March 6th, 2011, 04:59 PM   1
Guido_Engel
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Thoughts on Motif Interpretation

Note: This was originally part of another thread. I split it off because it seemed well suited to being a freestanding thread with a narrower focus.

Steve Price


I think that the arch or the door is originally the place where you can come into contact with the other world (you may also call it the world of ghosts or supernatural beings) i.e.by trance,when dancing. I would like to show you some examples from my collection:a southpersian bagface from late 19th century showing a person(?) in the arch surrounded by two composite beings (half man/half bird or snake), a bagface from Afghanistan showing a person belonging to the world under the earth, two composite beings (half man/half tree) on an Ersari trapping before 1880, a Kurdish bagface from late 19th century showing (for me) an initiation rite of the 7 young ladies with the supreme being in the arch (the Kurdish supreme being has 4 arms like the dancing Shiva) and a rug from Afghanistan (Michael Craycraft says that it is a prayer rug) from 1880 showing a door connecting earth-camelfield- and heaven-stepped polygons.

Regards

Guido











March 6th, 2011, 05:49 PM   2
Steve Price
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Hi Guido

I enjoyed reading what you see in those pieces, and it's obvious from your post that you get great pleasure from your collection. Nobody can hope for more than that. The only unambiguously human figures I see are in the next-to-last piece, though.

Regards

Steve Price
March 6th, 2011, 08:01 PM   3
Joel Greifinger
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Underground dancer

Hi Guido,
I don't know about all the other quasi-people, but the one in the second bag definitely seems to be dancing. It's a cool piece.

Joel Greifinger

Last edited by Joel Greifinger; March 6th, 2011 at 08:40 PM.
March 7th, 2011, 03:32 AM   4
Filiberto Boncompagni
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Thinking about it, perhaps interpretation of motifs in rugs could be used as Rorschach inkblot test.
Regards,

Filiberto
March 7th, 2011, 08:08 AM   5
Guido_Engel
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Hi all,

What I said is not a dogma, but just a reflection and I would like to explain it by citing some scientists. I don't want to start a discussion on psychology - although as a doctor I am very interested in it, but I personally can't imagine that a person makes a work of art without showing its personal feelings; by the way, why do you think that Freud collected rugs?

Michael Craycraft says about the south Persian bagface that he doesn't know a similar one; he knows less than 30 pieces like the Afghanistan bagface, so it could be from a very remote area.

The Ersari trapping: Moshkova says, that an arch with a tree in it was rarely used for engsi and prayer rugs I sent pictures of the Kurdish bagface to many well known dealers, but nobody has ever seen a similar one.

About the prayer rug, Michael said "rugs as the one in question of this age are not very common". That is why I think that all five pieces were probably not woven for the market, but were very personal creations.

I would also like to mention that beside rugs I am very interested in neolithicum and the times before. Ronnie Newmann said in Oriental Rug Review about the gols in Turkoman rugs: "It's like looking at cave drawings, rings in the sand, Stonehenge." There is a very interesting book on cave drawings all over the world written by two specialists for palaeolithic art. They say that all these cave paintings were the results of shamanistic experiences in trance. In this book they explain the three phases of trance. First you see geometrical patterns - we all know very well from kelims; in the second phase you see real things and animals and in the third phase the person in trance sees itself as composite being with a human body and an animal head and can see a tunnel (arch?) with a very bright light and when you are leaving the tunnel (passing the arch) you are in the world of trance; so you must become a composite being to fall into a deep trance. Klaus Schmidt, who discovered GŲbekli Tepe in turkey (the first? temple in the world) also describes demons as composite beings with a human body and an animal head (don't forget Egypt with its interpretation of God).

Now looking at the south Persian bagface: the arch with the bright (white) field, the two brown beings with two feet, a body in movement and an animal head. That's why I came to my interpretation of this piece. In the book on cave drawings there is an example from Australia: a composite being made of a plant and a man; my interpretation of the Ersari. The Kurdish bagface: look at the Rippon Boswell catalogue number 74, lot 255, a blanket from Punjab: 8 girls dancing around a person with 4 arms (as I mentioned, the Kurdish supreme being has 4 arms); have a look at Eagleton's book, page 12: "...the Naqshabandis dominated the scene after 1808 when Maulana Khalid of the Jaf tribe returned to Kurdistan from India where he had studied with a Naqshabandi mystic in Delhi. "The prayer: this kind of door you see in each megalithic temple and you must pass this door to go from earth to heaven and in Afghanistan (Taxila, Sirkap) the base of the stupa shows a very similar door (the stupa connects heaven and earth). I went several times to the megalithic temples of Malta (very impressive by the way, much more than the pyramids of Egypt, and older!); once I visited the hypogeum,a temple under the earth with three(!) floors, where rites of regeneration for the dead people took place. The stone had the same colour as the Afghanistan bagface and the colour of the guy on it has an ochre touch. For me it looks like a woven cave painting. By the way Michael Craycraft said about the Kurdish: "... it does have something shamanistic about it and there is some unusual design ambiguity that has a certain metaphysical quality...".

I want to finish now and I hope this short essay was not too boring to you and I could express my ideas, although my English is not the best. I would be also interested in contrary opinions and examples underlying these ideas.

Best regards

Guido
March 7th, 2011, 09:19 AM   6
Steve Price
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Hi Guido

First, I compliment you on being able to present your interpretations of rug motifs without demanding that others agree or attacking those who disagree. I think you take some leaps in getting from your bases to your interpretations, but you identify them clearly, which (to me, at least) makes them food for interesting discussion rather than fuel for flame wars.

I do have one issue with the approach. The foundation is stated in your first paragraph: ... personally can't imagine that a person makes a work of art without showing its personal feelings ... I'm assuming that the personal feelings are those of the person, not those of the work of art. With that assumption, I don't see how anyone could possibly disagree. The next question, though, is how do you know you are correctly reading that artist's personal feelings? To me, this is the crux of the matter and has been the central problem every time motif interpretation comes up.

One last thing: please don't cite the names of dealers who gave you their opinions. We try hard not to say anything that might harm or promote a dealer's reputation, and it's almost impossible to comment on their opinions without doing that.

Thanks.

Steve Price
March 7th, 2011, 11:38 AM   7
Guido_Engel
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Hi Steve,

As I always said, it would be for me a logical interpretation, but there may be other logical interpretations, too. Surely you could also argue that the arches in my bagfaces are phalli, signs of regeneration. When you visit cemeteries on the Greek islands, on Mallorca or Madeira, you always find symbols very, very similar to Turkoman rugs. So, I think they are symbols of regeneration. On Greek islands you often find stones of 2 meters height in olive bosquets (remember megalitic temples with their huge stones). In the hypogeum of Malta (the regeneration temple for the dead) you find the same hexagons on the walls as you find on many carpets. As this temple is 5000 years older than our rugs, this sign is not typical for a certain tribe in Persia or anywhere else, but is an archetypical symbol of regeneration for me.

You are absolutely right, that I don"t know what the weaver thought, but what do we know at all about our woven treasures? Take the south Persian bagface: is it Qashgai, Lori, Bachtiari? Is it 1860 or 1890? Which plants were used? The only thing I know is that I like it. My interpretation is influenced by my interest for psychology and religious ideas(maybe identical) for many years and it is possible that my point of view is one-sided, but I tried to make my ideas more plausible by citing different scientific researches.

Now I want to stop my monologue and hope that a fair and interesting discussion will start.

Best regards

Guido
March 9th, 2011, 05:27 PM   8
Dinie Gootjes
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ifferent eyes

Hi Guido,

That is an interesting group of rugs with an even more interesting interpretation. It seems we all look at rugs with different eyes, and the most enlightening remark made in this thread may very well be Filiberto's suggestion about rugs as a kind of Rorschach inkblot test. You indicate something similar when you say that your interpretation is influenced by your interest in psychology and religious ideas. You ask for contrary opinions and examples underlying these ideas. I will tell you what I see when looking at your first bag face.

It so happens that your first bag face is one I have often looked at, as I was contemplating buying it. That obviously did not happen , but I have kept my eyes open for similar examples and possible sources of the beautiful and striking design.

First I do not think it is unique, but part of an obviously rare group. Some time ago the following bag sold on eBay:



I have seen one more with the same design and border on Rugrabbit. I forgot to copy the picture and I cannot find the posting back now. As it is unlikely that the only three existing examples were offered for sale within the last year or so, I am assuming there must be more. But probably not many.

Then the design with a man in a white arch and composite being to the side. What I see, and you too no doubt, is a form of the well-known Qashqai medallion, probably derived from a floral Persian city medallion. Here is an example I found on Spongobongo:



and one from a sold rug on Rugrabbit:

Another example is Plate 6 in Woven Gardens.

A few examples of the design on bags, taken from John Collins' on-line exhibition of "Small Persian Piled Weavings", plus your bag face again for comparison:





All bags show the four 'animal head' arms, made by mirroring the lower parts of the original floral design, including the 'eyes', a scroll form in the leaf/sepal. The Collins bags show the beginnings of the man, the arch and the composite beings, all part of the floral centre of the medallion.

What my eyes see is a city type floral medallion which was taken over by a number of tribal communities, maybe first in specially commissioned large carpets, later in a simplified and more rectilinear form on bags and smaller rugs. They did not just copy it, but made it their own. It is quite possible that the weavers intentionally transformed floral forms into animal heads, or even into a man in an arch etc., but in my opinion that is where we enter inkblot territory.

Dinie Gootjes
March 10th, 2011, 05:40 PM   9
Guido_Engel
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Hi Dinie,

Thank you for your well-prepared posting, especially for the first picture; now I have a complete - at least printed - bagface of this type.

I think you misunderstood what I wanted to say. I never said that all my bagfaces are the result of a trance; I started the discussion with the statement that the arch - in general - is the place where you can enter another world. That's what you can read in each book on symbolism. If a person is able to fall into trance, it is able to enter "another world" (not the best term, I know), which can't be seen or reached by other people. A shaman is a person who possesses this ability. There are different ways to reach a trance: excessive singing and dancing, a longlasting isolation, diseases, alcohol .... and there are some people who can learn it (i.e. in South Africa there was a tribe with 50% of the population able to fall into trance). So by this definition trance is not in all cases the result of a mental disease.

I am a member of the Catholic church and on Sundays there are manv people praying. By praying they want to come into contact with the supreme Catholic being (God) in another Catholic world (heaven) which can't be seen or reached by a person who is not Catholic. And we are praying because there are problems we can't solve without a supernatural force. We are also singing in church and feel so nearer to God and that's a wish everybody has, doesn't matter if you are Qashgai or German. It's the same with the dancing dervishes in Konya. So you can determine trance also as a common experience and strong feeling in the not everyday-world; that is a feeling everybody needs.

Until Filiberto's post I would have never had the idea to examine this behaviour psychologically. Two years ago I read a book on trance/shamanism and cavepainting, which explained the connection between both in a very logical way. I transferred this idea to rugs and wanted to start a discussion on it; not more. I didn't say that the drawings of my bagfaces are inspired by such a "common experience", but what about the origin of these drawings some hundred or thousand years ago? I also said that you can interpret these drawings in another logical way (fertility?) or they are amulets. I didn't spoke on human beings but on beings. A being can be a man, a plant, an animal or - not totally unlogical in a religion inspired by the forces of nature - a composite being. I would like to compare my Afghan bagface with the cavepainting of the Latmos Mountains in Turkey. The cavepainting is at least 5000 years old and the being is interpreted as a god of the mountains. Ms Peschlow-Bindokat, who discovered these paintings also says that human beings like this guy with horns on the head exist since the Palšolithikum and are interpreted as gods, magicians or shamans (reflect also on GŲbekli tepe and Tom Cole"s article on the relationship of Turkish and Balouch rugs).





