Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-03-2002 03:26 PM:

Kurdish Dragon or Lancet Leaf?

Dear Sophia:

I do not believe that the design you describe as a Kurdish dragon is a dragon or that it is zoomorphic. Nor do I believe it to be a traditional Kurdish design element though Kurdish weavers over the past 250 years or seem to like it. I believe it is a leaf form coming out of an in and out blossom design that became popular beginning in the 18th century. Over time, the most popular overall, drop repeat pattern of which it is an element became quite popularized and is often referred to the Herati pattern.

This dragon, as you call it, or geometricized leaf is seen quite commonly on several groups of Kurdish bags. I have never seen it stand alone as a design. Rather it is always used as a geometricized snapshot of one part of this pattern. I believe that if you take the entire face of the bag in question and compare it to the corresponding part of a Herati design rug you will see the leaf form quite clearly. There are always two leafs surrounding a rosette. Since it is an infiniately repeating pattern, the weaver is able to suggest the entire pattern by weaving just part of it.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-03-2002 04:41 PM:

Dear Michael,

Here is a link to the bag in question.

This way everybody can see the entire bagface. I have another one with a similar design, I can try & get a decent picture of it within the next couple of days.

I have to wonder though - if Kurdish rug weavers have been using this pattern for 250 years - doesn't that make it pretty traditional among them?

Also - looking closely at many dragon rugs - one could also call those forms leaves. Perhaps they represent both? This particular design has always struck me as being zoomorphic. Of course like many abstract designs there's no reason why it can't carry various meanings.

The dragon in Western Christianity has gotten a very bad rap. He is seen as a slimy and horrible creature which goodly knights must slay. However in China and in Native America, dragons are powerful forces of nature, bringing good luck as well as the storms that roil the seas and cause rain to fall on the fields.

As a symbol of nature, then, both bountiful and powerful, why can't a particular design convey the dual idea of dragon and leafing plant? And why are we so certain, just because this design might somewhat represent a Herati pattern, that it is necessarily derived from it? Or that the Kurdish weavers intended to represent the same thing as the Herati designers?

Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-03-2002 06:09 PM:

Dear Sophia,

Thanks for this nice salon.

You've been traveling two times around our tiny planet in your salon, and I liked traveling with you.
I thank you for that.

I once pointed at a Christian Cross design in a rug. The client was very upset by this. She spread out
her arms, looked me deep in my eyes:" This is a Cross! You're showing me a design!" And before I could act, she clapped her hands, crushing my ears while screaming:"Praise the Lord". She kissed my forehead
as if she wanted to suck my brains out and screamed in my left ear: "You're saved my son."
By the time my feet hit the ground again, she was gone, and I was left staring at

I wonder how Christian Mr. Ganntzhorn was because all the crosses he shows are designs made of 1 vertical and 1 horizontal design that meet in the centre. Not a Christian Cross.

(The design is called a scorpion by some. It's a sort of dessert dragon; Spitting poison. A leaf doesn't need legs or could it be a leaf-insect )

Best regards,

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-03-2002 07:03 PM:

in and out blossoms

Dear Sophia:

In Carpets of Central Persia (1976) and other writings, May Beattie referred to a design that she described as "in and out blossoms." This design seems to have its genesis around 1700 in Safavid Persia. A portrait of Nadar Shah, now in the V & A in London inv. no. I.M.20-1919, that dates to the second quarter of the 18th century shows a carpet with such design and examples in the vase technique are known.

As we all know, the Safavids lost power in the face of an Afghan invasion in 1732. Nadar Shah reestablished power a few years later and this portrait probably dates to around 1740. The blossoms on this and related carpets are linked, as Jenny Housego later described them, in units of four, two on the horizontal axis and two on the vertical so as to create a repeating lattice. At some point, the lattice was lost on some versions and these came to be the Herati pattern even though it probably was first created closer to Mashad. What we call the Herati pattern today can, I believe, best be described as follows: typically one horizontal row consists of a palmette, a rosette and another palmette form. The next horizontal row consists of two leaves, possibly lancet leaves, surrounding a rosette, a palmette form and then two more leaves surrounding another rosette. The first horizontal row is then repeated and then the second again until the field ends.

In the 1750s, the Zands gained power. Carpets depicted in Zand paintings show carpets quite close to what we know as Herati patterns including one of Rustam Khan Zand that must date to the second half of the 18th century. It seems quite likely to me that Kurds became aware of this design in the 18th century and adapted in their own way over time. It seems to have been popular. So did other groups. Among the most famous Qashqai carpets are a group, one of which is dated to the 1820s, with a Herati field and a central medallion.

I do not believe it is possible to say that the Herati pattern lost its floral theme in any of these adaptations. Moreover, I am unaware of Kurdish tradition involving dragons or dragon imagery. By contrast, their love of flowers and floral forms is well documented.

When I wrote that I do not consider it a traditional Kurdish design element despite the fact that Kurds have used it, like many others, over a period of perhaps 250 years, I mean that the design element has its origins elsewhere - in Indian and court/urban weavings and is just another of many popular designs that became part of the Kurdish (and other) vocabulary. I also do not mean that Kurds have necessarily woven bags such as that you depict over such a period. I have probably seen 50 or more of these bags in the last 10 years and I have never seen one I thought was older than about 1900 though they could exist. But this is not really the issue. I think it is also important to understand that the Kurdish weaving tradition extends back, in my opinion, far earlier than 1750 or even 1700. While it has become popular to call such rugs evolving out of influences from the 18th century as "proto-Kurdish" this is in my view a complete misnomer. I think Kurds have been weaving for many hundreds of years before that and their ancestors perhaps millenia earlier. In this way, 250 years is relatively late in the tradition.

