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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

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 as virtues.

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 not?

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 catalog.



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 36.
The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C., Bag Face, Central Asia, 1972.13.2.

Yomud chuval, Howe, photo and direct scan


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