "purely decorative" items. These have been seen in collections for many years, which is why I thought it odd that Eiland not only referred to Kaitags as purely decorative, but as the first purely decorative textiles to appear at major convention exhibitions.


Steve Price

Posted by Tracy Davis on 04-28-2003 01:21 PM:

Thanks for the mini-lesson, Steve. I understand that the embroideries were *functional* pieces within their culture and as such have particular ethnographic interest beyond just their visual embellishments. But I still believe that our bias against objects we consider "purely decorative" is an artificial construct of the Western mind. It's an inversion of the museum hierarchy that creates a distinction between "fine" and "decorative" arts, but I think it's equally false, and I hate seeing it perpetuated. The current rug-collector bias for "tribal" or "ethnographic" pieces of "material culture" as against "decorative" pieces creates a tension that, I believe, did not exist in the mind of the creator of these pieces, and it leads us to romanticize their origins. I don't think that's helpful to rug scholarship at all.

But let me forestall your reply by saying that I DON'T mean there isn't a difference between items made within a cultural context that had limited influence by commercial pressures, and those made (usually at a later time) in response to western market demand. I just don't think that "decorative" is, or should be, a synonym for commercial production.

Posted by Steve Price on 04-28-2003 01:35 PM:

Hi Tracy,

No dispute from me on any of that.

However, "purely decorative" implies that an object was made to be decorative and had no other function worth mentioning. For Kaitag embroideries, this is about 180 degrees off the target. I think they are extremely decorative and highly artistic, all within a framework of functionality and, for lack of a better term, ethnographic purity.

As for collectors, I don't think most of us are interested in things that are not decorative. The ethnographic significance adds a dimension, though, even if it encourages fantasizing.


Steve Price

Posted by Sue Zimmerman on 04-28-2003 10:30 PM:

Hi Steve,

Guess I'm more than a little late discovering these things. I was hoping they were not extinct already. Too bad for me and the world. They look like they are relics from some previous unknown civilization. I wonder if they have something to do with those pyramids they found in remote ravines in the mountains of Southern Uzbekistan a few years back. I know they are not supposed to be from there but they sure do look different from the other Kaitags to me. First fire cosmic honking stuff. I am even too late for Chencinaer's book, it seems, pricewise. Hard times.
If it wouldn't be too much of a problem for you, and since you offered, I would love to see a big picture of the lowest left hand object in the outer boarder of the second Kaitag pictured - the one that looks like it is taking off northeasterly. How about a close up of that green thing budding off of the top of the of the medallion, too, as long as I'm being a pest anyway?

Posted by Steve Price on 04-29-2003 08:40 AM:

Hi Sue,

Here, for convenience, is the second Kaitag:

Here are the closeups:


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-07-2003 03:08 AM:

Some Other Potpourri Exhibition Images

Dear folks -

I'm going to take advantage of Steve's heading here to make several posts providing images of other pieces that drew my attention (and camera) in the Potpourri exhibition.

Here is a Yomut chuval, I liked a lot.

It is owned by Harry Meyers and his wife, from Seattle. As many will know, Harry has a shop out near the University and specializes in tribal pieces, especially Turkmen. He knows a good Turkmen piece when he sees one.

This piece is quite finely woven and has very good drawing and color. I like its "tall-ish" main guls and their definite "lobing." Its minor gul is also unusual and the white-ground main border is effective. This piece may not have quite the spaciousness that Turkmen collectors dream about, but that is mere quibble.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-08-2003 02:10 PM:

Dear folks -

Lest it be thought that I only notice Turkmen pieces, here are a few that include other varieties. Again from the Potpourri exhibition mounted by six different rug clubs.

In some cases, pieces hung did not get reproduced in the catalog. I will give catalog attributions when I have them and either guess or be silent if I do not.

The piece above is Plate 43 in the catalog, indicated as Afshar. It is inscribed 20 times in its border. The date given is 1320, which is about 1902.

The rug above is a very unusual and old Kazak. It is owned by James Burns and is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century. Catalog Plate 46.

The piece above is a yastik, but did not make the catalog. I would guess (and it is only that) that it might be East Anatolia, because it lacks lappets and because "S" borders seem favored by Eastern Anatolian weavers. Perhaps others will offer more informed attributions.

The piece above was also not in the catalog. It's a pile bag face of some sort. It is unusual because, with its compartmented design and its bottom skirt ,it resembles somewhat a Turkmen chuval. It seems perhaps Kurdish to me, but don't press me on that.

The very attractive piece above was also among those not included in the ICOC X catalog. I don't remember the attribution given, but it seems either Caucasian or maybe given its dimensions Eastern Turkey. Someone else will speak up about it.

Not in the catalog. I'll let someone else provide an attribution.

The piece above is Plate 32 in the catalog and is described as a "Turkish Sarkislar with stylized birds." Owned by Mr. Dixon in California.

The piece above is a very interesting Turkmen fragment with an unusual octagonal gul. Plate 4.

Here above is a large kilim that also did not make the catalog.

I have a few more photos from the Potpourri exhibition, but they will have to wait for another posting.


R. John Howe

Posted by Stephen Louw on 05-08-2003 03:43 PM:

Thanks for the images. I especially like the beshir fragment, with the wonderful guls. One thing that struck me at ICOC was how nicely the fragments were mounted, including this one.

Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-10-2003 02:54 PM:

Great Stuff! And Hello to Bertram!

Hello, all.

I too thought that exhibit contained some knockouts. Some of the Sennehs were marvelous.

John, the compartmented bagface is a Kurdish piece. I have a small sub-collection of this design, all with interesting variations on the theme. My first antique was one of these, still one of my favorites. I've often wondered if there is a day/night or even a yin/yang idea going on with these.

Which brings me to Bertram's ideas - sorry - I've been having trouble with the software...

Getting Back To Bertram, At Last!

Yes - I wish we'd had more time to talk - alas! Truthfully though, by that final Sunday I was on total sensory overload - still processing it, all the wonderful people and the INCREDIBLE textiles. The Kaitags, the Burns rugs - especially the Sennehs, which blew me away - all the stuff in the Dealer Fair - talk about wanting to dig through the piles - and finally - the Mamluks at the Textile Museum - utterly fantastic. Subtle, yes - but the incredible drawing, the geometry - I thought they were marvelous. Marla says there's a full pile silk one in New York, that's like looking into a shimmering pool.

The Yin-Yang - yes - I agree totally - life-death, anima-animas, day-night - part of the subconscious. So many carpet motifs call upon it: Turkmen guls, the "running dog" borders, of course kilims - one could go on and on - but once you're looking for it, it's there.

As far as women: well, my Dad, a painter, now on Wife Number 5 - oh dear - I guess he's studying - anyway, he is working on a series now where he is drawing the same model in several different poses, one on top of the other. He says, this is because he's watched groups of women talking, minding children, eating, washing dishes - everybody chattering at once, yet each hears the other - no child goes untended - because - we're all part of the same organism! Yes!

Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-10-2003 02:55 PM:

Wrong Smilie

Ooops - this was supposed to be a happy one