Looking at the two pictures,you will understand me a little bit better - I hope. I just wanted to show that you must be very openminded when looking at a work of art and remember the Russian collector of Turkoman rugs, N.Burdukow, who said that the motifs and the colour composition of the rugs are an echo of all epoques and civilisations which appeared and disappeared during thousands of years in central Asia. By the way it is not my intention to violate any religious feelings.

Best regards

Guido
March 10th, 2011, 10:16 PM   10
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Hi Guido,

I sometimes have trouble following the precise argument advanced by persons such as you suggesting ancient and mystical forms in woven rugs and trappings. Are you proposing that the central figure in, for example, your Afghan piece (which I like very much!) is directly descended from the figures in the Latmos cave paintings through many cultures? Or is your proposition that such figures and what they represent lie below the conscious in all or, at least, many people, and that their appearance in weavings is a manifestation of psychological realities? Furthermore, do you consider it likely that the weaver of that piece produced it while in a state of trance?

I think Dinie's principal point was that the central motif in your first image can probably be shown to be a gradual development through repeated copying among tribal and rustic weavers of more formal urban designs. Do you reject that idea, or do you somehow see the symbolic character of these designs, and their psychological implications, co-existing with the more prosaic history of their development in the way Dinie suggested?

Rich Larkin
March 11th, 2011, 06:31 AM  11
Steve Price
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Hi Rich

I won't presume to speak for Guido, but he and I have had some e-mail exchanges and I'll share my impressions.

Guido is very much interested in the psychology of religions and symbolism, and has accumulated quite a store of information about the sorts of things people believed and how they used symbols over several millennia. He has been presenting his perceptions of rug motifs and relating them to ancient symbols. He is not a bit dogmatic about the notion that there are direct historical links between 19th/20th century motifs and ancient symbols, but sees this as an interesting topic of conversation and, perhaps, enlightenment.

As many of our readers know, my interactions with people assigning meaning to rug motifs, designs, layouts and colors have tended towards mutual antagonism, but I find Guido's openminded approach to the subject refreshing and stimulating.

Regards

Steve Price
March 11th, 2011, 07:58 AM   12
Guido_Engel
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Hi Rich,

I didn"t attack Dinie's interpretation ("well-prepared"). Since nobody can prove that his interpretation is the only possible one, each interpretation is right and wrong in the same way. The only thing I would like to point out is that I won't answer any further posting containing this pseudopsychological Rohrnonsense. Psychology means that you try to understand a person around you and so I can't tell you if the motifs on the bagfaces are the result of a trance for the simple reason that I never met the weaver (by the way there are many people and books giving a definitive interpretation; they must very intelligent, but I am not).

I see many things as a work of art and I think all of them were made in a cultural context. My approach to a rug is as follows: where does it come from and how old is it? If I am able to answer this question - that's not always the case - I am trying to find a book on this area and start learning on the people, the history, the religion and the art of this area. Then I reflect if I have ever seen something similar in another form of art i.e. cave painting. Finally I try to give an interpretation - sometimes there are four or five - and I often had to change my mind when I read a new book; i.e., the book on cave painting and trance.

There are ruggies interested in weaving techniques and they are also trying to find out where a rug comes from- in many cases as successful as motif interpretation - and they would never say it is Tekke or Shahsavan and so I also try to work a little bit more precise. I saw the Latmosguy, my Afghanguy and the Ersaribeings, I read the the description of the final stage of a trance and it could be a little bit similar to the center of the Qashgai bagface - or not - and then I started to reflect if there is any connection. Until now nobody could help me and so I wanted to start an interesting discussion in the hope that anybody can tell me some things that I don't know yet. Maybe it is impossible to find an interpretation, but I think discussing is a very interesting thing as long as everybody really wants to reflect on the other's thoughts.

By this Rohrnonsense the discussion become an esoteric touch and stopped before starting; you can also psychologically examine why a person is counting knots. As I know my own opinion on the motifs very well I would propose that other people also tell their opinions and I will reflect on each very seriously. Otherwise it would be better to finish the discussion, because we haven't learnt anything new until now.

Best wishes to all

Guido
March 11th, 2011, 08:53 AM   13
Rich_Larkin
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Hi Guido,

You seem to have read my post as a negative comment on your presentation. I didnít intend that. My questions werenít posed rhetorically. I was just trying to get a clearer idea of precisely how you interpret the designs in the weavings and how you go about developing your opinions. You provided a lot more information in that regard in your last post, though Iím still not sure how strongly you feel it is possible that your fourth image actually represents the initiation of seven young women with a supreme being, or that it is a supreme being, or even that those are women. Your imaginative powers are formidable, in any case, and I donít mean that in a sarcastic way.

As regards the Rorschach comments, I donít see those as malicious, either. The implied analogy is valid in assessing personsí responses to the design vocabulary of rug weavers. I think many designs in rugs trigger a recognition that may or may not have been intended or understood by the weaver. Dr, Rorschach famously placed much weight on such recognitions, but thatís above my head. As far as Iím concerned, the phenomenon is much like recognizing familiar forms in the clouds. To describe the process as Rorschachian is legitimate, in my opinion, and not necessarily pejorative. It is one question whether the nature of the viewerís response tells anything about the viewer, and another what the weaver was intending.

I am enjoying your approach and your pieces, and I certainly donít mean to stifle your ideas. Welcome to Turkotek!

Rich Larkin
March 11th, 2011, 10:57 AM   14
Guido_Engel
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Hi Rich,

I don't feel attacked, but I want to explain my thoughts on cultural facts and not on psychological speculation.

Now to the Kurdish bagface; sorry, the pictures are not the best. Seven is in many other religions a holy number (the 7 angels of Kurdish religion) and also shows that a certain period (i.e., childhood) is over. In Mithras initiation rites the initiand is joined by birds, which indicate that he will reach a higher level. The 4 girls in the middle of the bagface are joined by two animals - maybe birds. Eagleton points out that Kurdish religion was influenced by Indian mystics during the 19th century. When hearing India, I must think of Shiva, who was also very important for the religious ideas in Afghanistan for awhile. He is often symbolized by a phallus, so the Afghanguy could be also interpretated as a "quasishiva". There was an interesting exhibition on the dancing Shiva in ZŁrich a while ago. Very simplified said: by dancing, Shiva keeps the universe running; he is the god who destroys and creates (death and birth) = the principle of nature. The 4 arms symbolize his connection with his wife (an androgynous first being, which you also find in other cultures) which makes him able to do his job. In an article I read that the supreme Kurdish being has 4 arms and when you have a look at the being(?) under the arch you could - or not - see a being with a head (the lozenge), a body and 4 arms; no legs. The interpretation of the being under Shiva is much more speculative; I saw some pictures representing a lady with horns presenting her shame from Ur (2500 before Jesus), but I also read of fertility rites in India with a central woman presenting her shame. The hooks on the border represent in this case - I think - snakes as a symbol of regeneration and protection. Flowers are a symbol of life. I think it could be an initiation rite, but I would be very happy if anyone knew more on the topic. As the girls are very uniform,it is not the presentation of a personal event, but shall show the importance of this rite for the survival of the tribe. I can't prove that any of these speculations is true, but I have learnt very much about Shiva while reflecting on this Kurdish bagface.

That is what I wanted to say in the past few days. The only true interpretation can come from the artist of a work of art, but you can learn very much when you look with open eyes at a work of art and you will look with other eyes at some of your rugs after a while.

Best regards

Guido
March 11th, 2011, 12:58 PM   15
Paul Smith
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Hi Guido, et al...

I am another who appreciates the open-minded inquiry going on here. I don't mean to attack the enterprise, but I saw an example of the kind of leaps built on leaps in your recent post that raises an eyebrow.

I don't know how Eagleton came up with his theory that 19th-c. Kurdish religion was influenced by Hindu mysticism, but on the face of it, that is a highly dubious assertion. I will go out on a limb and say that it doesn't jibe with 19th-century Central Asian history. For one thing, with Kurds spread all over the Middle East and Central Asia, there was no centralized religious authority (in fact, there was no central authority of any kind), and arguably the only Kurds who could have encountered Hindus would have been those in NE Iran, and I doubt that the conservative nature of the culture would have them going for Hindu gods in a big way. So, I think that starts with a leap. And to go from obscure-at-best Hindu influence to the Shiva being an important figure to rug weavers is more than a leap. I would say that Shiva was not an important figure in 19th-c. Afghanistan except for a few communities of Hindus on the fringes. The idea that "Shiva" is a manifestation of an archetypal deity of some kind...hmm, maybe, but there is a lot of missing evidence.

My experiences from learning art (in my case, music) from traditional performers in other cultures has taught me how deep our assumptions run, and how easy it is to project meaning that says more about us than the thing we are considering. In that sense I disagree with your statement that the only "true" interpretation of art comes from the artist, thinking that there are many true interpretations (but that is me projecting my postmodernist agenda, sorry). Anyway, to me Rich's use of the Rorschach analogy is apt. I am not at all sure that the symbols we see in weavings are representative of this or that particular thing, but could just as easily be the most durable evidence of a ritual whose meaning and significance is mostly lost to us. They could function in any number of ways.

Regards,

Paul
March 11th, 2011, 02:00 PM  16
Michael Raysson
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Hello Guido,

Thank you for presenting your ideas on ďMotif InterpretationĒ.
The subject of symbols on oriental rugs and the language of those symbols is very dear to my heart. In fact, it is intrinsic to my appreciation and delight in them.

There are certain things which are basic to me, but which are very controversial in Turkotek forums. I have been an artist for 50 years. My central experience is that the greatest art can and does transmit its primal experience over the years and over the ages and that, if one tunes in, one can experience that just as the artist intended. In fact, that is what art DOES. I understand that most others will not believe or accept this, including most ruggies. And, when I express my views, I do not intend it as an absolute for OTHERS. Nevertheless, it is my experience and I am not going to pretend otherwise. In discussions like this, I cannot really express my view without expressing this experience, fanciful as it may seem to those who have not found it so.

Now as to the subject at hand, it is my goal to be able, not just to understand certain symbols, but to understand how they work in consonance with other symbols to create a ďstoryĒ or ďmessageĒ on the rug (as intended by the artist).

Now, let me comment on some of your interpretations. It is my belief, just from looking at the Kurdish bagface on the computer, that it is a kind of initiation momento for young women. The seven women on the rug may well have something to do with the seven angels, as you mentioned, and also the initiates themselves.

While I love your views, I do have some questions. First, about the ďfour handed godĒ and your interpretations of that. As far as I know the Kurds are mainly Muslim with a few Jews and Zoroastians thrown in the pie. The Sufi brotherhoods (up until recently) were also very influential. And while there is a Snake Goddess in Kurdish mythology, I donít know of any deity like the one you describe, and even if there is one, I donít think it has much cache now or in the last few hundred years. Also, about Shiva. He is the God of Destruction (and, perhaps, transformation). Brahma is the God of Creation. Vishnu is the God Who Sustains. The Dance of Shiva has more to do with the mystical sound of Om, symbolized by his drum and also the Disintegration of the Universe, which he supervises.

About trance. weirdos like me believe that at least some Oriental Rugs are deliberately meant for meditation and may be the means FOR trance in the VIEWER.

