This Question: One Step Back

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Posted by R. John Howe on March 14, 1999 at 06:23:02:

Dear folks -

Initially, I misread Steve's question. I thought that at the beginning he was asking why rug collectors collect rugs period. If fact, I think, he's asking why we collect the particular rugs we do.

I want to go back to this first question but will get to the question asked.

I have never really collected anything before I collected rugs (I own large numbers of books but don't think of them as a collection, no first editions, etc.)And I find the lateness of the onset of my desease comforting, almost as comforting as the apparent fact that Freud owned a few rugs, since quite sinister sources of our collecting urges are sometimes alleged. At bottom, it may not be a pretty thing.

But I think my interest in rugs comes from a more innocuous source (except perhaps for the most thorough-going Freudians): my mother's knee.

My mother has been all her life a skilled craftsperson. She has sewn and knitted and crocheted constantly. Although I didn't share this with the guys on the football team, there was a time, I think, that I could knit and crochet in a beginning way. Simply being near this activity, getting curious about it and indulging that curiosity a bit.

Then, about age twelve I went to a summer camp where one of the activities was the plaiting of colorful plastic lanyards of the type one used to see holding whistles around lifeguard necks at swimming pools. And it became evident that I was very good at this plaiting, enjoyed doing it and so went through a period where I became quite expert in the various plaits and the varieties of plastic gymp that was the raw material.

Advance 20 years: moving into a house with a split foyer and cathedral ceilings we decided to decorate with Danish furniture and plants. I bought a few plant hangers, noticed how expensive they were and said that I thought I could make them. My kids pointed out that there was in the closet and kit from the Smithsonian on macrame that no one had ever opened. I did so and taught myself macrame with this kit.

Macrame is a most democratic skill: if you like tying the next knot you can get pretty good pretty quickly. And I did, tying for about five years seriously and ending by stealing designs from an old retired merchant marine sailor in Baltimore, who had one lung and one kidney but whose spliceless macrame designs went far beyond the things in the books and were (to me) a species of poetry.

Another 10 years later we bacame "Washington" people, dumped the Scandinavian furniture on our children, began to get interested in "antique" furniture and this led (in part) to oriental rugs. I found, once in contact with the rug world a very, very strong attraction, an on-set best captured in Evan Connell, Jr.'s book "The Connoisseur" in which the hero, a NY businessman, waiting for a plane in Albuquerque, walks into a touristy shop, sees a little pre-Columbian stature, buys it utterly on impulse, and by the time he gets to the airport has been to the university, bought several books, talked to a professor about whether his piece could in fact be authentic and is scheming aleady to find the next one.

The delights for me are in the color, the designs but also importantly in the tactile character of weavings. I want very much to get my hands on them and I find reweaving work satisfying because of its constant tactile rewards.

Anyway, that's, I think, where my urge comes from. It's all my mother's fault.

Now as to why it is I like what I like, I'm less sure. Certainly the factors that Steve mentions all play their part and I like a great many different kinds of weavings but I'm especially attracted to Turkoman pieces. I think it has to do with their order and stateliness and the fact that, even if they have elements of chaos, they imposed a rectilinear structure on design that I find very satisfying (I notice that I'm a sucker for certain compartmented designs and this is also true in my tastes for knitted patterns and for many of the macrame things I've tied). Perhaps, a Freudian (again) would say that it has to do with "control," a desire to impose order on one's life. There is something very peaceful for me about looking at a good Turkoman piece. I have kidded friends, recommending to them that their lives would be greatly enhanced if they would spend the time that I do looking into the serene faces of Turkoman guls.

One last thing: I do think that generally speaking old weavings tend to be more desirable that newer ones but I find that I am not uninterested in contemporary weaving (plan to do some myself in order to learn more about the object of our passion) and think it possible that items of weaving art can be produced (sometimes even in commercial settings) today.

Well, that's too much about Steve's question, especially since most of what I've written is one a slightly different one.


R. John Howe

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