Posted by R. John Howe on 08-23-2006 10:10 PM:

Is "Kennel Blindness" in Rugs a Danger?

Dear folks –

My wife was, some time back now, a serious breeder and exhibitor of collie dogs.

Dog exhibitors, like rug collectors, are interested in beauty.

Now, this is the case for the dog breeder with some distinctions. Unlike rugs, there are written and blessed standards for all accepted AKC breeds (other countries have their own varieties of such standards). The written standard says (authoritatively) what a given breed of dog should look like. Both virtues and faults are indicated and some of the latter are disqualifying in the ring.

But, as is the case with rugs, such standards are socially constructed and periodically modified and, of course, have to be visualized and applied by dog show judges in the ring. So while there is a distinction between recognizing how closely a given dog meets its breed standard and claiming that a given rug is beautiful, something rather similar is going on.

Now I make this comparison as a prelude to asking something controversial. In fact, my question is askew of, if not actually opposed to, the basic position I take whenever issues of rug aesthetics arise. That is that rug aesthetics have no agreed objective basis. Moreover, anyone who puts up Victorian face shields for discussion should likely be embarrassed ever after about raising any aesthetic consideration at all. But following Emerson and his indication about “a foolish consistency” and “little minds” (most people don’t notice his adjective) I want to press a particular aspect of the aesthetic world of recognizing a beautiful collie to see if we are ever in danger of something similar in the world of rugs.

There is a phenomenon in the dog world called “kennel blindness.” It is the result of the fact that dog breeders and exhibitors (naturally) own some dogs. The dogs in their own kennel are those they tend to see most frequently. After awhile, unless there are corrective experiences, “my” dogs begin to look like “good” dogs because my image of what a collie should be is largely determined by my everyday exposure to actual collies.

Collie breeders go to dog shows and buy breed books and magazines (full of photos of champion collies) in part to continually hone (and correct) their picture of what a “good” collie should look like.

Now come to our world of rugs and collecting. The rugs we see most often are almost unavoidably the rugs we own. These rugs are often (for a variety of reasons) not those that most of us would place at the top of the aesthetic standard for their type. We like things about them (that's why we bought them) but would have to admit that while they may be "interesting," they are not "great."

Is it possible, likely even, that the rugs we see most often work to move our picture of what a “good” rug, of the type(s) we collect, should be in the direction of whatever the rugs we own “are?”

I know a very successful collie breeder and exhibitor who will not have even a statue of a collie in her home that is not very close to what the standard says is correct. She says that she needs to feed her eye constantly only on collie images that are correct.

The “standards” by which particular types of rugs are judged are not very firmly formulated (there is nothing equivalent to the dog world breed standard) but is it possible that (even if aesthetic excellence cannot be firmly attached to objective evidence) that we pass up opportunities to learn and develop if we spend too much time with the rugs in our “kennel” without taking corrective measures?

Is there a danger of a rug equivalent to “kennel blindness?”


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-24-2006 08:25 AM:

Hi John,

I understand what you mean, but I think not.
There’s too much diversity - or too many variables - between an “ideal standard” dog and… What? A particular kind of rug? Caucasian? Nah! Anatolian, Persian? Nope! Turkoman? Well… No, we have to limit the field. Let’s say an “ideal standard” Tekke main carpet.

OK – let’s say that I own a decent but far from perfect Tekke main carpet - assuming that we can define what is a perfect – or ideal standard – Tekke main carpet.
Would that prevent me from seeing or seeking a better Tekke main carpet?

Again, I don't think so.

After all collectors aren’t usually trading some of their old pieces for the purpose of acquiring better ones?


Posted by Steve Price on 08-24-2006 09:18 AM:

Hi John

I sometimes see people defend aesthetic criteria that would put one (or more) of their pieces into higher regard than they might otherwise get, but I think it's more common to invert this process. That is, we usually learn the mainstream criteria from others, and make our acquisitions accordingly.

The occasional pioneering collector who ignores mainstream fashion and later winds up in front of the pack is the exception. My guess is that most would-be pioneers wind up in the rear. It's kind of like the screwballs who love to point out that many a creative genius was viewed as a screwball for awhile. That's true, but almost all of those seen as screwballs aren't creative geniuses, they're screwballs.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-24-2006 11:36 AM:

some rugs are dogs


This isn't quite to your point, but I recall when fumbling around years ago trying to get up to speed about rugs, I had the idea that the objective was to get one nice exemplar of all those rugs in the books. A Perepedil with rams' horns, a Chi-Chi, a hatchli (hatchlou, ensi, etc.), something nice with boteh all over it, etc. I got over that. It sunk in that a better purpose was to find pieces within a particular type or rubric, but that were distinguished (for the better) in one or more ways from the group. That led to trying to understand what made rugs from a particular class or group more excellent than others. I would imagine most dedicated seekers and collectors go through something like the same process. How well we do it, of course, is fuel for the threads in Turkotek, but most are striving for it.

Another phenomenon I observed through the years that I think has some currency with your comments is the danger inherent in seeing too much junk and not enough quality material. Most of my experience chasing rugs was by way of looking into antique shops, oriental rug shops (e. g., the old family business sort, run more often than not by people of Armenian descent, or other Middle Eastern provenance) or general auctions. As anyone who has done this (certain celebrated flea marketeers come to mind) can attest, one encounters mostly depressing junk. After a while, a decent Enjalus mat with good wool, solid color, and a half-baked design, with no glue on the back and no sign of having been washed in frightening chemicals, would seem like the Ardebil carpet. Professional buyers wouldn't be so distracted, but for the amateur, it was necessary to see and handle really good material frequently in order not to be lulled into accumulating a lot of mediocre stuff.

Finally, I agree with Filiberto that the dog analogy limps a bit because the standard is strictly dictated. The fact that rug standards are all over the place is evident to anyone who reads these threads. In truth, as far as the dogs go, if you read that AKC manual, in which all the dogs are pictured and the standards are listed, you learn that for each breed, the adherents are very ready to explain that their breed is truly the best. However, I won't get into that, as we are making enough of a hash of the rug business without seeking to evoke the ire of the canine establishment.

Posted by Doug Klingensmith on 08-25-2006 03:20 AM:

room for mutts

Hi John- I'm glad you brought this up and hope you get responses from many of the usual suspects. You know I have only recently stumbled into this world of rugs, and my lack of refinement allows me to like things that I am apparently not supposed to. I am still not sure that I want to entirely relenquish this naivete. A limited budget forces me to accept compromises, and I want to be able to like them. Some folks may be able to develop their sensitivity for years, while saving their money in order to buy one great rug, but that kind of discipline is a mystery to me.
I believe learning more will begin to make me a better "bottom feeder", and I have already sold a couple pieces that I had been enthusiastic about getting, but really, I am just a sucker for a rug that makes me smile. Maybe just one of the colors seems perfect.
My Dad liked mutts. He would have described one of my rugs as follows: "Its father was Khamseh and its mother was careless..."
best regards- d.k.

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 08-25-2006 09:36 AM:

Corrective Experiences

Hello John:

You use the term "corrective experiences" to raise the importance of always looking beyond what you see most often or every day. You suggest that without such experiences there is a danger of what breeders call "kennel blindness". I am not certain of the analogy having only had kindly Labradors laying about the house never caring much for whether they looked good or not, but I am fairly confident that the idea of corrective experiences is critical to collecting and has at least several contexts.