Anyway thanks again, Guido. I look forward to your further exposition of your views. And I hope I havenít antagonized any rational ruggies.
March 11th, 2011, 08:40 PM   17
Dinie Gootjes
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Hi Guido,

I do not have access to my usual computer this week, so I only just saw where the discussion has gone in the last 24 hours. In the meantime you have explained more about your way of working with rugs, and I am very intrigued, though I will not be able to help you with your search for more information about the possible historical and religious background of what you see in your rugs. I am completely out of my depth there, but I am glad to see that others are taking the discussion in the direction you were hoping for.

As I am the one who brought Filiberto's remark about interpretation of rugs as a kind of Rorschach inkblot test to the foreground, I want to make it clear that I did not mean that as a denigrating remark, nor did I intend to psychologically examine why you are looking at rugs the way you do.

I just wanted to say what you indicated yourself: a person's background or other interests to a certain degree show up in the way he looks at rugs, like they would show up in the way he looks at inkblots. I did not mean any psychological interpretation of what you are doing. Your interest in religious ideas comes to the foreground in the way you look at your rugs, the same way my interest in following the development and appearance of motifs was clear in the way I looked at your first picture. And I certainly did not intend to stop the discussion before it had even started.

I hope this clears the air and gets rid of any remaining misunderstandings.
I actually have a rug I would like you to have a look at. It has terrible colours and may very well be the ugliest rug we have, but the design is so unique that I bought it nevertheless. I do not have time to find the picture now, but I hope I will be able to post it tomorrow, if I can get at the computer. Otherwise it will have to be next week.

Best regards,

Dinie Gootjes
March 12th, 2011, 03:30 PM   18
Guido_Engel
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Hi all,

Thank you very much for your really interesting postings and particularly for Steve's last posting, which started the discussion.

Now I will try to answer your questions.

Dinie, the air was always clear. I only had the fear that nobody would take part in the discussion if he fears to be analysed in public and this test does analyse. I think you bought a Kurdish bagface some time ago from the same dealer I bought the south Persian one and the Kurdish one is a great piece. So I think our taste is not so different and I would be really interested in the piece you mentioned. By the way a piece can be interesting because of its colour or its drawing or its symbolism concerning numbers. Your interpretation of the south Persian bagface is as right or wrong as mine.

Three days ago I visited a rug dealer, who opened my eyes for seeing rugs in the way I do now and we were discussing the trance theory in cave painting. He told me that often in
the first hall - easy to reach for everybody or the less gifted in trance -were geometric signs (1st stage of a trance) and in the "holy" halls for the priests(?) or the more gifted ones in trance were the more complex signs (last stage of the trance). When my daughter was born I bought a book on the topic of how kids express their feelings by painting. All of us know the hexagons on Caucasian kelims, in this way kids are painting fishes according to this book.

There is an interesting theory that people who are not overeducated and overcivilized - as we are - see the world like a kid does. Maybe I am influenced by the contact with my daughter, I always ask her how she would interpretate a motif and in the case of the being in the white arch of the south Persian bagface she said - without being influenced by me -that it is a man. Maybe a nomad woman, who lives in another culture saw the world in another way than we do.

Paul,about music. I think it is a little bit different or not, but what you said is interesting as I hadn't reflected on it before. When interpreting a symphony you have at least the notes and when playing a piano concert by Mozart you can create your own cadenzas. So when you are interpreting music you create something yourself inspired by the composer, you are an active artist. When going to concert I never read critics, because a symphony can be interpreted slower and faster. If the total concept is good, both interpretations are right and both interpretations are a work of art. Dinie and I interpretate my bagface in different ways and so we create two different bagfaces - concerning the symbolic meaning; so you might call us "passive artists" who create a symbolical work of art.

Michael, great comment. Now to Shiva. Concerning the influence of Indian mystics I read some articles online and the Eagleton book (in one article I read that the supreme being has 4 arms). But I must admit that I haven't found yet a good book on religious ideas in Kurdistan. If anybody knows one, please tell me. If the Indian influence is not true, I would change from Shiva to"Quasishiva" (a being with the same abilities as Shiva). The world of the gods in India and Persia is as well as the religious ideas influenced by Indogermanian ideas and there was a phallus adoration all over the world before Shiva. In the exhibition in ZŁrich the dancing Shiva with the 4 arms was explained as the androgynus combining the contrasts (man/woman,day/night,birth/death....), which are both necessary and must be connected, that the universe is moving on (dancing is also moving,maybe the symbol of or the hope for a never ending movement of our microcosmos). The being on my Kurdish bagface could be such an androgynus being or an ancestor like Adam and Eve. If the being on the bagface is an androgynus being (containing birth/life and death) it could also be a symbol for or the conjuration of the everlasting circulation of the tribe. To Afghanistan: the adoration of Shiva was before Islam and I called this guy "Quasishiva". By the way I personally think that he belongs to the underworld, the world of the dead, regulating the regeneration of all the life you can find on a tribe's area. The underworld is symbolised by the dragon on his body, as the dragon lives near the roots of the tree of life(the eagle is on the top of the tree).

I hope I could answer all your questions as far as possible and hope the discussion will go on. By the way I got the new Rippon-Boswell catalogue on the collection of Professor Kossow - a doctor and psychiatrist - who has the greatest private collection of south Persian rugs outside Persia. In the foreword they write that no motif is only decorative, but has a religious-cosmological meaning we don't understand.

Best regards

Guido
March 12th, 2011, 05:12 PM   19
Steve Price
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... new Rippon-Boswell catalogue ... In the foreword they write that no motif is only decorative, but has a religious-cosmological meaning we don't understand.

Hi Guido

I think it's likely that most motifs developed from archaic forms for which that was true, but that the statement has had limited truth for the past 100 years, at least. There's virtually no evidence from anthropological reports on weaving societies or from westerners who have spent long times amid western Asian weavers (I'm thinking of Marla Mallett, Josephine Powell, Henry Glassie, for example) that weavers attach much meaning to their motifs beyond the decorative value that they perceive in them.

Actually, one of the appeals that arts of esoteric (to us) cultures holds is that we're pretty certain that the artifacts were believed by their makers to have or symbolize special, often supernatural powers, but we can only wonder which elements and which powers were associated. Lots of ruggies collect African tribal arts, and since many subSaharan African cultures still practice some of the ways of their ancestors, the significance of much of that art is reasonably well understood. One thing that stands out is that much of it isn't believed to simply symbolize or represent some supernatural power, but to actually have that power. A Yoruba ibeji figure, for instance, doesn't symbolize a deceased infant, it is believed to actually be the deceased infant in its present form.

To my mind, this nicely complements the mysterious nature of so much of what we see in rugs.

Regards

Steve Price
March 12th, 2011, 06:13 PM  20
Dinie Gootjes
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Hi Guido and All,

You must have an amazing memory. I posted that Jaf on Turkotek more than 18 months ago, and you still remember.

I am afraid the rug I was talking about is not in the same league at all. It is terrible in many ways, but I have never seen a design even slightly like it. I cannot tell anything about it or show more than this picture. I bought it a few months ago and it is being kept in Holland till we can pick it up, some time in April. I have shown the picture before in the Christmas/New Year's thread as Mrs. Claus and the reindeer:



In reality I have no idea what this could be. A woman with the body of a centipede and a tail like a wolf's head? With behind it a snake with a flamingo's head? Reindeer, deer? It looks like there are more figures: plants in a pot, a hand, maybe some chickens??????? Whatever. It is obvious that some of the colours are badly faded. Maybe the back will give clarity. Anyway, here is my knotted nightmare. What do you think?

Dinie
March 13th, 2011, 12:32 AM   21
Paul Smith
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Hi Guido, et al,

I wouldn't want to belabor the music analogy, but your response illustrates my argument about assumptions very well. Your discussion assumes that music begins with written notes created by a composer to be interpreted by the musicians (and later, the critics). This is entirely a European concept of music-making that would be inconceivable to musicians who lived in the time and places that these rugs were made. They acquired music by ear, music that was not created by a particular individual, but by numerous musicians over centuries, and every performance was expected to be based fundamentally in the invention of the musician in the moment, as improvisation is essential to the traditions of Central Asia and the Middle East. Even there, the ideas used in the improvisation are mostly put together from a shared repertoire of ideas and phrases, so that drawing a line between pre-composed and made-up ideas is nearly impossible to do.

In teaching Central Asian music traditions to non-musicians or musicians trained only in European music, I have often used tribal carpet weaving as a visual example of this kind of improvisation, since I am convinced it works exactly the same way, that little is actually invented out of nothing, but entirely new works are created out of the ideas and methods of generations of weavers. European musicians often assume that improvisation is a creative process in which the musician invents totally original ideas off the top of their head, when in fact this is as unusual and rare as it is in traditional carpet weaving. I once met a highly-educated trumpet player who pompously and ignorantly declared that traditional Hindustani musicians do not truly "improvise" because their raga improvisations consist mainly of ideas that are shared throughout the tradition. Hubris, certainly, but not uncommon in my experience.

The difficulty in explaining a creative process to an audience unfamiliar with it points out the problem I see in Michael Raysson's theory about art, that it somehow produces in an audience an experience "just as the artist intended." Even to say that the designs in weavings "mean" something, that they contain a particular "story" or "message," is debatable (as we are so vigorously debating, actually). In any case, it is certainly not demonstrable fact. In general, most of the serious scholars who have examined this relationship between artist and audience, from Foucault to Rumi to Suzuki to Paul Simon, have determined that we "see what we want to see and disregard the rest." Many working artists (myself included) have had the unsettling experience of being told what their work "means" by someone, telling them something that never crossed their mind. I suppose one response would be to discount their sincere experience out-of-hand, but my advice would be to listen carefully and let your audience teach you what your work "means."

With Eurocentric (or any other culture's) assumptions, it is impossible even to decode in the most basic way what is going on in traditions that don't make those assumptions, as with the one that proceeds from a conception of music that begins with written notation.

Now, this is not in any way saying that rugs don't inspire all sorts of trance and mystical experience for me. I like to imagine that experience is authentic and somehow connected with what went into this intoxicating art, but I, for one, am entirely comfortable with the perception that this experience involves creative projection from the viewer.

Paul
March 13th, 2011, 03:52 AM  22
Michael Raysson
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Dear all,

I was very happy to see the tack that Guido took in this discussion. It did not invite intellectual argument, but rather that people contribute their views in a non-dogmatic way. I got the impression that if someone disagreed, they could contribute a contrary opinion without attacking or arguing. As I told Steve on the side, I have engaged in such offensive and defensive activity on Turkotek and found it unfruitful and counter productive to my enjoyment of rugs. So, while I welcome Paulís views, I would have wished he had kept it as just that: an exposition of what he believes.

As for his assertions,

a.) my theory of art is not a theory. It is my experience.
b.) We are not vigorously debating, we are sharing and discussing similar or contrary beliefs, experiences or knowledge.
c.) In this context, someone should be able to speak of meaning or lack of meaning in rugs without being jumped on about it.
d.) The same about experiencing the artists intentions or not experiencing them.

As a matter of fact, there is a ďtheoryĒ of art, expressed by Georges Gurdjieff, which he called ďconscious artĒ which states, more or less, that the highest art is one which evokes definitive feelings, emotions and other responses in the viewers and/or listeners as intended by the artist. Gurdjieff, himself, came out of the Caucasus with teachings he had learned from the Sufis. (I am not a follower of his.)

It is late, so I am retiring. But I hope to soon get back to the topic at hand with some further ideas and experiences, which anyone can accept or reject. But, please, letís not get in arguments or debates over it.

Michael

Last edited by Michael Raysson; March 13th, 2011 at 04:24 AM.
March 13th, 2011, 08:03 AM   23
Steve Price
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Hi Michael

I don't read Paul's comments as an attack on you, but as a disagreement with what he refers to as your theory ("theory" has a more specific meaning in my world than it does in the general population, but I know what he means by the word). He states that theory as
... that it somehow produces in an audience an experience "just as the artist intended.", which is my understanding of it as well.