The rest of your post is difficult for me to respond to directly except to share with you that, in my opinion, you might be trying a little too hard to find symbols and symbolism in some of these weavings. I do not really consider your bag face abstract. To me, it is just a simple, geometricized version of a small part of a Herati pattern. Enough to immediately convey the whole if I have a mental visual image of the pattern. I am persuaded that weavers had such a visual memory. I do not need to find dragons and I do not believe the weaver of your bag did either.

Thank you for the Salon and your reply.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-03-2002 11:04 PM:

Dear Michael:

Thank you for your learned comments! I have no doubt but what in and out flower and leaf designs have been around for a long time. And I think you make an excellent, excellent point about Kurdish weaving - I've always wondered about the "proto-Kurdish" appellation - as you say, the weaving tradition is so much older than that. And I agree, whether the little bag is pre-or-post 1900 is of no importance whatsoever.

But - I am trying to make a point here about perception - both on the artist's part and on ours', the viewers. I can guarantee you, the weaver was not looking at her piece - or its ancestors - the same way we are. And we are seeing two completely different things. You are seeing a simplication of a Herati pattern, a design very much older than this bag; I am seeing - without trying to, without being coached to - dragons. Who knows what the artist saw? Was she looking a herati design carpet, or an image in an old manuscript? I'll bet not! She may never even have seen the pattern except on other bags, in this format! And I'll bet she never heard of Nader Shah, or May Beattie Who's to say WHAT the design came to represent - IF ANYTHING - down through the years?

But - the weaver may well have had her OWN ideas about what the design MEANT. And maybe, she was weaving what I see, which is - dragons. Great winged creatures, bringing rain to fields of flowers.

A simple question: yes, the Kurds have indicated that they like flowers. But why wouldn't they also love animals, and depict them in their rugs? And, if they were perhaps acquainted with the Buddhist symbol, an eastern symbol also, of the flaming lotus, why wouldn't they have made the acquaintance of the dragon?

Now here I would like to quote Picasso on the subject of art. He said, roughly, "Nobody knows less about art than critics - except artists!" So - on that note: maybe people like me, like Gantzhorn, like others who have tried to decipher Turkmen iconography - are "seeing" too much. But - maybe not. If we're perceiving forms as symbols - well, isn't that what Rorschach tests do? Challenge one's abilities to perceive?

Thoughts, anyone?

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-03-2002 11:06 PM:

Note to Vincent

What a beautiful anecdote - I'll go to bed laughing!

Praise be!

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-03-2002 11:41 PM:

my answer and a question

Dear Sophia:

My answer to your question is that Kurds could also love animals and they could depict them in their rugs. They just would not do in a rug or weaving utilizing the Herati pattern, a floral pattern.

You say you see dragons. You say you are seeing them without trying to or being coached to. You can say you see anything, what does that mean? I say, you are probably seeing dragons because you want to see dragons. Or because you have never stopped to deconstruct and understand the elements of the Herati pattern. Before you respond or dismiss what I am saying, go to your library and find some images of some older herati carpets where the design is all on one plane of design just like your bagface. Put pieces of paper over and cover all except those parts of the design that I say you bag consists of. Look at them for five minutes and compare the overall composition of your piece including the stepped polygon like devices that replace the palmette forms and the central element that replaces a rosette form and tell me again that you still see dragons.

And now a question for you, if these are dragons, why are two depicted upside down?

Are you aware that others have called these fish?

Certainly, you will dream well tonight.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Unregistered on 02-04-2002 12:54 AM:


The following link will take you to a web page showing the Herati design.

I believe that one of Sophia's arguments is that, regardless of the source of the iconography, the inspiration of the artist cannot be determined. The earliest dragon carpets may well have been floral carpets until one weaver thought she saw dragons in the flowers and wove a carpet with a dragon-flower in it. Many tribal/nomadic weavers "interpreted" sophisticated urban designs in their more rustic weavings. Their inspiration could have been anything from stone carvings and silk trade-goods to ceramics and architecture. Which direction the designs traveled will probably never be unraveled.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 02-04-2002 10:51 AM:

Nice salon, Sophia. Why couldn't the Kurdish "dragon", or Micheal's "lancelote leaf" be a stylized boteh (whatever that is!)?

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-04-2002 11:42 AM:

lancet leaf or boteh?

Dear Marvin:

The boteh generally is used as a repeating unidirectional palmette device. That is to say, all the botehs are seen in profile and with a single up and down orientation. They many alternate in the way they open, drawn to the left or right, but are not typically mirrored in opposition. The orientation of this bag is not consistent with this boteh tradition in this way or in the drawing of the composition as a whole, though some of the filler devices do seem a little boteh like.

However, I think it is true that botehs have a history of usage in Persian carpet design that dates back at least as far as 1700. The boteh could actually be a good deal older and almost certainly has a longer history than the Herati pattern.

Who is going to take up the fish argument?

Thanks for the post.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 02-04-2002 04:39 PM:


Wasn't there something in the bible about that?

Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-04-2002 05:01 PM:


It's a dragon fish. No.......4 dragon-ink- fish swimming around the prey, spitting ink. And because they're all spitting ink, they keep on swimming in circles. "Hey you, stop spitting ink all over the place!"
"Wooaah, mind your own bussines! You blown up fountain-pen"

Ah..that's why some colors bleed. To much water. "Blub, blub"'s an Herati setting o.k.
I wonder: Did the weaver know she was making the Herati design?

Blub regards,

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-04-2002 07:17 PM:

Fish, Boteh, