TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Ethnographic Rugs?
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  08-13-2001 on 02:11 p.m.
Dear People,
One fact of life is that everything is collected by somebody. I think the object of this Salon is to try to predict what will be collected by the collectors who, in a sense, descend (or ascend, it's just a matter of perspective) from current day mainstream collectors. The current mainstream is not precisely definable, but to a first approximation it's the folks who subscribe to HALI, attend things like ACOR and ICOC, and read what goes on in venues like this one.

It's easy to believe that their tastes will be pretty much in line with our own. After all, we are the Illuminati; we know what's great and what's pedestrian, rug-wise.

Here's some thoughts to chew on. The mainstream rug collector is most interested in ethnographic rugs; the ones least affected by the tastes and preferences of people outside the community in which they were made. It's easy to forget that this is a fairly recent development, certainly not predating World War II. Look at the collections of the well known collectors before then. Most had village and workshop rugs made for sale to outsiders, little tribal material was represented. Utilitarian (that is, other than floor coverings) weavings were of little interest unless they were big enough to be used as floor coverings (ensis and juvals, for example). The interest in Belouch stuff is a development of the past 50 years, as is the attraction of kilims.

Why do you suppose this happened? I think it's part of a much wider intellectual/social adjustment that happened after World War II. American-European views of those not in their direct cultural line changed dramatically (for the better, in my judgment). We no longer refer to tribal arts as "primitive" and the art objects are no longer "curios"; colonialism has become ethically unacceptable; racism is waning. In short, there's a level of respect and interest in cultures and cultural traditions outside our own that was not central to the western mentality prior to the mid-20th century.

Will this still be an exciting way of seeing the world 100 years hence? Maybe, maybe not. The whole notion of cultural differences may become quite ho-hum by then. If that happens, the ethnographic rugs phase of collectorship will have ended. What will replace it? I have no idea. One thing we might consider is that there is a group of rugs that have been popular for centuries (although out of fashion for people who call themselves collectors today): the formal workshop carpet, with mostly floral and arabesque decoration.

Just a point to ponder.



Subject  :  Re:Ethnographic Rugs?
Author  :  Yon Bard mailto:%20doryon@rcn.com
Date  :  08-13-2001 on 05:44 p.m.
Steve, I am sure that at least in part the ascendancy of interest in ethnographic art is due to the entry into the field of middle-class collectors who couldn't afford the classical pieces due to their size and price. Last season Thomas Farnham gave a talk to our Rug Society in which he credited McMullan with being instrumental in starting, or at least fostering, this trend. Once people took to collecting these pieces they naturally started studying them, rather than the other way around.

Regards, Yon

Subject  :  Re:Ethnographic Rugs?
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  08-13-2001 on 06:34 p.m.
Dear Yon,

I don't think the changes in world view that occurred in the west during the past 50 years are the entire story, but I think it is a major factor in this revolution in rug collecting. Collectors are products of their times.

Note that rugs aren't the only art area in which "primitive" gave way to "tribal", and in which the work made its way from museums of anthropology to museums of art. It's true for African artifacts of all sorts, those of American Indians, you name it. I suggest that it wasn't possible until our (we being the American/European cultural group) mindset put those strange, exotic, not-quite-people who lived in low tech societies in places you could read about in National Geographic into the category of respectable, talented, intelligent human beings. The end of colonialism as a respectable way of life depended on the same change in thinking, as did the move towards racial equality in the US.


Steve Price

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