First, to be a collector you have to start collecting. Therefore, the position of Mr. Klingensmith is important. You have to go out and be a bottom feeder and take a chance on some pieces and learn from them even if those purchases turn out to be desultory. Second, if you only hang out with the rugs so purchased or with other bottom feeders or with rug dealers of the type referenced by Mr. Larkin, I believe you will remain where you started. The corrective experience involves going to major exhibitions and top dealers with enough humility to judge what you have against what you can see as well as having the willingness to dump or cull what does not stand up - this will give new meaning to the old dealer truism that if you want to really know what a rug is worth, you just have to sell it and anyone who has never sold a rug has no idea what a rug is worth.

My own corrective experiences are telling - In 1990, as a young, aggressive bottom feeder I went to the ICOC in San Francisco and saw the exhibitions and dealer offerings there. I still remember meeting Ralph and Linda Kaffel and seeing their pieces exhibited at Fort Mason along with those of other many other collectors such as Michael Rothburg. Comparing what I had been seeing and acquiring afforded me the first opportunity to start over. The interesting thing was in speaking with Ralph and Linda and Michael Rothburg and other long standing and serious collectors and admitting to them in conversation that I had concluded that I needed to start over, this admission was not seen as a bad thing but rather elevated me in their eyes because they all told me they had had similar experiences and that it was a necessary step.

Thereafter acquisitions slowed and became more calulated. Even then, it was another three years and I decided to start over again after additional corrective experiences and become truly focused on Kurdish weavings essentially because of one rug that made everything I had seem, well, meaningless.

I think there are many roads to travel in collecting rugs but the corrective experiences, if you have the humility and guts to accept them, are among the most rewarding if you aim is to collect rugs as rugs rather than as memories of a trip or experience or merely as decoration. Rug collecting is not stamp collecting, it cannot be learned merely from a book or a dealer nor can a collection be built on textbook examples. And this really leads to the aesthetic standards you talk about. I think there are some aesthetic standards in rug collecting, though not necessarily "ideal standards" and I think they are largely set by the people who have gone through the corrective experiences, learned from them and continued to learn, hone and collect. And this is fluid as more and more is learned, "seen" and digested - I do not think this fluidity is unique to rugs or rug collecting either. It is the pieces of these collectors that are requested when it comes time to hang an exhibition and seeing all those pieces hung side by side gives the lenders as well as everyone else the chance to have yet another corrective experience.

I hope this adds something to the chatter, michael

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-25-2006 02:15 PM:

Kurdish rug


1. Is it possible for us to see the Kurdish rug that made all prior rugs meaningless?

2. Do you continue to have the same high opinion of the rug?

3. Are you moved by good but not spectacular Kurdish weavings, say Jaff Kurd bags, things of that sort?

Rich Larkin

Posted by James Blanchard on 08-25-2006 05:29 PM:

Hi all,

I tend to agree with Michael that over time most collectors do become more discerning in their acquisitions, and that this process is most effective if one is open-minded and willing and able to admit mistakes. Having said that, my own view is that there lies some danger in spending too much time and putting too much emphasis on the opinions of others, however expert. I say this for two reasons. First, it can quickly result in acquisition that veers away from one's own tastes in order to have a "respectable" collection, based largely on what one sees in published collections. Second, I think that this approach can lead directly to the circular process of having collectors conform to a certain perspective on what is "good" and what is "bad". Even if the collective wisdom is usually right, it does close down new and fresh thinking rather too quickly.

In my own experience, I certainly have a few pieces from the "early days" that in retrospect were "learners" and don't inspire me today. However, I also made a few "inspired" choices early on before I had enough knowledge to even identify the major weaving group. Conversely, now that I have become a bit more educated, I find myself looking at pieces with a more "traditional" view of what is good and what is bad. I have purchased a few pieces on that basis, which I now regret because they don't appeal to me as much on a personal basis.

So unless one is trying to develop a "world-class" collection, or buys rugs for investment, my advice would be to continue to look at a wide variety of pieces so that you know what is out there, and purchase the ones that you really like. If you are like me, you'll get some "clunkers", but at least they'll be clunkers that you like, rather than clunkers that many others will like.


Posted by R. John Howe on 08-25-2006 06:07 PM:

Rich -

Michael Wendorf will answer your questions for himself, but you can see a number of his rugs in the Turkotek archives.

He gave a presentation on Kurdish rugs at ACOR in Indianapolis a few years ago and agreed to do a salon version of it here.

Here's the link:


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-25-2006 07:03 PM:

Thank you, John.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Sayed Mustaffa on 08-25-2006 07:08 PM:

Tastes in buying rugs

Hello All:

Reading this discussion motivated me to make this post and I must state I am no rug expert but I have followed the market for old rugs for a number of years and do have a small collection.

Tastes in buying rugs are individual and I believe we would all agree on this point. However, tastes in judging rugs on a collective basis surely are not.

Over the years it seems to me a quite substantial body of information has been documented and any collector who is experienced would have had to have been observant of this factor in making any buying decision.

Naturally, the more expert the collector is, the more awareness of this body of information would enter into that buying decision.

Clearly then, at least from this writer's perspective, buyers with less than a good knowledge of this body of information would not be able to judge their possible purchases as well as someone who is more knowledgeable.

This, more than any other comments posted here, appears to me to be the crux of this matter. Often, there is no mystery for those in the know concerning the attributes of a particular rug and while there are not many of us in the know we all should strive to be in such a position.

Isn't that the answer here?

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 08-25-2006 07:22 PM:

There's another one of Michael's Jaf bags that he kindly loaned for the exhibition I put together for that same ACOR. The standard I was trying to reach was "rare and beautiful". His bag differs from the traditional Jafs we're used to seeing in that it is at the same time both familiar and monumentally unique.

If there's a cure for "kennel blindness" (why isn't it called "kennel vision"?), this piece is surely one way to do it.



Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 08-25-2006 08:02 PM:

I'll leave the lights on

Hello Rich:

1. Yes, but you have to come here to do so. It is a rug with a curvilinear, floral design and spectacular colors of the group known as Sauj Bulagh. Not exactly a barbaric and bombastic tribal piece. In fact, when word got out that I had purchased this piece, some well known peer collectors and dealers laughed at me for buying it at the price I did. Shortly thereafter, Sauj Bulagh pieces became better known and appreciated as a group and the people who had laughed stopped. Today the place of this group of carpets is highly appreciated as a bridge to the Safavid era. A reminder to always use your eyes. Let me know when you are coming and I'll leave the lights on.

2. Yes, it occupies a wall in my home and reminds me why I started collecting Kurdish rugs in 1993. When lit and seen vertically it remains the most painterly rug I have ever found outside the classical era. However, as my appreciation and understanding of Kurdish rugs has deepened or grown over the years I have found other rugs, completely different Kurdish rugs, that I appreciate just as much. Some of these rugs are in my collection, some are not. I feel no need to try and own them all, I just like to know them.