I'd disagree with your statement that my theory of art is not a theory. It is my experience. It is, in fact, a theory based on your experience. Nobody can debate your experience, at least, not without thinking you're making it up (I don't think anyone suspects that). But your belief that your perceptions - the sense you make of your sensory experiences - accurately reflect the content of some distant (in time, place and culture) weaver's brain is a hypothesis, not inherent in experience as an artist and very different than Paul's.

As the rabbi said to the bishop, "If you don't try to baptize me, I won't try to circumcise you." I hope this can proceed along the open, constructive lines that Guido brought here.

Regards

Steve Price
March 13th, 2011, 11:28 AM   24
Michael Raysson
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Steve,

If I said that I canít experience or that I donít experience an ancient work of art the way the artist intended or in the way it was experienced way back when, you wouldnít say anything except to agree. But if I say that I do or that I can, then you somehow feel that you must prove that to be wrong. Well, I am not putting it forth as a theory. I am not asking you to believe or disbelieve. I am only asking that you (and others) accept it as my experience. Thatís all.

I tried to express this very, very clearly. I said, ďI understand most others will not believe or accept this, including most ruggies. And when I express my views, I do not intend it as an absolute for others. Nevertheless, it is my experience and I am not going to pretend otherwise.Ē How clear can I get! I said that I am stating my experience and that you and others might find it fanciful. O.K. I did not put it forth as a ďdemonstrable factĒóexcept for me!

Look up theory in your dictionary. This is not a theory. It is not an hypothesis. It is not an explanation. It is an experience. For me, it is a repeatable experience. I know you well enough now to know it has not been an experience for you and it probably wont be an experience for you. If I stated it expecting that it was an experience or even a possible experience for you or for others, then I have made a theory. I did not do that.

If I cannot state my experience without others trying to take it apart or trying to show that it canít have happened or that maybe I just thought that it happened or that I didnít understand what happened or that somehow I am theorizing for others about what happened, etc., etc. that, to me, seems to be attacking (and completely misunderstanding MY INTENT). And let me be clear, I would have had no problem with you or Paul or anyone just saying that they disagree with my EXPERIENCE, or just saying that it was not their experience.

Steve, I have not tried to baptize you, but I do feel you are trying to circumsise me.

Guido, I am sorry, I wanted to participate in your very interesting forum, but I no longer wish to be put in this position by others. And it happens to me every time on Turkotek. It is not that I donít feel I can defend myself. I just donít want to have to defend myself.

Michael

Last edited by Michael Raysson; March 13th, 2011 at 11:40 AM.
March 13th, 2011, 12:01 PM  25
Joel Greifinger
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Hi Michael,

I would certainly not question that you may have an experience that could be described in the first person as, "I am experiencing this work just as the artist intended." What I believe is open to question is whether the belief asserted by that description is a true belief about a reality that exists independent of your experience. In my view, Paul and others have just raised relevant questions in a dialogue useful to assessing the probable truth of the belief.

If you think the dialogue should focus only on subjective experience, what was your intent in attempting to clarify the role of particular deities at a specific place and time? Given your view, if I say that my experience of Shiva is the crux of the meaning in a Kurdish rug, of what use is evidence of historical and cultural influence? Shouldn't there be some relationship between the norms of evidence in interpretive disciplines (like history and art history) and the assumptions that play a role in structuring our experience over time?

You wrote:
Quote:
I have not tried to baptize you, but I do feel you are trying to circumcise me.
You questioned whether your view antagonized "rational ruggies". For me, the core of rationality is in the presenting of reasons in a truth-seeking dialogue. In asking you to provide reasons for your beliefs, I don't think anyone is attempting to be a mohel (a Jewish ritual circumcisor). If this view puts me in the "rational ruggie" category, thanks for the compliment.

Joel Greifinger

Last edited by Joel Greifinger; March 13th, 2011 at 01:21 PM.
March 13th, 2011, 05:26 PM  26
Richard Larkin
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Hi Michael,

I wish you wouldnít go. I wish youíd stay and attempt to explain what it is to experience an ancient work of art the way the artist intended. Youíve posted on Turkotek many times in the past, and my sense of your repeated refrain is that you find oriental rugs and related woven objects to be replete with symbols that call out to the viewer, that you are able to hear and understand them, and that you find it bemusing and even irritating that virtually all other aficionados youíve met seem oblivious, or at least indifferent to them. On the other hand, I donít recall a single instance of your posting an image that might exemplify the phenomenon, or your explaining it through an image somebody else has posted. I happen to be congenitally challenged in the area of artistic vision, and would appreciate greatly an effort on the part of someone who isnít to demonstrate the gift.

Maybe it is a matter of, ďIf you have to ask, youíll never get it,Ē to recall the memorable Louis Armstrong in a different context. Even so, it seems a provocative statement to aver to a bunch of rug aficionados, who are continuously striving to understand better the object of their affection, in a forum dedicated to that quest, that one is able to connect with the vision of the creator, apparently instinctively. It is more so when one doesnít attempt to explain the process of such understanding, but rather expects the audience to accept the statement at face value without further detail or evidence. I donít think the incredulous inquiries of the audience in the face of that can be considered an attack on your views or opinions.

I do wish youíd explain what your experience is like, and provide examples.

Without rancor, and all best regards,

Rich Larkin
March 13th, 2011, 05:41 PM   27
Michael Raysson
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Joel,

Before I say good-bye, hear this:

When you question my grasp of True Reality, let me also question yours. My grasp of the reality of Art is THIS, that one of the things it DOES is to communicate DIRECTLY over the years and over the centuries between two people: the Artist and the Viewer or the Listener. That is what it DOES. If it doesnít do that, It isnít ART. That Reality is not independent of the experience, it IS the EXPERIENCE. That is MY grasp of Reality. What is the evidence for that (besides my experience)? Well, everyone who I understand to be a Real Artist and to whom I have asked that question agrees with me. So that is OUR grasp of Reality.

Of course, you have consensus reality on you side, so you feel confident. But we feel confident, too. Numbers do not make Reality.

It is my opinion that you and Paul donít have the necessary experience to raise the relevant questions. In my opinion, all you can say is, well, I havenít had that experience and a lot of others also havenít had it.

Of course, this just my opinion. I have made that abundantly clear, I hope. So my question is why do you guys get so up in arms when someone like me unequivocally says that they have had such-like experiences. Even when they say, Thatís just my experience, just my grasp of Reality, I donít expect YOU to have it.

Who cares? Apparently you.

Michael
March 13th, 2011, 06:00 PM   28
Michael Raysson
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Richard,

Thank you for asking me to stay. Iím touched.

But I donít get your request. Suppose I said I have such and such a relationship with my horse. How could I prove that. YOU canít ask the horse, only I can. So youíd just have to take my word. (Of course, there are jokes about this.) In the same way, how can you ask the weaver of the rug about my contention? You could ask later weavers, I suppose, like Marla has. But, in my opinion, they have lost the thread. Many of them donít know themselves what the symbols mean.

So, what exactly would you like me to do?

Michael
March 13th, 2011, 06:38 PM   29
Joel Greifinger
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Michael,

If that is what art DOES, and, apparently most of us who spend a fair bit of our lives studying and attempting to appreciate and savor art fail to GET IT, such experience must only be available to the SELECT. Perhaps one must let go of encumbrances like rationality to get THE MESSAGE. I've had this discussion with artists (conveniently, some are friends and family) and they don't seem to get the DIRECT TRANSMISSION either, but I suppose this only proves that they are not TRUE ARTISTS and their work not TRUE ART.

While this self-confirming approach to knowledge may be comforting, it doesn't make for much in the way of productive conversation. Or, at least that's how it looks to one unprepared to make a LEAP OF FAITH and forgo rational dialogue.

Quote:
Who cares? Apparently you.
Do I care about the human project of reason and the pleasure of rugs? Hell, yes.

Joel Greifinger
March 13th, 2011, 06:45 PM  30
Michael Raysson
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Rich,

I have and old Tekke Engsi that I am very close to (physically and artistically). I did a little exposition on it, maybe just like what you are asking. I gave it out to five or six people with a request for feedback.
No one bothered to reply, except one. And, also, it got sent out (unasked for by me) to someone who blasted me. So I feel somewhat reticent and protective, especially when faced by people who do not really seem very sympathetic to my views or do not seem to care.

Michael
March 13th, 2011, 06:48 PM   31
Michael Raysson
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Joel,

Let go of it. This is a very interesting forum and this argument isnít.

If you donít like what I say, ignore me.
March 13th, 2011, 07:08 PM   32
Richard Larkin
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Hi Michael,

If there were a web forum populated with horse lovers who enjoyed comparing notes in that field, and particularly wished to enhance their capacity to understand their animals, and someone got on and stated that his approach was to talk with the horses, and further, that he was able to do so quite well, I think it would get everyone's attention. I daresay a few might ask how one did it, and what was the experience like, and what did the horses have to say. If the horse whisperer than replied that he didn't really care to get into it, and they should be able to do it themselves, and if they couldn't, too bad, I think a few might wonder why he bothered to contribute the information; and a few others might be skeptical of the claimed ability.

I've been kicking rugs around for a long time, and understand very well that a principal diversion in the hobby for some is to savage the other guy's opinions and sensibilities. It is understandable that one might be careful about putting out apparently controversial views. But I wouldn't say that your views have been so treated here. Inquiring minds just want to know when such impressive abilities are claimed. Then, I have to note that your rationale for Joel's or Paul's skepticism is to attribute a lack of artistic vision to them. Do you see the irony?

Rich Larkin
March 13th, 2011, 07:36 PM   33
Guido_Engel
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Hi all,

After having read all your really interesting postings (there is truth in all of them), I will try to give an interpretation of a symbol/motif. It may be the presentation of a certain principle or the reflections on this principle. By creating this motif (i.e.by painting or weaving) the creator (weaver) gets the power (or at least believes that he has the power) to activate this principle (thank you Steve for your word "power"). If the weaver knows the meaning, the weaving might be a personal expression; if the symbol is copied by generations, the weaving might be determined by the strict conservative rules of the tribal community.

My Kurdish bagface in total could be called a big symbol for the continuum of the tribe composed by smaller symbols as the "quasishiva" (please forget the god Shiva as a person) representing the never ending movement, the snakes representing regeneration and the uniform girls representing the female ability to give birth. The three small symbols in combination are necessary in order that the tribe survives.

Hi Dinie,

I remember your bagface because I like it and enjoyed looking at it. The piece you posted is also interesting; I think it is the principle of mother earth/nature. Please give me some days to reflect on that. Do you know where it comes from?

Best regards

Guido
March 13th, 2011, 08:04 PM   34
Steve Price
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Raysson
Rich,

I have and old Tekke Engsi that I am very close to (physically and artistically). I did a little exposition on it, maybe just like what you are asking. I gave it out to five or six people with a request for feedback.
No one bothered to reply, except one. And, also, it got sent out (unasked for by me) to someone who blasted me. So I feel somewhat reticent and protective, especially when faced by people who do not really seem very sympathetic to my views or do not seem to care.

Michael
Hi Michael

I'm not bothered by you saying that your experience gives you the ability to understand weaver's intentions, and the fact that I'm skeptical about that claim really isn't important. I will add, though, that your choices of words in several posts imply that you believe this to be an ability shared by many others. If that's what you believe, it ought to be possible to poll a selected group of such people about what they see as the weaver's intentions in a few selected rugs. Jim Allen comes to mind as someone who believes he can experience being a Turkmen tribesperson centuries ago. I wonder if he reads your ensi the same way you do.

