Attribution: When to Stop

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Posted by R. John Howe on November 15, 1998 at 21:22:42:

Someone has said that one of the great skills to develop in attribution is knowing when to stop.  That is, being able to detect accurately when we have come to the limits of what we know. Daniel's rug might in part be a starting point for a discussion of this issue.

I notice in Edwards book, "The Persian Carpet," (1953) that in his fairly abbreviated treatment of Khamseh weaving, he reports confidently (p. 288) what the Arab, Basiri, Ainalu, Baharlu and Nafar weavers were weaving then and says things about how the older rugs differed, including some structual characteristics that seem to suggest (he
never says this directly) that he can distinguish the weavings of these tribal sub-groups.

Now come to 1981 and James Opie's "Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia."  Opie at this point felt (p. 73) that he could often identify older "Arab-Kamseh" weaving (ed. he labels many photos in this book that way) but said "I have as yet been unable to find anyone who can convincingly pinpoint weavings of any of these three tribes (ed., i.e. "Baharlu, Ainalu and Nafar").  I do narrow several attributions to the "Barhalu or Ainalu" label and suggest a Nafar source for one rug." 

It is clear that Opie was at this point more cautious than was Edwards about what we know in this area.

Now come to Opie's most recent "Tribal Rugs."  On page 192, Opie now says, "Most of the Khameh rugs that I showed in "Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia,"
were ascribed to precise groups within the confederacy, such as 'Arab-Khamseh.'  I now prefer the more general "Khamseh" designation for the great majority of rugs from this group, although a few designs (ed.!) can be ascribed to specific component tribes." 

Opie goes on to say that he is specifically correcting both his own earlier indications and those of Edwards and now feels that the appropriate distinctions are between Khamseh,
Quashqa'i and Afshar.

Daniel has labelled his rug Khamseh Arab, but perhaps only casually so, probably intending no great specificity. (Steve says he had a question mark on this designation in the original version he sent.) But what do we think we know, both here an in other attribution areas? And where should we stop?

As a Turkoman collector I keep asking "What are the important questions we should be exploring?"  Should we be trying to break apart the large Yomud
and/or Ersari groups in our attributions?  But maybe this tendency is wrong-headed. 

DeWitt Mallary, the NYC Balouch collector, came to the TM to speak on Balouch weavings and started by saying that he "knew" a great deal more about Balouch rugs 10 years ago than he knows now.  He then proceded to give a talk that mostly enumerated the various things NOT KNOWN about Balouch weaving.  (I remembered
earlier having attended his walk thru of the Boucher exhibit that he curated thinking that he really didn't have much to say about these rugs.)  I came away from his subsequent TM talk admiring the control he had achieved in last 10 years, mapping the known Balouch ground.

So what say? Should be spending more time
looking at what we think we know even if this means that we (ultimately) have less to talk about amongst ourselves?


R. John Howe

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