3. It depends. I have always liked Jaf bags but at this point it takes a lot to motivate me to want to own more. Of course, any piece that is spectacular - no matter the type - is the kind of piece you want to try and own. I am not sure what you mean by good. Merely good, sort of good, good to you, good price? My brusque cynicism is repeatedly overwhelmed by the incredible creativity, diversity and sense of color that can be found within the Kurdish weaving tradition. This has motivated me to continue looking and thinking about Kurdish weavings since 1993 and it has never disappointed even as my understanding and composite experience has evolved.

I appreciate John providing the link he did. Many but not all of the rugs I used in Indianapolis belong to me. The point of that program was to argue the basis of a very long Kurdish weaving tradition, not to show a collection. You might also be interested in an exhibition for the Near Eastern Art Research Center. The link to photos from that 1999 exhibition is

In response to James, I do not think of rugs as mistakes or successes, I think of rugs as each having a story and a lesson to tell - much like other collectors. Ultimately you have to listen to both and then forge your own conclusions. Today, it is fairly easy to come up to a basic level of discernment with so many books and exhibitions; but discernment - whatever that is - is and always has been the real test. Collectors just one generation ago did it largely in isolation or with only a small peer group. Today the means seem more readily available, yet what is the result? Great rugs are out there, but who is seeking to understand and appreciate them?

Best of luck, Michael

Posted by James Blanchard on 08-25-2006 10:09 PM:

Hi Michael,

First let me say that based on the pictures of rugs that I have perused in your exhibitions, I would say that whether I have any discernment or not, I love most of those pieces and would consider myself very lucky to own a couple or more.

I can't speak for others, but I do know that I have made some mistakes with rug buying, and have been fortunate with others. But this is mostly in relation to the price I paid, rather than the overall buying and owning experience. I have learned from each, and all of them have found some role in our home.

In any case, I agree with your initial assertion that one is well-advised to keep an open mind and seek out the opinion of others throughout the collecting process. It has helped me to better assess my own taste and appreciate some of the nuances that would have otherwise slipped my attention. In that regard, I think that Turkotek has been a useful learning ground for me. However, I think it is instructive to also mention that I have found it not uncommon for collectors who are more experienced than I to differ substantially in their assessment of a rug, so I have found it important to not be overly influenced by the opinions of others.



Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-26-2006 11:25 AM:


Thanks for the reply and the link. I love virtually all the pieces in the link John provided to your ACOR presentation. Three that are particularly wonderful, and which possess great helpings of the magic in the best Kurdish rugs, are the one you described as "Proto-Kurdish," the ivory field one with the repeating device, and the one you linked to the McMullan garden carpet at the Fogg. I haven't had the chance to read the presentation fully as yet but will do so with great interest.

I fully agree with your assessment of the excellence of the Kurdish weaving tradition. The best of them have an exotic character that beats the Caucasian rugs hands down, in my opinion. You stated it succinctly and perfectly yourself, "...the incredible creativity, diversity and sense of color that can be found within the Kurdish weaving tradition." Moreover, these qualities can often be found in the simplest and most humble items, such as the Jaf Kurd bags. I have never been troubled by the apparent relative disregard given to Kurdish weaving in general by the community of Middle Eastern weaving afficionados. For persons who have to acquire their rugs within limited means, general disregard of the favored and sought after pieces can be a blessing.

The rubric, Sauj Bulagh, is one I have never understood very well in the context of rugs. I realize it is a town or village in Kurdistan, and I have read many general descriptions (not especially consistent) of the rugs supposedly produced there, but I do not recognize any particular rug type to be "Sauj Bulagh," as I do regarding, say, Bijar. Can you point me to sources where the type is well described or illustrated?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-26-2006 11:34 AM:

Hi Sayed,

I find your comments interesting. You said,

"Tastes in buying rugs are individual and I believe we would all agree on this point. However, tastes in judging rugs on a collective basis surely are not."

I'm not sure I understand the distinction there. I want to, as you point out that it is at the crux of the matter. It may be in the significance of the word, "collective." Do you mean that it is possible to define collective tastes by surveying the literature, market reports, etc.? Is your point that success in buying is to be equated with buying what the collective community of rug critics would judge to be good? Can you elaborate?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 08-26-2006 03:53 PM:

The rubric of Sauj Bulagh

My pleasure Rich.

Sauj Bulagh is modern Mahabad and it is a term of convenience for a group or groups of rugs that may have been woven in the general area until perhaps around 1900. Interestingly, travellers all agree that you will not find any examples in or around Mahabad recently and no one can remember these rugs ever being there. Years ago, many of the rugs we attribute to Sauj Bulagh would have been attributed to Mosul. In fact, the rug that I mentioned that started this Kurdish journey for me has an old label with the words "Mosul, Persian" sewn onto the back. Since Mosul became part of Iraq in the 1920s, I have always surmised that the label itself probably pre-dates the creation of Iraq.

There really should not be any confusion about the type of rug we are referring to when we call something Sauj Bulagh. The tendency to label this group of rugs as Sauj Bulagh as opposed to Mosul or something else seems to have its origins with a single carpet illustrated by A. U. Pope in 1917. The carpet published in Pope's "Catalogue of the Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst Loan Collection" San Francisco 1917 pp 101 - 02 is described as having "deep resonant tones" and a "gamut of deep blues, purple, , glowing muffled red and soft yellow that was never surpassed as sheer colour at any time." Consistent with this description of color a relatively rare group of carpets began to emerge, but with little written about them until 1993 when Alberto Levi publihed an article in Issue 70 of Hali and documented several examples that fit the color description and also with consistent structural details. As it happened, a number of others including James Burns of Seattle, Brian Morehouse in Los Angeles, Michael Rothberg in San Francisco and myself were all aware of and looking for examples at the same time Levi was working on his article. Indeed an example from The Burns collection had created a certain buzz when it graced the cover of Hali Issue 62 in April 1992. It remains in the Burns collection and is plate 49 in his book Antique Rugs of Kurdistan. This particular rug is also distinctive because although it is otherwise structurally and color consistent with the group, it has a design consisting of ashik devices. Examples with more tribal and non-floral designs are much rarer than those in the more persianate, floral designs. My collection has only two such examples and the ashik device and its varients is one type and the so-called shikak device another.

These structural details are as follows. 2 ply ivory or ivory and tan wool warps; 2 red dyed wool wefts between each row of symmetrically knotted wool pile; a corrosive brown field that often creates an etched or embossed effect with the field design. The backs are flat. Long staple and very glossy wool with heavy, floppy handles. The best of these rugs have as many as 15 deeply saturated colors and designs that are typically floral and curvilinear.

In regard to design, Mr. Levi argued that these rugs must be a "definite iconographical link to the Safavid period workshops." He then called these relatively early rugs "proto-Kurdish." I have been very critical of this proto-Kurdish label which quickly became adopted by the trade. Although Mr. Levi is correct that some examples appear to be relatively early, I have argued that the Kurdish weaving tradition extends far beyond the Safavid era and that the term proto-Kurdish mischaracterizes this tradition and those many other types of Kurdish rugs which may well have design or iconographical as well as structural origins that pre-date the Sauj Bulagh rugs by thousands of years. I suggest that anyone interested in these rugs read Mr. Levi's article in Hali 70.
At the same time, check out Hali 62 with the Burns rug on the cover, in so doing refer also to page 61. There a carpet from my collection is pictured that William Eagleton chose to illustrate as an example of a classic East Anatolian Kurdish rug with hexagons woven four rows across and seven down. The colors on this rug are equal to most Sauj Bulagh rugs and demonstrates the fact that the availability of great dyes was not limited to Sauj Bulagh.