The other issue, one that Rich raised is probably the most serious obstacle you face in getting the subject discussed: while you repeatedly assure us that you are able to know the weaver's intentions, you have yet to provide a single example. Guido, by contrast, provides a number of motifs, tells us what he sees in them and what the bases are for the plausibility of what he sees as possible weaver intent. In the places where his bases are shown to be in error, he refines his proposals to keep them in line with facts. In a nutshell, he provides starting points for discussions related to rugs. So far, at least, you haven't presented anything except the faith you have in your abilities to make intimate connections with artists of foreign cultures, distant in time and place from our own.

I live in the so-called Bible Belt, and have often heard the argument, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that's all there is to it." I don't debate faiths - it's pointless to do so - I simply accept differences and get on with other matters more amenable to discussion.

Regards

Steve Price
March 13th, 2011, 08:28 PM   35
Michael Raysson
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Steve,

Pardon me, but I did give my views on Guidoís Kurdish bagface and I was preparing to give much more before all this flak started. I had thought that Guido had started a safe haven for this type of sharing and I was going to take advantage by participating. I still appreciate Guidoís effort, but I am bowing out as a bad diversion.

Maybe all this stuff doesnít seem like attacking to you, but it does to me! Iím outa here.

Michael
March 13th, 2011, 09:12 PM   36
Steve Price
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Hi Michael

You're right, your first post in this thread does, indeed, express opinions and their rationales regarding Guido's interpretations - that is, it includes constructive discussion and drew a positive reaction from Guido. I also note that there has been no negative reaction from anyone here to that part of the post.

In any case, saying that you had offered no constructive discussion about rugs was clearly an error, for which I have no excuse. I apologize for it.

Steve Price
March 13th, 2011, 10:03 PM   37
Chris Countryman
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Another way of thinking about this

Greetings Guido and all,
This discussion ranges over a number of fields that I can't touch--art and music theory, anthropology, and religious symbolism to name a few. There is one which I can offer thoughts and both Filiberto and Dinie touched on--psychology.

One of the concepts that Freud introduced to the world was the notion of the unconscious. While there is much that gets attributed to the unconscious and many responses to Freud's theories, few practitioners dispute the idea that there is mental activity that would not be properly understood as rational thought. I will not attempting to catalogue all of these. I think that Filiberto's suggestion of rug patterns as a Rorschach test hits very close to one central important unconscious process.

The Rorschach is what is called a projective test. The seemingly meaningless inkblots images are interpreted in the unconscious and meaning is projected onto them. By showing them to a broad cross-section of patients over the years, psychologists found that there were a few fairly standard interpretations of each of the inkblots; they also found that there were certain interpretations common to people who had various mental health problems. A very simple example: a few of the images are not perfectly symmetrical; people who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder pick up on these differences and their interpretations reflect that.

My point is simply this: in interpreting sensory data--images, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches--there is a lot of unconscious projection that goes on by everyone. The elements that form these projections are many. The creators of our beloved textiles may well have seen them very differently than we do today (think of pieces in which foreground/ background inversion leads people to see the same piece very differently). To say a particular symbol (not the obvious attempt to weave the image of a person or creature) is or means a particular idea is a form of projection. Fields of study can develop a consensus around an interpretation of a symbol but cannot claim an exclusive right/wrong statement of its meaning. That is the domain of the unconscious of the creator.

I hope this further broadens and obfuscates the discussion as this one has been one of the more interesting and wide ranging fora we've had in a long time.

Chris Countryman
March 13th, 2011, 10:27 PM   38
Steve Price
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Hi Chris

Your comments really get to the difference between sensations (the sensory information reaching the brain) and perceptions (the sense the brain makes of them). I illustrate this to students by pointing out how very unlike a real face the "smilies" are, but nobody ever sees them as anything except a face.

Regards

Steve Price
March 13th, 2011, 11:22 PM   39
Patrick Weiler
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Guido has noted:
"if the symbol is copied by generations, the weaving might be determined by the strict conservative rules of the tribal community."
From Wikipedia:
"In some religions, such as Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Judaism and Islam, there is a tradition that the universe is categorised into Seven Heavens or Realms."
And this:
"The Qur'an mentions the existence of seven heavens:
"See you not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another, and made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun a Lamp?"
Many old rugs have a mihrab with a hanging lamp.
Here are a couple of rugs which perhaps have included these seven heavens into their designs.
The first is the mihrab of a 19th century Melas rug. Note the seven floral figures and the scattered amulets which may have been protective devices.
Many rugs show such apotropaic motifs (Intended to ward off evil) which have been passed down through the generations.

And an older Baluch balisht with the ubiquitous Tree of Life design. It just happens to have seven branches (including the top).
Younger versions have lost this tradition.
Notice also the amulets and "S" motifs in the field.

These pieces do not necessarily confirm the premise which Guido has proposed, but they certainly suggest that there may be some relevance.
In the modern era it is somewhat difficult to recall that only a few generations ago, most cultures passed down the beliefs, proscriptions, propitious rituals and superstitions which had the status of dogma.
These beliefs were unassailable, ubiquitous and incontrovertible.
Consider the "evil eye", the rabbits foot for good luck, tossing salt over the shoulder, prayer beads and on and on. How can we assume that many of these features in rugs do not incorporate the traditional beliefs and motifs of the cultures that wove them, as opposed to being merely decorative devices?
As to the first piece shown by Guido, he mentions a "man" in the white arch.
The similar piece Dinie shows has this white arch "upside down" compared to the Guido piece. If the pile is oriented in a downward fashion in both of these pieces, does this mean that Dinie has an upside-down man? The interpretation of Guido's daughter aside, the "man" interpretation is not what comes readily to my mind.
Some of Guido's suggestions are tenuous in my estimation, but this does not mean that his proposal is entirely invalid.
There is probably more relevance than not when considering older pieces, although some of the interpretations can be speculative, if not fanciful.

Patrick Weiler
March 14th, 2011, 03:28 AM   40
Dinie Gootjes
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Hi All,

Guido, I have no idea where the rug is from. Maybe when I have it in hand and can see the structure etc. I will know more. I cannot wait to see it in reality. I do think that in one way it will prove to be what it looks like: more interesting than beautiful .

Patrick, the number seven of course is important in many cultures and religions. In the Qur'an it also is the number of the layers of the earth and the skies, so it could very well have a symbolic meaning in rugs. When talking about your Baluch balisht you state
Quote:
Younger versions have lost this tradition.
Have you found that in general older tree of life balishts have seven branches? Does that also go for the prayer rugs?

Interesting point about the orientation of the arches in Guido's first example. When we are talking about khorjins, I think that the orientation of a design can only be decided on when we can see where the closure tabs are/were. The direction of the pile will be different depending on whether it was the first or second one of the pair. In the four bags in my post, which includes Guido's, the closure tabs all happen to be there. Two have the design with the 'man' like Guido's example, two have it the other way around. That could be used to support a palmette interpretation. Or it could mean that the weavers of the upside down group were not aware of the meaning of the design any more???

Dinie
March 14th, 2011, 01:16 PM   41
Jim Miller
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Dinie and all,

I have been curious about the orientation of motifs. For double bags do we follow the pile, the way the piece was on the loom where all the objects would be woven right side up from the weavers perspective, but one half would be upside down when orientated with the closure faced up. Or does the weaver invert the objects on the second bag face while weaving, so that the objects have the correct orientation in relation to the closures. This gets more complicated when objects are woven into the backs of the bags as well.

But even within one face, objects can be inverted in relation to others. Here is a Afshar sumac bagface with botehs and with two human figures in the opposite orientation. So are the people upside down or the botehs?



Spatially disorientedly yours,
Jim
March 14th, 2011, 01:30 PM   42
Steve Price
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Hi Jim

Vertical inversions are not really unusual in weavings. Many Turkish prayer designs include tulips that are clearly upside down relative to the mihrab, for example.

Regards

Steve Price
March 14th, 2011, 02:01 PM   43
Jim Miller
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Steve,

I guess the question in regards to the interpretation of motifs is whether the orientation of an individual motif in relation to other specific motifs or to the overall composition of the design reflects on the meaning or import of that individual motif. In some cases (SW persian rugs, for example) there can be a plethoria of "filler" motifs that can include figures that have a clear top to bottom orientation, but that seem to be randomly positioned. Are these used mainly as decorative objects?

On the other hand, there are examples (as in my sumac), where there are only a few motifs that are inverted in relation to each other. Do the two figures represent specific people and is the intention of drawing them into the design different if they are right side up or upside down? In my limited (and albeit compulsively biased) view having the figures upside down is disconcerting and suggests a negative relationship between the weaver and the figures. Or maybe the people should be right side up and the botehs upside down. Then again maybe the figures are decorative elements and do not represent individuals.

Jim
March 14th, 2011, 02:54 PM   44
Steve Price
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Hi Jim

If the piece belonged to me, I'd have it displayed with the figures upright because, like you, I find inverted people distracting except when they're diving into a pool.

What did the weaver intend? I'm not one of those gifted with being able to know such things.

Regards

Steve Price
March 14th, 2011, 03:17 PM   45
Richard Larkin
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Hi Jim,

This isn't exactly about your question, but it is an interesting example of what a particular weaver might undertake to do in the right-side-up/upside-down category. The following rug was on offer at the February auction at Michael Grogan's in Dedham, Massachusetts.





It appears to be an Afshar, and you will note that at about the level of the top of the two trees in the rug, the orientation of the design suddenly inverts 180į.

I had a chance to examine this rug. It was in very good physical condition, and there was no apparent pile loss. The wool was extremely soft and luxurious to feel. The weaving was tight and rather fine for the type. However, in running the hand over the surface, I noted what seemed to be a slight but unmistakeable thickening at the point of the orientation change. My first reaction was to suspect a fine seam such as one would find in a rug that had been skillfully cut and rejoined. However, a very careful inspection of the fabric eliminated that possibility. In the end, I concluded that the difference was that the pile had been left just a smidgen longer in the section with the inverse orientation. The shift was noticeable at the horizontal line of demarcation. I have read and heard that the shearers of rugs are very skilled and highly respected for their abilities. Whoever did the job on this rug was not lacking in subtle skill. Go figure what was behind this approach to this particular rug. Either the weaver was able to draw upside down, or she spent the last third of the thing hanging from a trapeze.

BTW, it was the eagle-eyed Dinie Gootjes who first alerted me to the inversion situation in the rug.

Rich Larkin
March 14th, 2011, 05:28 PM   46
Joel Greifinger
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Quote:
For double bags do we follow the pile, the way the piece was on the loom where all the objects would be woven right side up from the weavers perspective, but one half would be upside down when orientated with the closure faced up. Or does the weaver invert the objects on the second bag face while weaving, so that the objects have the correct orientation in relation to the closures.
Hi Jim,

In a quick survey of double saddle bags, it seems that the norm is to draw unidirectional motifs (like botehs and humans) with the top of the figure oriented upward in relation to the closures on both bag faces. Working upside down must pose a particular challenge when weaving unidirectional motifs on the second bag face. Perhaps the weaver of your Afshar soumak bagface was working upside down (not literally, of course) and got distracted or disoriented executing the people (or perhaps the botehs). Since I am myself on the spatially challenged end, I could well understand how this might occur. In a pile bag face, the direction of the pile might give an additional clue as to whether it was the second face of a double bag, but here I put it forward as a Just-So story, plain and simple.

I think you should display the bag and change its orientation as an indicator of your mood. or

Joel Greifinger
March 14th, 2011, 07:42 PM   47
Dinie Gootjes
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Hi Jim,

The orientation of the design in rugs is often puzzling. Why do they do it the way they do? As in your flatweave, why would you want to have the people upside down? And in the case of Rich's example, why that shift not halfway, but after 2/3 of the rug had been woven? Was there meant to be a shift halfway, and did the weaver run out of room? Then why not keep going the way she was?

As for bags woven in pairs, I figure that the weaver starts with the top of the first bag. That means that she then has to weave her design upside down for the first bag face. That will be the one with the pile running upwards. Then come the backs and then the bottom of the second face, which is right side up for the weaver and which will have the pile oriented downward. She would then end with the closure system of the second bag. For a basically symmetrical design that will not be too hard, but a directional design will be hard to do upside down I would think. Though less so if she can use another bag as an example. But I am not a weaver, so this is just conjecture.

This makes me think of a bag face we have, which has a very complicated gul ferengi design. I cannot imagine having to do that one upside down. I find gul ferengi type rugs interesting as long as they are not just a copy of a western design, but a creative reworking of the original.

Here is a gul ferengi floral repeat pattern:



Here is a part of the same design cut out for a bag face:



And here is our bag:



I think the weaver has done good magic with the basic design. She managed to get a kind of cross in the field, with the quadrants filled up with the rest of the flowers: NW and NE transpositions, SW and SE mirror images along the vertical axis of the ones above. But the simple four petal flowers ,as in the left bottom corner of NW, are also mirrored along the horizontal axis. The pattern goes on at top and bottom under the borders with half of a flower which is not visible in the rest of the pattern. Crazy thing is that the other two rugs also have these half flowers, in that case just floating in the field. The original must have had them as halves, I suppose. There are lots of horizontal S-figures, of which the large rug also has a few.

Here we have an individual who does on a personal and individual level what a tribe can do on a larger scale: take a theme from somewhere else and assimilate it, like the city palmette and actually also the gul ferengi in general. I personally do not think designs like this have a special symbolical meaning, but in the best ones there is more than borrowing. A real artist does not borrow a theme. She steals it.

Dinie
March 14th, 2011, 07:43 PM   48
Dinie Gootjes
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Sorry, Joel, I did not see your post.

Dinie
March 14th, 2011, 08:10 PM   49
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Hi all,

First I sent my last posting to Steve before this dispute started and so I wasn't inspired by this fight. By reading Steve's reflections on tribal art in Africa I felt very happy, because that's the point. By all the symbols/motifs on the rugs people want to come into contact with another world (you may call it heaven or the world of the ancestors or the world of ghost, in every way a place we cannot see and understand); in a very good book on neolithic religion (sorry,but it is so, the symbol has the same meaning and by creating a symbol (i.e.by painting or weaving) you gain power on this world and can influence it (it is the same when you are praying: you want to influence god to help you).

Patrick, I was waiting for a prayer rug since my first posting; the prayer rug has an arch and my bag has one; your interpretation is a mihrab with a lamp (the lamp could be the fire and the fire could be god); my interpretation is a four armed dancing "supernatural" being. You are inspired by rug books, I am inspired by the method modern archaeology uses when interpreting unknown cultures. We go two different ways, but come to the same result, that the arch has to do with a - let's say - spiritual world that people want to influence.

Many ways lead to Rome. In symbolism the arch connects two worlds and now the question is, can this symbolism can be transferred to rugs. To answer this question it is necessary to see as many rugs as possible with an arch, which can be interpreted - from other points of view than ours - as rugs leading to this spiritual world. If one has found enough, one may postulate that the arch on oriental rug is a symbol for a supernatural world not a motif. And so one can do with other motifs. At the end of this long search one can decid whether rugs are full of symbolic meanings or just decorative.

This was my intention when I started this discussion: to see many rugs which could have a symbolic meaning and to hear many theories from different points of view. If anybody is interested in this topic, we must find a common definition for the symbol, what I tried in my last posting, and then we should examine the rug motifs if they are symbols according to this definition. So I want to invite all members of the community to join this discussion. Reading the last postings I saw that there is much knowledge in the community. It is often difficult to understand other persons, who read other books and have other ideas than oneself, and symbolism has also to do with religious ideas and personal feelings. So I think we should reflect on other ideas, not attack them, and respect each other. I would also ask all the people who left the discussion the last day to come back and support us, because interpretation of rug motifs is not easy.

Best regards

Guido
March 14th, 2011, 11:05 PM   50
Rich Larkin
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Hi Guido,

When I posted in frame #10 of this thread, I was trying to gain an understanding of your basic premises in this inquiry. I would like to ask another question towards that purpose. You have mentioned that an arch on a rug can symbolize a gateway to a spiritual world. On the other hand, it must be so that many rugs with arches were merely copied from drawings or other illustrations of arches, or woven with that image on the direction of a supervisor or patron. Do you think so? If you agree, do you nevertheless feel that the rug has some actual or symbolic power in regard to the spiritual world, regardless of the purposes of the weaver or the circumstances of the weaving?

Thanks.

Rich Larkin
March 15th, 2011, 09:05 AM   51
Jim Miller
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Rich, Joel, and Dinie
Thanks for the comments, insights, and pictures. I have a new respect for weavers, who can not only create complex designs in a knotted rug, but rotate, invert and flip motifs at the same time.
Cheers
Jim
March 15th, 2011, 10:59 AM   52
Steve Price
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Hi Guido

Your last post includes this,
If one has found enough (rugs with arches), one may postulate that the arch on oriental rug is a symbol for a supernatural world not a motif. And so one can do with other motifs. At the end of this long search one can decide whether rugs are full of symbolic meanings or just decorative.

How does finding arches or any other motif on a great number of rugs cast light on the question of whether they are meaningful or only decorative?

Just so others understand: Guido sends his posts to me, I edit them for clarity and post them under his name. One possibility that crosses my mind is that I may not have captured his meaning in the passage I quoted. If that's the case, Guido, please correct my error.

Thanks.

Steve Price
March 15th, 2011, 12:36 PM   53
Paul Smith
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Greetings, all...

The presence of apparent arches or portals in weavings has always been appealing to me; sometimes these are obvious, as with prayer rugs and ensis, or sometimes the presence requires more interpretation on my part. I suspect that part of the appeal for me is that I lack depth perception, but I can feel three-dimensional space when gazing at a lot of good old pieces and it is very moving to me--definitely a gateway to spiritual experience as far as I'm concerned. Whether the apparent passageway is a design element that frames in the interior, intended as a focus for contemplation, or a shaman's sky-door (I wonder, since women weave these things, why no one has come up with the portal being connected to the womb), the fact is that it can be sincerely interpreted as any of those things, and probably twenty other things as well.

A theme that turns up often in Sufism is that romantic love is a metaphor for the relationship between humans and the divine. Similar language appears in devotional literature in Hinduism as well as in the Song of Solomon, so it appears to be a cross-cultural phenomenon. However, it is not that this passionate poetry of love is ONLY a metaphor for spiritual experience; it is expected that different audiences will perceive it in different ways, each according to their own unique constellation of desire and spirit. In this way, I think it would be possible for a weaver to make a piece that they experience as a pleasing assembly of traditional motifs, while a bhang-crazed Sufi mystic could walk by and see a passageway to the Beloved. Thus, the reader-response position of post-modern critical theory is harmonized with the mystical traditions of Central Asia.

I first learned about ghazals (sung love poems) in the singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose mystical Sufi agenda in singing this music was obvious from the moment he opened his mouth. Yet, another fabulous singer of ghazals, Kiran Ahluwalia, once teased me for saying that her singing was at all devotional--"Don't be ridiculous--this poetry is about love and romance!" Both are masters of ghazal singing, within their traditions. I think that seeking a single correct answer in understanding the function of a weaving might be eating the recipe instead of the meal.

Paul

Last edited by Paul Smith; March 15th, 2011 at 12:47 PM.
March 15th, 2011, 01:13 PM  54
Richard Larkin
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Excellent, Paul!

Rich Larkin
March 15th, 2011, 01:19 PM   55
Joel Greifinger
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Hi Paul,

I agree with Rich, Bravo. Moving the focus of interpretation away from the artist's intentions and onto the piece's "uses and gratifications" for the viewer gets us out of the quest for a "single correct answer" because, as you persuasively illustrate, how we perceive and understand any piece depends on our "unique constellation of desire and spirit."

However, I'm not sure I want to travel all the way down the post-modern road. Are there any limits on the range of interpretations that we can consider correct, or even plausible? Should any interpretation of a text or other work be judged as equally true? Or, isn't truth a category that we should apply to statements about the meanings of literature and art? Does the piece objectively encode meanings that reflect it's creator and her culture that are present beyond its possible function as the screen for the viewer's projections?

Other than questioning their sincerity, I have no basis for challenging someone's description of their experience of interacting with an artifact. However, I wonder whether their possibly idiosyncratic or anachronistic interpretation may not collide with a truth that is encoded in the object in public symbols and practices of meaning that transcend any individual interpretation, even by the artist who made it.

Joel Greifinger
March 15th, 2011, 02:57 PM   56
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Well, thanks, guys. I'm not one who feels inclined to set too many limits in this regard for anyone but myself; neither did I claim that these things are circuitry for contacting space aliens. In spite of the space ships that are flying around in this Shekarlu main carpet I'm gazing at.

I like to think that I am reaching out towards authentic experience in appreciating carpets, but I don't think I can take myself too seriously, as I doubt that I am as well-informed as many who post here. I think it is fair game to examine a position on the basis of historical information, though--we have precious little of it, so we might as well apply what we have. So, while I found Gantzhorn's thesis of pile carpet weaving being developed in Armenian court workshops plausible, I found his suggestion of Christian influence in Turkmen design to be a stretch unsupported by the evidence, crosses in Turkmen guls notwithstanding. Thus it was for me with possible Hindu influence on the Kurds. I thought a good example of an inquiry combining personal observation and historical/cultural background was Patrick's previous post on the possible significance of "seven heavens" in traditional weavings. He had me going through my pieces, looking for those sevens, and it made me speculate about one balisht that only had half of the leaf at the top, the rest obscured by the border. What could it mean? Does it go on into infinity, or did she think she was falling short of true bliss, or what?

In that sense, I think it is reasonable to speculate about pre-Islamic influence in Baluchi prayer rugs because there is evidence that Islam in that region was not historically very orthodox, but I would be loathe to proclaim that they are definitely pre-Islamic in intention or whatever because to do so would involve a leap unsupported by evidence. It would be fair to examine my own agenda were I to make such a claim, and my own attraction to mystical traditions and pre-Islamic practices in the region could easily be shown to color my attitudes on the subject. Insisting on my view would say more about me than about any weaving.

Yes, absolutely, postmodernism can inspire a bottomless pit of possible readings, but on the other hand deconstructing the role of the audience is a useful tool in critiquing views that claim to be free of personal bias.

Paul

PS. I keep hoping someone is going to explain to all of us what the heck a boteh is supposed to be...

Last edited by Paul Smith; March 15th, 2011 at 03:21 PM.
March 15th, 2011, 06:12 PM   57
Richard Larkin
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Hi Paul,

Now you're looking for trouble. Past Turkotek entries have ventured into this bottomless morass, such as this one:

http://www.turkotek.com/misc_00072/boteh.htm

I'm sure there are more, and theories on what the boteh means rival in number the little buggers themselves.

Rich Larkin
March 15th, 2011, 07:00 PM  58
Guido_Engel
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Hi all, thank you for posting.

