Re: Are better rugs peferentially preserved?

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Posted by Wendel Swan on June 21, 1999 at 16:08:26:

In Reply to: Re: Are better rugs peferentially preserved? posted by Michael Wendorf on June 21, 1999 at 11:20:03:

Michael and I have had enough conversations about the preservation of the "better" pieces that I know he fundamentally believes that it is, for the most part, the more cherished pieces that are apt to be preserved.

My perspective is that rug-producing cultures have long recognized "master" weavings, including workshop production. The wealthier citizens bought, or commissioned, the works of the master weavers. They, in turn, were given or at least had access to the better wool and the better dyestuffs. (Analogies could be drawn to almost all other art forms.)

Not only piled carpets, but utilitarian formats (bags, trappings, etc.) have historically been woven in widely varying grades. The wealthy could own the superior products and not use them on a daily basis. To this extent, they were not functionally necessary. The poor never have been able to afford the time or expense of luxury weaving, so there were and are lots of relatively unadorned, coarse weavings. They probably are taken from their areas of production and, if we see them occasionally, we don't pay much attention to them.

In the rug-producing societies, a premium is placed on objects requiring more labor; fineness and regularity have always been more prized than in our western culture, which today often relishes funkiness in "ethnographic" weavings.

Textiles have been viewed, by the people who make them, not only as a sign of wealth, but as commodities with intrinsic value, i.e., wealth itself. When I asked how it is that Turkmen weavings could be preserved for centuries, Elena Tsareva once told me that the Turkmen had "treasuries" in which valuable carpets were deposited as a means of accumulating wealth. I can't explain the workings of such a treasury, but I have heard similar statements made about the Shahsavan. Dowries are a personal corollary.

Whether the preservation/accumulation is collective or individual, it defies logic to believe that they would have kept much other than the superior pieces.

Whether we now concur with one another on "superiority" or accept the maker's definition of that term is another matter entirely. The yatak to which Michael referred (it was in a Chicago rug dealer's inventory from 1916 - 1982) would undoubtedly not have been viewed by the Turks of the period as a masterpiece. But we now may look upon it as an unusually well preserved ethnographic object, but not a great one.

Michael made the following comment, which is certainly valid, but I would like to consider some aspects of it:

"Few things it would seem would be woven just for decoration, much less just for fun or even as "art" for its own sake or value. It seems to me that weavings were made to serve a functional purpose, even if the purpose was commerce."

It is actually quite likely that textiles woven for the wealthy were more decorative than functional, depending on how we define those terms. Many ornate horse covers and trappings, for example, are for purely decorative purposes on ceremonial occasions, yet they are broadly functional and certainly were produced for sale.

I also have never heard of weaving done for "fun" but it was likely done as "art" for patrons, but "art" in a rather different context than we use it in the West.



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