One more thing, you mention Bijar. I do not consider the rugs of Bijar, Sennah or Kolyai (Hammadans) to be traditional Kurdish rugs even though they may have often been woven by Kurds. The reason is that the structure of each type is not consistent with what I consider to be Kurdish.

Best wishes, michael

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-27-2006 01:14 AM:


Thank you. A most interesting commentary. My issues of HALI are stored in my attic and I have not yet dredged up Nos. 62 and 70. I am eager to see the rugs Levi described as "Sauj Bulagh."

In fact, a number of writers were referring to a rug type of that name before WW I (various spellings, of course). Both Hawley and Lewis did so. I haven't been able put my hand on Mumford to see what he had to say about it. My sense in reading these books is that the writers were applying the label to a specific type of rug known to them, not necessarily the same type for each writer. The same could be said for the "Mosul" rug. "Sauj Bulagh" seemed to be a name for a vague type of Kurdish rug of a somewhat refined type, and "Mosul" the name for a coarser variety of Kurdish rug. I am quite sure that both terms have historically been widely used over the years in the rug trade without great consistency.

You have a very disciplined standard reserved for the traditional Kurdish rug. It seems odd that you would eliminate from the Kurdish tradition various groups of rugs, probably woven by Kurds, on the basis of structure. How likely is it that dispersed people would continue consistent or homogeneous structural weaving habits over many generations? Why would structure in particular be the benchmark by which you would consider a group of weaving in or out of the tradition?

I understand more easily why you might want to disregard some of the groups you mentioned based on color and design, or on textile fabric considerations. It is probably true that the great majority of Bijar, Senneh, and many Hamadan area village rugs (thought to have been woven by Kurds) from the last century or so cannot be said to reflect the true Kurdish weaving tradition. However, in my opinion, many older Bijars are quite up to the standard. I will leave Senneh out, as they are a type unto themselves, and I am not much taken with most of them. I do find some "Kurdish village rugs" (as I call them), which I assume to be from the greater Hamadan area of production, to have much merit in the Kurdish way. Many of them may be coarse or unsophisticated (I might say "crude," although the term has taken on some baggage of late), but they can also have great vigor, excellent color and materials, imaginative use of color, and attractive texture or handling characteristics. All of these things I consider hallmarks of good Kurdish weaving.

No doubt, my laissez faire attitude in this regard comes from too much association with sub par material. It was a fortunate turn of events in my case, as I was satisfied to purchase things within my financial range. Anyway, I look forward to reading the text of your ACOR exhibition article, as well as the HALI pieces.

Best regards.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-27-2006 11:14 AM:


Having just read the article that accompanied your ACOR exhibition (8,000 year old weaving tradition), I understand better the basis of your inclusion and exclusion within this tradition. It is a fascinating argument, and if the tentative conclusions you draw (regarding the important place of the Kurds in the history of weaving and pile weaving), I am not surprised. I have always thought they were the uncrowned weaving champs of the rug world, even as I admitted some "commercial" pieces to the judging.

I have only started to look at the discussion threads, which I will relish. Incidentally, I now have something to say about a small piece I own showing the "shikak" device. I never knew what to say about it, except that it was vaguely from Turkey. It has a cochineal-like red and some other colors that may not stand too much scrutiny (and yet, they might!), but the drawing and overall effect are pleasing.

Kudos on your work in this area.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Unregistered on 08-27-2006 11:28 AM:

Hello All:

Mr. Larkin asked me to explain further my comments and I am glad to do that now.

I have posted the relevant part of his post here(hope this was done correctly) and added in () numbers to mark the points he questioned:

[i]I'm not sure I understand the distinction there. I want to, as you point out that it is at the crux of the matter. It may be in the significance of the word, "collective." (1) Do you mean that it is possible to define collective tastes by surveying the literature, market reports, etc.? (2)Is your point that success in buying is to be equated with buying what the collective community of rug critics would judge to be good? Can you elaborate? (/i)

(1)Yes is the answer here but let me elaborate. Taste is individual and anyone who would judge his rug, or any other type of art, purchases based solely on personal taste might be very surprised when it comes time to sell.

It is clear that selling a piece of art, which is a type of judgment in all regards of that word, is far more complicated, at least on the surface, than buying. However, if the buyer is judging the purchase on factors other than personal taste(and here I am referring to the myriad of factors that come into play like age, rarity of design, technique, materials, appearances of similar items in reference books, auctions and museum collections, etc) then the process of buying will be equally as complex as selling.

Do most collectors buy on personal taste or with those other myriad of factors? I would have to believe most would fall into the latter category and few in the former.

I will recognize that the success of any art buying requires the buyer pay close attention to that myriad of factors and naturally the buyer will have to have an excellent grasp of them.

Prior to WWII purchasing art was the pastime of a very small number of people but since then the numbers of art collectors has greatly increased. Same for those who collect rugs. Today there are many collectors, some of whom have developed the necessary facilities (I am referring here to those myriad of factors) and they will be able, far more than others who rely on personal tastes, to make good buys.

So, yes, there is a "collective" body of knowledge to respect and usually that knowledge is correct and "true". Sometimes it is not, like during the 1920's and 30's certain prayer rugs, like Kula and Ghiordes, were considered to be very old and important. We know now their stature is far less important.

So, yes, those myriad of factors, like all knowledge, is prone to change and refinement. But generally it provides the necessary guidelines to follow if one wants to increase ones chances of good buys vs bad ones.

(2) Yes is also the answer here. But rules are always made to be broken and anyone who follows them like a slave will sometimes be disappointed.

When speaking only about old rugs(pre WWI) because after all they are much different (unsigned, little factual knowledge about where they were made or by whom, etc) then I do recognize the need for the buyer to sometimes have the courage and conviction(in his own knowledge and taste) to break the rules at times.

Providing the buyer has learned the ropes well and has developed personal insight then when breaking the rules(the collective knowledge as Mr. Larkin calls it) the chances for good buying can be increased.

Buying old rugs is like speaking a language with little or no syntax. You can only learn learn by doing it and those who are able to assimilate the collective knowledge and then develop their own take will, more than any others, make good buys and lower their chances to make bad ones.

It's a simple equation. Learn as much as you can from the collective and then interpret what you learn to develop your own.

So far I have not seen many rug buyers successfully negotiate this minefield. Most get trapped in either believing their personal tastes or slavishly following the collective rules.

The few that are able to break out of that mold are the ones who are able to invariably make the types of buys that others wish they could.

One last point: no matter what financial level the collector has it is possible to make great buys. Many great old rugs have been bought for pennies and many bad one have been bought for thousands of dollars.

Buying great old rugs is all about knowledge and desire, not about anything else.

Posted by Steve Price on 08-27-2006 11:40 AM:


I'm reasonably sure "Unegistered" is Michael Wendorf, who (uncharacteristically) forgot to overwrite Unregistered with his name when he posted. Michael, if this is your post, please let me know and I'l linsert your name in it. If it isn't Michael, will the author please send me his/her name?