Spiritual experience is for me being in an unvisible world or as I called it "another" world or making an experience in or of this world, which is in the case of tribal culture necessary for the continuum of the tribe. So the arch is naturally a gateway to an experience and a certain kind of feeling. If I understand you right Paul, the arch is a sign of leaving the real world (and coming back again). If it is so, we are on a common base.

What happens in this world is dependent on cultural influences and personal feelings. So I gave an interpretation of this bagface and wanted to know how other people would interpret it and I do accept that many interpretations are possible. It is not the interpretation itself that is important, but the meaning or the result of an interpretation; i.e., the interpretation of the arch as a gateway. So I would be really interested to read an interpretation of the single motifs on the bagfaces I posted from any point of view; that's what I have been posting since the beginning and I am just repeating.

Concerning symbols: I think every culture has a canon of symbols. In our culture we have religious symbols (i.e., the cross), status symbols (i.e., clothing or a certain car), and regulating symbols like the red traffic light. We all understand their meanings very well, because they regulate our life to a certain extent. Now it would be interesting if there is a similar canon in tribal culture and by interpreting the motifs on many rugs according to this canon it could be possible to distinguish between commercial and personal items (I think there are not many prayer rugs which are not commercial, so one can say that an arch on a rug does not prove that it was woven for personal use). If there is a second symbol that can be connected with the spiritual or religious sphere, a personal item would be much more probable.

It would be easier for me to see rugs from your collections you that connect with any kind of interpretation to understand your points of view.

Best regards

Guido
March 15th, 2011, 07:19 PM   59
Richard Larkin
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Seven come eleven...

Hi all,

I agree with Paul that the seven floral elements above the mihrab in what looks like a Melas prayer rug in Patrick's post seem like the sort of thing an artist with a subtle hand might work into the piece for numerical effect. Whether they represent seven heavens, or seven of something else important to the artist and his/her community, is another question. Also questionable is Patrick's suggestion that the older Baluch tree of life pieces feature seven branches ("including the top...", which is out and out cheating!). My primary ground for doubting that proposal is that mine don't qualify. In addition, I note that a certain archaic type of the Tree of Life prayer rug doesn't seem to comply with the "seven heavens" rule. The following is an example I took from Tom Cole's site.



Regarding the Tree of Life prayer rugs in general, which are occasionally said in the literature to be a relatively late conception of the Baluch weaving community, they exhibit a very wide variation in detail and design within the broader rubric. If it is true that as a genre, they are not ancient, it would appear that a good deal of weaving freedom and individual choice must have gone into them in terms of ornament and format in order to account for the variety. Under such circumstances, it would seem that the weavers' choices would have involved symbols and other talismans significant for them. One wonders whether systematic analysis of many examples, say with the aid of computers (a feat well beyond the capabilities of YHS), would disclose recognizable patterns, etc., that could be effectively interpreted.

Rich Larkin
March 15th, 2011, 07:25 PM   60
Steve Price
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Hi Rich

I've long wondered about Jack Daniels Old Number 7. Asian connection?



Regards

Steve Price
March 15th, 2011, 09:08 PM   61
Joel Greifinger
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Botehs, elepahants and truth

Hi Paul,

Your earlier post in this thread, where you questioned a position that you described as "leaps built upon leaps", illustrated that you believe that norms for historical and cultural evidence are an important component in redeeming a claim about any cultural object. I'm just wondering how this combines with the level of personal observation and perception and your boteh query brought an example to mind.

Last spring, I posted this bag on Turkotek. I bought it because I liked the troop of elephants that were marching back and forth between and below the rows of botehs.






I searched online and in the literature for other Afshar representations of elephants. I couldn't find any. I read a collection of folktales translated from Luri to see if elephants played a possible role in the cultural imagination of those nearby. There was one mention of an elephant and but it merely played a minor role in a list of animals. Some other Turkotekkers submitted other representations of elephants in rugs, but they were far more naturalistic and quite removed in time and cultural distance from the weaver of my bag. Despite citations of the importance of elephants in Afshar history (i.e. Nader Shah Afshar's defeat of the Mughals and their war elephants at the Battle of Karnal in 1739) there seems to be no tradition of their visual representation. I have finally concluded that, given the lack of evidence, the motifs in my bag are probably not elephants.

Nonetheless, when I look at the bag, I still see elephants. I know it is true if I claim, "I see representations of elephants when I look at this bag", but if I claim that I have an Afshar bag with representations of elephants, is that also true?

As for the botehs, they represent the tears of space aliens mourning the migration of their beloved elephants.

Joel Greifinger

Last edited by Joel Greifinger; March 15th, 2011 at 09:41 PM.
March 15th, 2011, 09:12 PM  62
Rich Larkin
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Hi Steve,

Good point I hadn't thought of. If we could trace the export of many cases of the stuff to Central Asia, it could account for a lot of things we find in rugs.

Rich Larkin
March 15th, 2011, 09:14 PM   63
Chris Countryman
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Symbols are owned by...

Guido, Steve, and all,

Fun discussion. The challenge of symbols in rugs seems to me to present two challenges that we need keep in mind. 1. Some symbols are broadly understood across cultures and eras (e.g., the Christian symbol of the cross). However, many symbols are less than universally understood and carry different meanings to different cultures; again time can be a big factor here. The meaning ascribed to (projected onto) a symbol can change over time (e.g., the swastika). 2. The medium of a grid, which essentially all textiles are, limits what symbols can be presented and how they are presented. Some figures don't translate well to this medium.

When we get down to it, any textile is just a bunch of knots of colored yarn tied to a grid. Patterns in those knots maybe intended by the weaver or not. If the weaver and the viewer happen to share the same understanding of an intentional pattern, then it is a symbol. Any "meaning" that other viewers find in the patterns in those is projected onto those patterns by the viewer.

Perhaps it would be a good idea if we had a Turkotek Rorschach test. Someone with a large collection of images be willing to submit 20 or so patterns/images and let people say what they see (project) on those images? We could start with a boteh.

Chris Countryman
March 15th, 2011, 10:06 PM   64
Rich Larkin
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Hi Joel,

I remember your elephants. Whatever the weaver of that piece thought they were, I'll bet that if you could assemble the right succession of woven predecessors, you would find the design she implemented to have evolved and descended from a predecessor that was more articulated and more identifiable. That is probably the case with many familiar rustic motives, as Dinie suggested regarding the well known South Persian device. What I wonder is, do weavers such as the person who created your bag, whose generation has forgotten what the motif was once upon a time, see, perhaps, the same elephants you see, and name the motif accordingly? In that way, traditional designs could take on new lives, so to speak. Are there any weavers calling their border, "the wineglass border?"

Rich Larkin
March 15th, 2011, 11:13 PM   65
Paul Smith
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elephants

Hi Joel,

I remember that Afshar, nice bag!

As for history, I just think that whatever historical analysis we can tease out of the evidence is reasonable to figure into to any equation that attempts to get at what a weaving might be telling us. If we had some sort of documented report of UFOs in Luri territory in the mid-19th-century, I would be more inclined to think that the elements I am looking at in this Shekarlu could be the craft. Or the circuitry.

I think you make a pretty good case for elephants, and the historical agenda that I pitched is met, in my humble opinion, by the fact that you did establish that elephants are not unknown amongst the Afshar. That is an important component here... I cannot speak with certainty about the Afshar in particular, but I know for a fact that Baluchi, Turkic, and Kirghiz peoples had professional bards in the 19th century and before who memorized and sung epic poems, recounting the deeds of great heroes. Analysis of these sorts of poems, most dramatically demonstrated by Schliemann who found the site of Troy by studying the Iliad (it was sung for around 500 years before being written down), has shown that oral history sung by professional bards is remarkably accurate on many points. So, it is not outrageous to suppose the memory of elephants lasted a century or so in the epic tales of the Afshar's great hero, Nadir Shah. Why not? Why couldn't one of those wacky Afshar gals have heard the tale and saw those magnificent beasts as symbolic of how the Afshar completely rock? Not to mention the power to brew four shades of blue that are distinguishable from each other.

Now, if you went out there and proclaimed that those are without a doubt elephants, I would wonder why you think it is so important that they be elephants, but my impression was that your inquiry was entirely open-minded in that regard. My sense of personal perspective runs more towards what you might think the presence of elephants means here, but in terms of evidence it seems to me somewhere between Gantzhorn's Armenian pile-weaving workshops and his Tekke Christian crosses in terms of conclusive evidence. Nevertheless, I think the burden of proof for elephants as a possibility has clearly been met. They could be mutant mini-botehs, but I think not--the front leg on them has no analog on the botehs.

That boteh thread was impressive as an example of going after the significance of a design element; thanks for the link, Rich!

Paul
March 16th, 2011, 08:53 AM   66
Joel Greifinger
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The dream of botehs

Quote:
My sense of personal perspective runs more towards what you might think the presence of elephants means here
Hi Paul (and all),

Thanks for your, as always, thoughtful and interesting response. If I can accurately call your requirement for serious historical speculation the 'plausibility threshold', should the same standard hold on questions of meaning, what you refer to as "the personal perspective"?

If I interpret the botehs in my bag as being what the elephants are dreaming (after all, they are above the elephants' heads, like the thought baloons in a comic strip), does this reach the plausibility threshold? Perhaps the connection is through the elephant-headed Ganesh, who has a temple in Srinigar in Kashmir, where botehs quite possibly originated. So, I might see the meaning of my bag as a meditation on "when elephants dream of botehs" or perhaps even, "Ganesh creating the boteh."

In addition to perhaps enjoying how fanciful it is, should we also apply the plausibility threshold to such a personal interpretation of meaning?

BTW - the "inspiration" for the first interpretation is percussionist Bob Moses' 1982 album, "When Elephants Dream of Music".

Joel Greifinger

Last edited by Joel Greifinger; March 16th, 2011 at 11:33 AM.
March 16th, 2011, 09:36 AM   67
Steve Price
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Hi Folks

If I understand Paul correctly, he believes that demonstrating that some interpretation is plausible is a necessary requisite to going any further down that road. If that's what he believes, I agree 100%. For example, the boteh can plausibly be a candle flame, flower bud, or a number of other things (if, indeed, it is truly only one motif with many variants). But it can't plausibly be, say, spermatozoa unless someone has evidence that there were microscopes in Asia many centuries ago. Therefore, that possible reading of the motif can be disregarded.

The real problem is that so many alternatives remain after eliminating the implausible ones.

Regards

Steve Price
March 16th, 2011, 02:08 PM   68
Paul Smith
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Hi Steve--

Yes, that's what I mean. I agree, all sorts of plausible options for interpretation remain after removing implausible ones, but it is remarkable how often completely implausible options are proposed. Passionately. You may recall the notorious "professional Turkmen geometers"...And it wasn't speculating that such a career choice, just maybe, could have been in existence, it was an insistence that such people without a doubt were consulting on Turkmen carpet design.

On the other hand, there are some interesting design shifts in Turkmen carpets that to my peculiar eyes make things appear to float on the surface. I think this is common enough in old pieces and consistent enough in these individual examples that it is plausible such an effect was deliberate. What does it mean? One proposal we had on the table was that it made people on one end look smaller and the important guy on the other end look large, while others said it was just a consequence of the weaving technique. I suppose Michael has left us for the moment, but I could believe that altered perception inspired by the illusion could have spiritual uses. I think it is entirely plausible that all of those effects were intentional, but I also think it is clear that we lack the evidence to solve the mystery. Still it is endlessly enchanting to me, and I love to speculate about what the weaver was up to while I'm floating there among the guls.

For me, being comfortable with mystery is part of the appeal of this beauty.

