The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion
group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental
rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please
include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.
The "Oops" Thesis
One often hears rug collectors suggesting that one quality
that makes a piece seem "tribal," more likely to have
been "woven for use" rather than for sale, more aesthetically
interesting and that may even be an indicator of age, is that
it contains irregularities of some sort. They look at some instances
of less than perfect drawing and use adjectives like "playful,"
"vigorous," "charming," "primal,"
"primitive," or "archaic." These, they say,
are weavings that have avoided the lifeless boredom of mechanical
perfection, especially characteristic of much contemporary commercial
weaving. They are robust expressions of tribal spirit.
Against this group is arrayed another whose central claim
is that very often the irregularities being pointed to and described
both positively and as indicators of tribal authenticity and
/ or age, are simply weaving mistakes. They see those, who celebrate
the virtues of "pleasing irregularities," as.folks
who often simply can't recognize bad weaving. Wendel Swan recently
made a TM presentation in which he included what he called an
"Oops rug," one in which the weaver had clearly made
one mistake after another. I have adopted Wendel's adjective
here to characterize the position of this second group as "The
Oops Thesis." Marla Mallett is noteworthy among those who
argue that clear weaving errors are too often incorrectly celebrated
Now in its starkest form this debate is likely not very interesting.
There are clearly merits on both sides. Jon Thompson in a recent
lecture demonstrated that even the weavers of the Ardabil carpets,
presumably working from a knot-for-knot cartoon, followed it
less than perfectly as they wove. There are small variations
detectable nearly everywhere. Carol Bier in her on-going work
on symmetry and pattern has seemed to suggest that weavers often
set up an expectation of some symmetry in a given design and
then deliberately violate it and that the eye sometimes seems
to experience this as a species of perceptural richness, something
that gives designs a kind of depth and is part of makes them
interesting. On the other hand if we admit that weaving is a
skill then there is clearly bad weaving and some instances of
it are readily recognized.
A more interesting question is at what point does pleasing
variation become objectionable mistake? What, in other words,
is the best statement of the Oops Thesis? And how closely, consistently
and uniformly do we want to recommend its application amongst
ourselves? I want to argue that these narrower questions are
worth exploring, since it is my impression that we lack a sufficiently
clear conception of the rule being recommended and (perhaps,
partly as a result) do not apply it with any real consistency
or uniformity. That too often, for example, we justifiably critique
an Ersari bag face whose guls 'bang into one another" and
then move immediately to praise a neighboring Caucasian rug with
nice color but whose medallions are not in a line, that has an
awkwardly drawn main border, and that is crooked on the bottom
line because of a warp tension problem.
I want to suggest that we proceed in a particular way at the
beginning of this discussion. I have posted a series of images
below. Sometimes they are in pairs or threes for comparison.
Sometimes they are single pieces. In each case, I have posed
a task and/or a question or two for you to consider. I would
like to suggest that each of you take a blank piece of paper
and answer each of the questions before you read anyone else's
comments, then, make your initial post a summary of your experience
with the questions and the results they produced for you.
Here, first, are two old Ersari ensis (PIC1 and PIC2):
1. Describe comparatively the quality of the drawing in PIC1
and PIC2? Does the drawing in PIC1 appeal to you? Why or why
Here are two pieces from the Atlantic Collections catalog
(PIC 3 and PIC4):
2. Describe the drawing of the border in piece on PIC3. How
does it function for you in your liking or disliking of this
piece? Describe overall your reaction to PIC3 in comparison to
the somewhat different weaving that is PIC4.
Here are three images; the first two of a Yomud chuval (PIC5
and PIC6); the third of a Kurdish rug (PIC7).
3. Describe the drawing of the minor guls in the Yomud chuval
(PIC5 and PIC6) in comparison with that of the major guls in
this same piece. Would this chuval be better if the minor guls
were perfectly rendered? Now, looking at the Kurdish rug (PIC7),
indicate whether you believe the drawing of the diagonals on
the three large medallions is the result of weaver inability
or intent? How do the irregularities in the drawing of these
diagonals function for you in your evaluation of PIC7? Do they
enhance or detract from its qualities?
Here is an "Eagle Group torba (PIC8), claimed to have
been shown through carbon dating to be one of considerable age
and (PIC 9), another Kurdish rug, the latter quite clearly a
20th century weaving.
4. First, examine the minor gul on PIC8. Describe your view
of the drawing of this element, noting especially that it appears
not to require any diagonals at all. How does the drawing of
this minor gul function for you in your evaluation of PIC8? Is
it part of what attracts you to it or not? Next, move to PIC9.
What is your opinion of the drawing on this weaving? Is the weaver
drawing in this way for effect or is she working at the limit
of her ability?
Here are two images of what are usually described as Ersari
"ikat" images. PIC10 is in the TM collection (catalog
number 1972.13.2). PIC11 is Plate 211 in the Atlantic Collections
5. I want to ask that you compare and assess just one aspect
of these two pieces (Yes, I can see the curvilinear elem on the
TM piece.) Look at the drawing of the edges (red, edged in white
on PIC10) of the ikat guls in both of them. Then, describe what
differences you see, indicating which of these two drawings of
these lines you see as "superior" and why.
Now that you have considered some aspects of The Oops Thesis
concretely, post your initial findings to the board.
R. John Howe
Cassin and Hoffmeister, "Tent Bag and Tent Bands,"
1988, Plate 38
Dodds, Dennis et al "Oriental Rugs from Atlantic Collections,"
1996, Plates 107, 108.and 211.
O'Bannon, G., "Vanishing Jewels," 1990, Plate 38
Stanzer, W., "Kordi,"1988, page 213 (top)
Thatcher, Amos Bateman, "Turkoman Rugs," 1977, Plate
The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C., Bag Face, Central Asia,
Yomud chuval, Howe, photo and direct scan