Steve Price

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 08-27-2006 02:09 PM:

Sayed Mustaffa

Hi Steve:

I cannot accept credit for the previous post and the many good points made, I would think Mr. Mustaffa (?) is your guest.

Rich, I would be delighted to learn of any old references to Sauj Bulagh rugs.

You also asked above how likely it would be that dispersed people would continue consistent or homogeneous structural weaving habits over many generations. It probably depends on the tradition and people but I would think it possible even among dispersed people although I am not exactly what you mean by this. The weftless soumak is an interesting structure in this question. The structure pre-dates the invention of the modern loom. Assuming for the moment that weftless soumak represents a continuous tradition among Kurdish weavers, why would the weavers continue to use this structure long after the need to do so had ended? One explanation could be that it saves time. However, in looking at these pieces and the quality of their construction in the better examples, this explanation seems to be less than satisfactory. A simple explanation could be that Kurdish weavers continued to weave in this structure because that is the way they had always done it - it represents part of their tradition and identity.

Best, Michael

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-27-2006 02:50 PM:

Dear folks -

The conversation has moved a little and some may have the copies of Hali that Michael Wendorf has cited above, but if not, here are most if not all of the rugs labeled "Sauj Bulagh" in these two articles and one cover shot that is not.

First, here is the rug and the cover detail from Hali, Issue 62.

The above piece is 4'1" X 7' and is said to exhibit 15 colors. It is one of the Sauj Bulagh variety.

Here is the closer detail on the cover.

And here are the images from Hali, Issue 70.

These begin with a relatively subdued and simplified version of older Persian "garden" field layouts. This is not a "Sauj Bulagh" variety. It is 6' X 9'1".

The piece below is a Sauj Bulagh rug. It is 4'10" x 6'6" and estimated to have been woven about 1800.

The piece below is another labeled Sauj Bulagh.

It is 6'2" X 12'1". Again about 1800.

A further Sauj Bulagh rug is the one below.

It is 5'6" X 9' and also seen to have been woven about 1800.

These images may help to make Michael's references and comments more concrete.

The last three images are labeled by Alberto Levi "Proto-Kurdish." As Michael has said, he objects to this terminology. Michael thinks his Kurds have been weaving forever. Well, at least for maybe 8,000 years.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 08-27-2006 03:22 PM:

images and a sub-group

Thanks for posting those images John. The dates assigned have always seemed very aggressive to me with the exception of the 5'6 x 9 shrub carpet which certainly seems very old. Can you also post the image of my hexagon rug from Issue 62, page 61?

The first non-cover rug illustrated above with the corroded brown ground, now in the Rothberg collection, is the type most consistent the Sauj Bulagh characteristics. The ivory ground rugs are beautiful and represent a small sub-group that have been called Sauj Bulagh because of the connection in design to the corrosive brown ground ground and the link to Safavid persianate designs. While they do share some characteristics such as two red dyed wool wefts between each row of knotted pile, there are also some significant differences the most obvious of which is ground color. These pieces tend to be a little thinner in handle and be more finely knotted than most rugs in the corrosive brown ground group. Some examples have cotton warps rather than the wool typical of the brown ground group. Cotton warps are found in some other groups of Kurdish workshop carpets such as so-called garden carpets not generally associated with Sauj Bulagh. In addition, the white ground group typically includes a distinctive apricot color that is not commonly found in the corrosive brown group. Another exceptional example of the ivory ground group is in Burns' book as plate 40.

This is getting unusally focused so I will stop unless others are actually interested in any of this. Best, Michael

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-27-2006 04:04 PM:

John, Michael, et al,

John, as usual, you are right there. Thanks. I can believe the posts from HALI 70 are the sorts of rugs the earlier writers had in mind when using the term, usually with considerable respect, “Sauj Bulagh.”

Michael, I find your argument about weftless soumak and the apparent persistence of it over many thousands of years among certain Kurdish weavers of Kurdistan quite compelling. Nevertheless, it is astonishing if those weavers have continued the practice all that time because “…that is the way they have always done it.” I don’t dismiss the possibility, find it exciting (as a fan of Kurdish weaving), and congratulate you for having proposed the idea. And yet, I would not hold against other Kurds the fact that somewhere during those millennia they found it necessary or convenient to alter their weaving methods and styles. (When I spoke of dispersed peoples, I was referring to segments of the Kurdish population that have moved or relocated to areas outside Kurdistan proper. I mostly assume this to be historically true, but don't have much specific knowledge about it.)

I don’t suggest you should slacken your standards to bring in a lot of other Kurds I happen to think weave attractive goods. Your studies are proceeding on an exacting line that probably sets its own standards.

Regarding mention of Sauj Bulagh in older writings. I have a few of the older books, some of which mention Sauj Bulagh. If you like, I will be happy to copy the pages that make these mentions and send them to you, along with “front-of-book” information sufficient to allow you to identify the book. If you wish to click on my profile link, I think my e-mail address is there. You could supply an address in that way.

I never put too much weight on those old books. However, I often had the sense that the authors were referring to specific types of rugs with which they were familiar, and I would study the books in order to try to glean some of that information. Before one could separate the wheat from the chaff, one had to get hold of the mixture.

Let me know if you have any interest in these references. Incidentally, I doubt you will find much illumination in them. I always found them a bit too vague to be of much use. As I mentioned earlier, I have found over the years the terms “Sauj Bulagh” and “Mosul” to have been loosely and inconsistently used in the trade, especially the latter term.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-27-2006 04:06 PM:

I'm interested.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-27-2006 05:39 PM:

Dear folks -

Here is the additional picture that Michael Wendorf requested above.

The size is not given, but Michael may wish to speak to it further.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-27-2006 08:44 PM:


“Buying great old rugs is all about knowledge and desire, not about anything else.”

That’s a hefty statement that I don’t think can be sustained, but it doesn’t have to be for the validity of the rest of your comments. It is true that anyone venturing into the antique rug market with any seriousness should have a pretty good grasp of the more sophisticated general collective wisdom about the rugs. To act otherwise would be at one’s peril. Of course, all things are relative in this regard, and it depends on how seriously one is getting in.

I don’t have the level of confidence in the collective wisdom of the rug marketplace that you seem to have. I have always believed that the market for rugs is very much tied to fashions that are not necessarily justified by the merits of what is in fashion at a particular time. Perhaps you understate the kinks in the market by referring merely to passing attitudes about Kula or Ghiordes prayer rugs. I think the market has sagged or will sag on many other rugs that have had their day in the sun. Occasionally, scholarly work emerges that changes the views of a group of rugs, and one must watch out for the fallout.

I have always thought that a great deal of the perceptible effort on the part of rug “commentators” to promote the superior merits of a particular rug type was driven by the purpose of making that type a star in the marketplace. Furthermore, when certain rug types become “in vogue” based on exhibitions, scholarly work, or some other promotion, one can expect a small flood of those pieces in the market, with the initial examples commanding big prices. Surely there must be a reasonable number of collectors out there who vote their convictions when buying rugs. If their tastes run to rugs out of vogue, they ought to be able to buy reasonably. The fact that their preferred rugs are not in vogue, however, says nothing, per se, about the merit of the rugs, in my opinion.