Paul
March 16th, 2011, 03:02 PM   69
Steve Price
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Hi Paul

For me, being comfortable with mystery is part of the appeal of this beauty.

Likewise for me; also true for nearly all tribal arts.

Regards

Steve Price
March 17th, 2011, 11:32 PM   70
Patrick Weiler
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Currently Accepted Interpretations

Joel,

Those are not elephants. They actually go quite a bit farther back into Afshar history. If you rotate them 90 degrees, it is obvious that they are actually representations of the Apatosaurus dinosaur, the really large herbivore whose weight is equivalent to approximately four elephants.
And as for the remarkable ability of weavers to work when suspended upside down and sideways, here are some examples.
Notice the five-legged animals surrounding the central medallion of this Luri main carpet. The upper two are upside down compared to the pile of the weaving and the rest of the carpet. Even the roosters on their backs are correctly oriented to their beast of burden. It is most likely that only 5-legged animals were capable of carrying such heavy loads.
I suspect that this both-ways-beasts was an attempt to copy more formal urban designs which would allow guests reclining at each end to feel that they were viewing the carpet from a preferred, desirable position.


Next, here is a "Baluch" balisht which has a bilaterally symmetrical layout. There are animals in the spandrels which are upside down relative to those at the other end. Granted, most of them have two and a half legs and only one retains the previously accepted four legs (the above Luri notwithstanding).
Even the sasquatches at each corner incorporate this upside-down symmetry.
What is interesting is that in this case it was not as though the orientation would have been awkward if the animals had been woven in the same direction. It was just an attempt to make the entire piece symmetrical.


And, finally (at least for now) a Qashqai horse cover showing animals not upside down, but SIDEWAYS! This item would have been draped over a horse and the lions and pea cocks would have appeared upright. However, the women in the upper panel near the center would have appeared to be prone. If one were riding this horse backwards, the women would appear upright, but all the pictures I have seen show that these covers were used to keep the animal warm and were not used when riding the horse.


Rich, that Baluch prayer rug is quite stunning, and also appears to be quite old. It is possible that one of the sources of the 7-branch version came from the Indian tradition of very lifelike plants, but was "interpreted" in a more busy fashion in most cases.
As for arches, they are appealing to the eye and have been said to be, among other things: looking out a window; a mihrab; looking into "heaven"; simple architectural representations; gravestones; portions of an ogival lattice and merely artifacts of the geometric construction of weavings; and the appearance of a computer screen as seen from behind the operator.

Patrick Weiler

Last edited by Patrick Weiler; March 17th, 2011 at 11:45 PM. Reason: obsessive compulsive disorder
March 18th, 2011, 05:46 AM  71
Steve Price
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Hi Patrick

The "5-legged dogs" are probably ancestors of my cousin's Chihuahua. Pepe has four legs and a seemingly ever-present, prominent fifth appendage.

You wrote,
... arches, ... have been said to be, among other things: looking out a window; a mihrab; looking into "heaven"; simple architectural representations; gravestones; portions of an ogival lattice and merely artifacts of the geometric construction of weavings; and the appearance of a computer screen as seen from behind the operator.
All of those things are true, sometimes even two of them for a single woven arch design.

Regards

Steve Price
March 18th, 2011, 06:28 AM   7
Rich Larkin
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Seriously, Patrick....

Hi Patrick,

Yes, seriously, no easy feat with you, mon ami. Whence comes the seven branch doctrine for the earliest Baluch ToLs? I hadn't heard that until you mentioned it here. Also, How is it that the crest at the top gets counted? If the seven branch concept is solid, it would seem that the status of the crest would be a wild card.

Side note, off topic: Have you noticed a problem with running color in that Baluch with the octagonal gul? I have one that would seem to be a cousin and it leaks!

Rich Larkin

P. S.: I think your Apatasaurus theory is right on the money for Joel's pseudo-elephants. They would have been woven at ninety degrees from true North in case the tribe might be having one or two paleo-archeologists as guests. They would recline on the side.
March 18th, 2011, 12:51 PM   73
Joel Greifinger
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Hi Patrick and Rich,

While the Apatosaurus theory has an almost primal power, it is at odds with the latest attempts to extrapolate the probable positions of neck and head extension in sauropods.

Quote:
Unless sauropods behaved differently from all extant amniote groups, they must have habitually held their necks extended and their heads flexed.
Perhaps the Apatosaurus images in the bag are taken from a universal set of archtypes? If the Afshar weaver was drawing upon an archetype taken from our species-wide collective unconscious, I suspect that she would have more accurately represented the upright neck of the great beast. At any rate, this underlines our uncertainty as to the positions in which they held their heads.

When I posted the bag last spring, many agreed that the figures in the bag represented a different, in this case mythical, creature, the Snuffalupagus. It resembles those figures in physical appearance and evokes remarkably similar feelings in the viewer.



Nonetheless, I remain open to both Apastosaurus and Snuffalupagus as (perhaps simultaneous) possibilities.

Joel Greifinger

Last edited by Joel Greifinger; March 18th, 2011 at 01:19 PM.
March 18th, 2011, 09:26 PM   74
Patrick Weiler
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Rugs from prehistory

Rich,

You can't take issue with historical documentation which I make up as I go along!

The balisht does not have any running colors, although the lemon-yellow is a bit more orange from the back.
Check out this Mughal rug (India influenced Iranian art.) from the Flowers Underfoot exhibition. It has seven rows of plants, some of which contain plants with seven flowers, counting the top flower. See the plants in the lower row at either side.
If you accede to the principal of seven heavens, there probably are not as many residents at the very top. I know, it is lonely at the top.....
http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/flowers/htm/1970321Z.htm
This rug is from the 17th century. Some of the features of the designers of early rugs may have been copied in later rugs, but most "evolved" with little understanding of the original meanings.
Which brings us to the present, where anyone can promulgate theories of fantastic origin. Snuffalupagus, ridiculous. I concede that the Apatosaurus may not have been the correct dinosaur used as the basis for this design, as they were not found in the mideast. Besides, they didn't have opposing thumbs, so the are obviously not the source of Joel's beautiful little bag face.

Patrick Weiler
March 19th, 2011, 12:10 AM  75
Chuck Wagner
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Pat

Ridiculous ?

I dunno... What is this, with its trunk held upright ? And what about all those stylized fish and sea turtles with geometric and floral patterns on their bodies?



Regards
Chuck Wagner
March 19th, 2011, 12:47 AM   76
Patrick Weiler
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Post-Apocalyptic?

Chuck,

You did not mention where this rug you posted came from. Don't bother. It is obviously a post-Chernobyl Russian rug.
And which creature are you discussing, as there are numerous upturned appendages (try not to think of Steve and his chihuahua Pepe) in that portion of a piece.

Patrick Weiler
March 19th, 2011, 09:08 AM   77
Chris Countryman
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But seriously folks...

So yeah. The discussion of the boteh demonstrates one point here. Whatever that figure is supposed to represent in the culture(s) of the weavers, when a person who does not share the weavers' worldview sees a boteh, he/she projects meaning from within his/her culture or experience onto the symbol. In the case of some Turkotek contributors, it appears that their projections result from their experience of living on another planet.

As for me, I think boteh look like a chihuahua curled up taking a nap. Maybe Pepe inspired more than one image in rugs.

Chris Countryman
March 19th, 2011, 10:17 AM   78
Joel Greifinger
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How many chihuahuas?

Quote:
I think boteh look like a chihuahua curled up taking a nap.
Hi Chris,

Posing it this way leads me to a question bearing on the currently running salon on terminology: what is the plural of boteh in English, 'boteh' or 'botehs'?

Joel Greifinger
March 19th, 2011, 10:27 AM   79
Filiberto Boncompagni
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Hummm! A really botehring question!

Regards,
Filiberto
March 19th, 2011, 11:50 AM   80
Steve Price
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joel Greifinger
Hi Chris,

Posing it this way leads me to a question bearing on the currently running salon on terminology: what is the plural of boteh in English, 'boteh' or 'botehs'?
Hi Joel

Since it's not a word in English, you can do it any way you please and it will still be right.

Regards

Steve Price
March 19th, 2011, 12:21 PM   81
Joel Greifinger
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Right, again

Quote:
you can do it any way you please and it will still be right.
Hi Steve,

In any context, that's what I love to hear.

Joel Greifinger
March 19th, 2011, 01:24 PM  82
Chris Countryman
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Sounds good to me

I wish my wife believed that!!!

Chris Countryman
March 19th, 2011, 04:17 PM   83
Patrick Weiler
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Too Much Information?

Whoa, there, Pepe!!!

Patrick Weiler
March 20th, 2011, 10:55 AM   84
Chuck Wagner
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Pat,

Some follow-up; time to recalibrate that eyeball. Definitely not Russian, and as I recall when I showed this thing about 10 years ago, none of us could really figure out where it fits. It has a northwest Iran look to me - very thin, very floppy. Thin handspun white wool warps, red weft, no warp depression. Note inscription laid in over map of Iran; see below.









On the other topic - hmph - "Pepe the Five Legged Pooch" - sounds like a pub song in the making...

Regards
Chuck Wagner

Last edited by Chuck Wagner; March 20th, 2011 at 02:21 PM. Reason: Dumbness
March 20th, 2011, 11:14 AM   85
Steve Price
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Hi Chuck

Just to keep it accurate: Pepe belonged to my cousin (he's unfortunately passed away, but they had to use an oversize coffin - a regular chihuahua coffin couldn't be closed). Pepe wasn't three legged, he was three hind legged.

Regards

Steve Price
March 20th, 2011, 02:21 PM  86
Chuck Wagner
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Edited accordingly. I blame it on jet lag.
March 20th, 2011, 05:50 PM   87
Patrick Weiler
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Quchan?

Chuck,

Did anyone suggest Quchan as the source of your rug? In the mid/late 1980's a bunch of rugs began appearing in the US with the Quchan designation. There were trade sanctions against Iran at that time and I suspect these rugs made their way out of Iran to the east through Mashad and into Afghanistan.
Your description of the handle, very thin and floppy, was characteristic of these rugs. Many mimicked tribal rugs, such as Qashqai, but the construction was so much different, with fine wool, more knots per inch, and much finer, more expertly-drawn designs.The design on yours is reminiscent of the Indian Vaq-Vaq style, with fantastic creatures abounding.
"Indian vaq vaq (talking heads)" is a description from an ORR volume 16/2 describing a Peter Willborg auction catalog. Also this link, showing a couple of very old examples and an analysis:
http://www.rugreview.com/5grotesk.htm
Your rug is certainly lively, in contrast to poor Pepe.

Patrick Weiler
March 20th, 2011, 06:31 PM   88
Rich Larkin
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Hi Chuck,

Can you describe the quality of wool in that rug? Is it soft and silky? Hard and bristly? Etc.

Rich Larkin
March 20th, 2011, 09:59 PM   89
Chuck Wagner
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Hi Rich,

I would characterize the wool as quite good - not kempy or stiff; still, not exactly like velvet either. The quite short clip doesn't help.


Hi Pat - try this on for size, from Barry O'Connell's site - a page on "Design Migration Along The Silk Route and Origins of Persian Carpet Designs"; here's the link:

http://www.spongobongo.com/chinmenu.htm

Credited as the Azizolahoff Heriz, published in Thompsons "Oriental Rugs":



Compare with:



Regards
Chuck Wagner
March 21st, 2011, 07:01 PM   90
Chris Countryman
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How about...

Hi,

Since this discussion is veering all over the place, could we have a separate thread, say a Pepe thread? The little guy seems to have inspired many of us.

HarHarHarHar,

Chris