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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.

Wendel Swan's Potpourri at The Textile Museum

by John Howe

Potpourri at Washington's Textile Museum are sessions to which both the moderator and the audience can bring any textiles they want for exhibit and discussion. There's a Harold Keshishian version of potpourri and Jerry Thompson does one in his own schtick that I'll show you some time.

One was moderated by Wendel Swan on August 19, 2000.

One of the problems for the moderator of a potpourri session is that you cannot tell how many pieces the audience will bring or even if anyone will bring anything. So potpourri moderators usually "back their hand" a bit.

Wendel had brought a few pieces and this was fortunate since, while there was a good audience,

participants had not brought in many pieces.

I was a little late, didn't hear the beginning and don't have a set of notes, so I've persuaded Wendel to look at the following text and to correct the most glaring errors.

Wendel said that he selected the topic for this potpourri on a very impromptu basis a few months ago and had given little or no thought to developing a theme until he began to dig out some rugs the night before.

He decided that there were few similarities between most Persian and most Turkish rugs, so he elected to show the contrasts between. As a result, he placed at one end of the board a filikli and a Kerman meditation carpet at the other end. It is hard to imagine any two rugs that could have presented more of a contrast in construction and design.

The Turkish rug below is a filikli which was, at the time, Wendel's most recent acquisition. I know that he likes it a great deal and, although its starkly simple design has a kind of dramatic graphic power, I am not yet seeing what he sees in it. My sentiments are apparently shared by Wendel's wife, Diane, who is said to dislike the filikli as much as he likes it.

Wendel is one of the local experienced collectors who has become interested in the question of the likely "origins" of oriental rugs. This, in turn, has led to an interest in more recent weavings that appear to resemble very early rugs in some respects.

Wendel said that this filikli was brought to his attention by Jerry Silverman. Made of curly goat hair with the ivory being undyed, it has exactly one knot per square inch. The seller told Wendel that it is about 50 years old, but Wendel feels that "the technique is probably about as old as in any pile weaving - back to maybe 2 or 3,000 B.C. It could be brand new or 100 years old. This is one instance in which age doesn't matter to me."

This is a very attractive yastik. It has both a wonderful emerald green and a very good purple. It was in the yastiks exhibition at the Philadelphia ICOC and is published in Brian Morehouse's book. Although Morehouse chose another piece for the cover of his book, some folks have whispered to Wendel that they thought this piece the best in that exhibition. (See Hali 91, page 113, where they said: "... almost every piece shown had attractive features, and many were gut-grabbingly beautiful. Wendel Swan's green-ground west Anatolian yastik with an overall design of blossoms was outstanding for both its aesthetic and tactile qualities.")

Wendel pointed out that the ends of this piece were rewoven long ago, and although the synthetic colors used in the restoration clash with the brilliant original dyes, he has chosen not to disturb them because this reweaving suggests that some time quite awhile back someone valued this piece enough to undertake what is a not inconsiderable restoration.

This is a Turkish rug with arch designs that is likely from the Konya region because of its distinctive yellow and its weave. Wendel also indicated that it is dated 1854 and has a mihrab and inverted tulips much like one would find on Ladik prayer rugs. Ladik is near Konya.

Wendel next showed another fairly recent purchase, a Zoroastrian textile with wonderful brilliant colors and exquisitely fine embroidery. To see the latter, here's a closer image.

Wendel said that he bought this piece about two years ago at a major auction house. The simple striped design stands in contrast to the extraordinarily fine embroidery, resulting in a combination of fundamental striped simplicity with elegant details. He presented this on a TurkoTek Show and Tell previously.

Here is pile weaving that may be the side of a mafrash-type cargo bag. Wendel said that for a long while he thought it was Northwest Persian but that some folks have looked at its dark blue ground and suggested that it could be Veramin. Regardless, Wendel said, while there are long rugs and runners with this design, this is the only piece with it in this format of which he knows.

Questions are sometimes raised about whether the Shahsavan, who wove quite wonderful flatweaves, also wove pile rugs. This is a pile rug that Wendel believes may have been woven by the Shahsavan. Although the indicators of Shahsavan pile weaving are (of course) part of the debate, this rug has a distinctive structural feature that may point in that direction.

Wendel pointed also to a another design feature of this rug.

The "bird on a pole" devices in the field interlock with one another to cover the field entirely. This, you may remember from Carol Bier's exhibition on symmetry and pattern in oriental rugs, is an instance of "tessellation" - one device covering an entire area without any spaces or other designs intervening. Versions of this device occur in the designs used by a number of other weaving groups. For example, the Yomud Turkmen use it frequently. Wendel added: "Very few rugs with a true tessellation appear. The design elements here exist in what I believe to be their original proportions - triangular."

This rug, Wendel said, is from Josan, a village between Malayer and Arak (Sarouk). Unlike Sarouks, the Josans are Turkish knotted. He said that it looks quite dark because of the ground color but that the range of color it exhibits on closer examination is actually quite wide. It has another feature which is unusual in anything except Persian rugs: the pile has been clipped in some areas to produce an embossed effect. Wendel said that the embossing is called "souf" by the Persians.

The next rug is an antique Senneh with a nicely drawn "mother and child" boteh design, that somehow escaped Roger Cavana. It is missing end borders but the field is complete. Wendel noted that is has a very unusual square format. He said that he is familiar with two other rugs of the same color palette and design, both of which are large corridor carpets.

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