Turning to your comment I quoted above, I humbly suggest that buying great old rugs is very much about money most of the time. Having money won’t necessarily help you select great old rugs, and, rarely, great old rugs are obtained for peanuts; but by and large, if you don’t have a very healthy supply of money, you are not going to amass a large number of great old rugs. Fortunately, you can acquire some nice charming old rugs by combining patience and a modest outlay with knowledge and desire. What do you think of that?

Rich Larkin

Posted by R._John_Howe on 08-27-2006 09:10 PM:

Dear folks -

I agree with Rich in his most recent comment.

Knowledge and desire certainly play their important parts in assembling a quality collection.

Certainly readily disposable funds plays their role.

So does luck. I was offered a nice piece once because the buyer wanted it not to fall into another potential purchaser's hands.

It is true as a famous saying goes that "chance favors a prepared mind," but there's lots of pretty pure luck out there too.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-27-2006 09:57 PM:

John, Sayed, et al:

When I lived in Riyadh in the sixties, I knew a couple who had a Turkoman "khalyk," probably Tekke in my mind's eye, and probably good and old (I'd love to see it again today). They knew nothing about rugs and cared little more. They acquired the Khalyk the morning they left an apartment complex in Dallas to begin their migration to Saudi Arabia. It was sitting on top of the trash barrels waiting to be picked up as they waited for their taxi to get to the airport. Mrs thought it looked interesting and stuffed it in her handbag.

So there is some luck involved!

Rich Larkin

Posted by James Blanchard on 08-27-2006 10:24 PM:

Interesting story, Rich.

Maybe it would be interesting, or at least amusing, to start a thread exhibiting pieces that came into the possession of Turkotekkers through "luck", which could result either from "a prepared mind" or just plain ignorance that later proved to be "dumb luck".


Posted by R. John Howe on 08-28-2006 06:58 AM:

James -

We indulged in a species of the acquisition by luck phenomenon in the salon on Joe Fell's rug morning at the TM a few years ago.

Since it's a little hard to find, I'll just quote it with the image below.
Mr. Fell next put up this Yomut engsi.

He said that this rug came to him in a remarkable way. A person on welfare, who picked over things people had thrown out, found this rug in a trash pile and took it to his social worker whom he knew collected rugs. The rug is in remarkable condition and the social worker offered to buy it. The person on welfare was reluctant to accept any cash, since this might disqualify him from receiving welfare, but said to the social worker that there was a chenille mat in a local store that he wanted and that he would be willing to trade this engsi for it. The social worker purchased the mat and made the trade and brought the piece to Fell. Joe said that finding antique rugs in trash was a fairly frequent thing during his early days as a dealer, and Harold Keshishian offered from the audience that there was supposedly a collection of rugs once in NYC, composed entirely of pieces that had been rescued from the trash pile. Joe responded that they were likely pretty old rugs since these seemed often to be what were thrown out. Wendel Swan said that he was once visiting a dealer to barter about a Turkmen engsi and noticed that there was an antique fragment, at the back, apparently to be thrown out in the trash that seemed to him potentially more valuable than the engsi. He said that he would pay the dealer's price for the engsi if the dealer would throw in the piece from the trash pile. The dealer said, "Sure, it's going to be thrown out in the morning, anyway." Fell cautioned that the days when antique pieces are found in the trash seem over now.

By the way, the last Kurdish piece shown above was commented on in Hali by William Eagleton, the Kurdish expert, who said that it had been desribed as "Yurok," a term he felt applied to folks with a Turkmen background in western Turkey. He said this rug was Kurdish and likely from eastern Turkey, where there are lots of Kurds.

I mention that because Eagleton was also in audience at the Joe Fell rug morning and made a similar suggestion about another rug that Joe had been told was also Yurok. Here, below, is that quoted passage with images.


The next piece was another longish one with a colorful Memling gul design.

Joe pointed out that Memling guls are documented in the "painter" rugs as far back as the 15th century.

He said that he thought that this rug was woven in the early 19th century or even perhaps in the 18th century in eastern Anatolia. He described it as likely Yurok. Thomas Eagleton, the Kurdish expert,was in the audience. He spoke up to say that he thought it was likely to be Kurdish. Here is one more detail of this colorful piece.



R. John Howe

Posted by Sayed Mustaffa on 08-28-2006 09:30 AM:

Luck or Desire?

Hello All:
Yes, I was the author of the unregistered post. Sorry for any confusion.
Concerning the comments my post has elicited I would just like to state that having a lot of money to spend on rugs is no guarantee one will end up with good or great ones.
When buying at Sothebys or other auction houses, or from rug dealers, then I would agree one needs lots of money. However, there are many great rugs I know of that have been bought for pennies in comparison. That is why I mentioned the word desire.
Maybe I should have also included having enough time. Time to comb through many other avenues likely to produce the opportunity to find great examples.
No, no one will not probably form a collection looking in trash barrels or garbage dumps. Finding something there will only be like lightning striking twice in the same place.
But there are places where far more regularly the chance for a good rug to appear will be much more likely.
There is another quotient necessary to find great rugs and that is knowledge. So no matter how rich or active a collector is, without good knowledge the possibilities of finding wonderful rugs will be limited. Very limited in my view.
Some of the best collection of our time have been assembled by just the type of collector I have described. One who has knowledge and enough time and desire to get to the right place at the right time.
Remember, if one isn’t there, one cannot buy. And getting there requires time and desire. And maybe bus fare or that subway token!

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 08-28-2006 10:52 AM:

A Prepared Mind

Hello all:

I think Mr. Mustaffa is right, no one is going to build a collection just on luck and serendipity - or just with money, though that and the willingness to commit some of it is necessary too. Knowledge and judgment based on experience - including corrective experiences - is fundamental. One also needs to decide what type of collection, if any, they wish to build. I know people who know and appreciate a lot about carpets who own few of them and others who seem to know and appreciate little about them who own many. For me personally, I decided that I wanted to have a focused collection. For this, I have found that working with knowledgeable dealers has been not only necessary, but enjoyable and rewarding. Too often I hear people argue one should not work with dealers, I would say only one should not become too enamoured or dependent on any one dealer. And building a focused collection can be a creative process in and of itself.

Of course, Memling gul rugs like Joe Fell's are documented back to the 15th century, they derive their popular name from Hans Memling who painted such carpets of stepped polygons with hooks in many of his Madonna paintings, usually draped over thrones. Many of these rugs are Moghan and Kazak/Caucasian in origin, Joe's example is considered Kurdish and east Anatolian based on color and structure. The use of stepped polygons is not unique to any group of weavers or area, it is a fundamental design element almost everywhere.

The rug with the hexagons seen above also demonstrates, as Fell's Memling rug, how Kurdish weavers can take a very simple form and make it their own with the use of color. This rug is a squarish 4' 10" x 5' 8" and utilizes offset knots to create the diagonals, a technique also common to Jaf bags.

Rich, I do not exclude Bijar, Sennahs or Kolyai rugs as traditional Kurdish rugs because I do not admire some of them. Anyone who saw the Bijar exhibition at Seattle ACOR knows that is not so. I do it part to annoy my friend John Collins and more importantly because no one really knows which of these rugs was woven by Kurds and which not and because even those that were woven by Kurds were woven in a structure that is not traditional to Kurdish weavers and represents a weave and style that is not really indigenous to them.

Yes, I am interested in all references to these rug, illuminating or not.

Thanks, do carry on.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-28-2006 01:23 PM:



I realized, of course, that your statement (quoted by me) was offered as a bit of hyperbole in order to emphasize the point that the essential requirements for effective collecting were knowledge and desire. I agree with you, and even concede that having a ton of money in the equation can be a hindrance to a great collection. If money is no object, perhaps it is too easy to simply buy whatever comes along to tickle the fancy. (Not having been so afflicted, I wouldn't know for sure.)

As Michael says, one needs to decide what kind of collection, if any, is being sought. I will broaden that statement to say that there are many ways to exercise the hobby, and for the individual, it is a question of what gives satisfaction. In my own case, it was hunting around in different places hoping to turn up something I liked. (Trash barrels were not generally a favored Venue. Once, while escorting the Cub Scouts on a field trip through the local transfer station, I reached down and snatched up a 3' x 5' Chinese mat, ca. 1910, from the giant sized dumpster. I estimated a market value, considering condition, at about $35.00.)

That method tended to limit the prospects for first class finds, but it works if one can be easily pleased. An example of the sort of thing that I found is a small Baluch style (with Afshar influence?) bagface I posted in the thread Gene Williams started with his black field prayer rug. It is a modest piece, but it exhibits many qualities that collectors of tribal or rustic weavings tend to prize. I am as happy with it now as I was when I found it, and I am confident in my judgment of the merits it has, such as they are. The standing it might or might not achieve in the marketplace doesn't concern me very much.

It was a case of me thinking I had the knowledge, and buying. Not to say I really had it, and the results in my particular case are moot for these purposes, but I would imagine many enthusiasts operate in this fashion. The fact that the marketplace is not ratifying their judgments isn't necessarily the last word. Of course, as noted, one must take account of the marketplace attitudes if there is real money involved, or if one is purchasing with the notion of resale in the foreseeable future.

We are being reminded just now in these threads (by Michael Wendorf) that there are still conspicuous bodies of extant weavings that may not have received their proper due over the years from the collective cognoscenti out there. I'm with him all the way, and probably quite a bit more lenient in judging specific pieces than he would be. I predict that if his view of the Kurds as the living throwbacks to the progenitors of pile weaving takes hold, your Jaff Kurd bagfaces will fare well in the process (even with Michael shouting cautionary advice from the grandstand). On the other hand, other classes of rugs, formerly on top of the pile, may be suffering of late from other scholarly efforts. I won't mention names. That's the marketplace.

What I did want to ask you, without intending to pry or spoil your secret sources, was what places you looked to as "...places where far more regularly the chance for a good rug to appear will be far more likely."

It's a pleasure to trade these views and observations with you. Regards.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-28-2006 01:43 PM:


I take your point about Bijar, etc., rugs. And my advising you on what structural features to consider in the analysis is like the baseball fans calling the radio talk shows to advise what Manny Ramirez should be doing to hit more effectively. Nevertheless, it seems to me that one should be able to acknowledge the artistic spirit of the Kurdish weaving tradition in some places without the need for first vetting on structural grounds. I try to avoid the term "artistic" as often as possible, but can't come up with a better one just now. (No need to respond.)

Incidentally, can you explain the term "Kolyai," or point me to a source of information?

Regarding references to "Sauj Bulagh" in older books, I think I said my e-mail address was in my TurkoTek profile. I may have been mistaken. Perhaps Steve Price can assist you in getting a private message to me. I'd be happy to copy what references I have and send them to any address you can provide.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-30-2006 07:01 AM:

Rich -

Michael may add some things, but Barry O'Connell has collected quite a bit of information on the Kolyai varieties.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-30-2006 08:36 AM:

Thanks, John. Holy cow!! Those rugs were all "camel's hair Hamadans" when I left town.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Sayed Mustaffa on 08-30-2006 11:02 AM:

Rug Grave Yards

Hello All:
I am not afraid to answer your question, Richard, for it will not populate the places I have located with other buyers because I will only mention the areas where I have found wonderful rugs and not the vendors.
The first place is England. This country is full of old homes with old rugs.
Next is New England in America. Here these seven states are also full of old homes and many have old rugs on the floors.
And other place in the USA is California. Not so many really old homes but surprising the Bay Area and the Los Angeles basin both have proven to be fruitful places to hunt old rugs.
Lastly, Turkey is another country where one can find great old rugs. However, unlike the other areas, here it is tough to buy them for pennies on the dollar, as the rug dealer there get all the rugs and they do not end up in small antique shops or swap meets.
So good hunting and don’t forget that often the best rugs are sold for a pittance of their real value. You just have to be in the right place at the right time and be able to recognize an important old piece even though it is filthy dirty and often ragged from use.

Posted by Robert Alimi on 08-30-2006 11:55 AM:

Rich -

Have you ever tried your rug-hunting luck at Brimfield? The next session opens on Tuesday.

On a related note, I recommend reading "Brimfield Rush". It's a good read.



Posted by R. John Howe on 08-30-2006 06:41 PM:

Rich -

It may be a bit far for you, but the "Brimfield Rush" is not just something to be read about, it needs to be experienced.

My favorite "field" used to by Mays, where neither dealers nor customers were allowed in until a given time. I think one of the times in my life when I knew I had no control over my body was when the gates opened and a line, half a mile long, began to surge through Mays' gates. You had to stay on your feet and keep moving or you would certainly die. The word "rush" actually doesn't quite describe it adequately.

BUT, a lot of the "antique" furniture we own was bought in Brimfield about 20 years ago. We did well, but also learned experientially (we'd already read the books) what a "marriage" is in the antique furniture world.

Thanks, Bob.

I've heard that eBay has eroded Brimfield some these days, but it would be good to be with you there next Tuesday.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-30-2006 09:30 PM:


Thanks for the reply. I have only one more question and I think I won't have to bother you with this any further.

How do you manage to be in the right place at the right time?

Incidentally, Sayed, I live in New England and I know there are a lot of rugs hiding behind those walls. However, I think there is a lot of heavy duty competition to get them from buyers who know what they're doing.

Rich Larkin

Posted by James Blanchard on 08-30-2006 09:37 PM:



I suppose you have to be in a lot of places at a lot of times... with a "prepared mind"... and enough money... and an understanding spouse/partner...

Maybe that's why collecting can be invigorating, and somewhat humbling.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-30-2006 09:42 PM:


That "enough money" element is a biggy.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-30-2006 09:55 PM:

Bob, John:

I'm such a fossil, I can't remember whether I've been to Brimfield or not. My brother is an antique car parts guy, and I may have gone with him. And I've discussed it with dealer friends a million times. My sense is that if you didn't show up at the crack of dawn, etc., and carry a cattle prod to deal with those people who were trying to trample John, you might as well have stayed home. Maybe that's not accurate.

We all know that if you simply cruise the countryside looking for oriental rugs, 498 out of every 500 are things you don't even want to think about. I find that most of what you encounter in antique shops and flea markets (the neat stuff John serves up for us excepted) comes within the 498. Even in the dedicated rugs auctions, like Skinner in Boston, one turns one's nose up at probably half or more of the goods. In the end, I agree with Michael Wendorf that the choicest stuff is most often held by the best dealers; and one must cultivate a relationship with them. One also has to be ready to pay value.

But I don't discount or discourage Sayed's approach or attitude. The real fun is in finding them, I say.

Regards all.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R._John_Howe on 08-31-2006 11:26 AM:

Rich -

You gotta go.

But Brimfield is a WEEK! None of this one morning

And it does get picked over, but they stagger the openings of the fields so the late risers have a chance.

The last time I was there, there were visible dealers with Texas hats and boots and walkie talkies, skimming things as they opened. Fanny packs facing forward full of hundred dollar bills. (A typical sign in any local restaurant is "We do NOT accept 100 dollar bills!!!")

Typical overhead walkie-talkie conversation. "George? Guy here's got a bb-gun. Iron frame. Looks like a possible. I offered him $30 and when he said no told him all its faults. Come over and try him again for the same price. I think I got him discouraged. He's located at..."

Rooms are a problem. Try Worcester, or Amherst or Springfield (Smith rug collection at the Public Library there) or even Hartford.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-31-2006 01:42 PM:


Youre a heck of a guide. I know that Smith collection. The home base of Walter Denny, that and the Fogg.

I'll have to gear up for Brimfield. A fanny pack full of hundreds, you say....

Rich Larkin

Posted by Michael_Wendorf on 09-01-2006 01:49 PM:

Kolyai Kurdish rugs

I hope everyone finds a beautiful piece at Brimfield.

Rich has asked for more information about Kolyai rugs, wondered why a collection focused on traditional Kurdish rugs would exclude them and suggested that one acknowledge the artistic spirit of the Kurdish weaving tradition without the need for first vetting on structural grounds.

Like most rugs terms, we need to be careful and precise when we talk about Kolyai and Kurdish rugs. Back in 1953, the year Ted Williams hit .407 in a few games at Fenway after returning from Korea, Cecil Edwards distinguished three Kurdish weaves in Persian Kurdistan; the Bijar weave, the Sennah weave and the tribal weave. He identified then settled tribes such as Qulyahis, Guranis, Senjabis and Jaffis as the weavers of these rugs "in their tents and cottages." The Persian Carpet p. 120. He then describes the then current production in Bijar and Sennah in some detail. When it comes to tribal rugs, he refers to them as the rugs of those settled or semi-nomadic Kurdish tribes who live in the frontiers of Persia and notes that the principal area of production lied in a rough circle of about 50 miles radius centered to the west of Qorveh. Songur was identified as a market town. pp 125 - 6. Nothing about the structure is discussed or identified. In this context, Kolyai as a specific term is barely mentioned and Songur is a market center.

Many later authors and collectors seemed to have often relied on Edwards and concluded that Kurds have no structure or structures that are theirs but rather that Kurdish weavers have always adopted the styles of the areas in which they lived. Thus Bijars, Sennahs and some Hamadans - all rugs woven with different structures - with saturated colors and good wools are Kurdish even though this is not consistent with known facts suggesting such catagorization is either too simple or non-descriptive. It is as if there is no Kurdish weaving tradition beyond saturated colors and glossy wools. John Collins and I had a back and forth involving Bijars in Halis 111 and 113 that goes into this is some detail.

Still others have described Kolyai as a tribal name for Kurdish weavers using a single weft structure. Tad Runge in his well written book One Woman One Weft states "the tribal name for these Kurdish weavers (followers of the Shia rite of Islam) is Kolyai. The women of the Kolyai lived in villages just to the west of of the Hamadan towns of Zagheh and Chenar." p. 42. Eagleton also refers to Kolyai a medium-large tribe settled in the Qorveh region northeast of Kermanshah. The rugs with brown that are linked to the JBOC site are more closely related to rugs associated with Bibikabad and are not necessarily true Kolyai rugs. Grote-Hasenbalg, writing 100 years ago, associates such rugs with Hamadan-Mianeh. In Iran these rugs are sometimes called shotore or "camel."

I and some other Kurdish collectors have concluded that when trying to understand what a traditional Kurdish rug might be first one needs to try and identify the Kurdish heartland - a term coined by William Eagleton - and then try to place rugs and groups of rugs based on structural and related techniques and colors within that. Jim Burns has taken that effort further and divided Kurdistan into 7 districts each constituting an area where Kurds are in the majority. In Burns' book Kolyai refers to tribal clans that were primarily nomadic until the 20th century and whose antique weavings are called Songur - the place they were marketed. He illustrates several beautiful Kelleh sized carpets with single wefts and all cotton foundations that must be circa 1800 with distinctive yellows and reds. These must be workshop carpets. Are they Kurdish? Are they proto-Kurdish? I would say they are beautiful workshop carpets that might have been woven by Kurds. He also illustrates smaller, possibly tribal, rugs that have all wool construction and two wefts between each row of knotted pile. These rugs which are consistent with the structure of Kurdish rugs woven in other parts of Kurdistan are called Kolyai or Songur due to coloration. See plate 3 of Antique Rugs of Kurdistan.

This is all offered to underscore that when I exclude Kolyai rugs from what I am trying to establish as traditional Kurdish rugs I refer to the single wefted rugs produced in the areas around Hamadan. Some of them may have been woven by Kurds and share a certain artistic spirit with some Kurdish tribal weaving, but they are not Kurdish rugs with a captial K.

More than enough for now, best wishes, michael

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-01-2006 05:58 PM:

Plenty to think about there, Michael. Thank you. I do love those Kurdish rugs from all sources.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-04-2006 10:50 AM:

Dear folks -

This is Plate 3 from Jim Burns' "Antique Rugs of Kurdistan" that Michael Wendorf referenced above.

I have given you an overall image and then two details so that you can see a bit what the color in this piece is like.

First the overall:

Then, a corner, close up.

And here is a detail of the field.

Burns gives quite a bit of structural detail in his caption, but I'll let Michael provide that if he feels it is useful.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-04-2006 06:15 PM:


That's my idea of a fabulous rug. Thanks for putting it up. Are there any available pictures of the back?

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-04-2006 07:40 PM:

Rich -

This book sells for about $250 and likely should have pictures of the "edges" of these rugs (actually I'm kidding since this is a sumptiously produced book; no visible expense has been spared). But, no, there are no images of backs.

But Burns, as I said above, does provide some structural details on this piece in his caption.

"...Characteristic of Koliya'i nomadic weaving is the narrow band of red-face plain weave at each end, brocaded with a sinle line of natural brown and ivory wool. The rug is double-wefted and has a thick, floppy handle. The pile is glossy and the colors, typical of Koliya'i nomadic weaving, are rich and saturated. As is often found on tribal weavings, the brown-dyed wool has corroded due to the presence of iron in the mordant..."

Burns estimates this piece as "early 19th century" and says that a similar one dated 1812-1813 A.D was on the N.Y. market before he was writing this book.

And he does report on the structure of each piece in table format at the end of this volume. For this piece he says"

3'8"x6'11" (112x211cm)
warp: wool
weft: wool
wefts between knots: 2-4
knot count: H-6, V-6
sides: overcast
ends: brown weft


R. John Howe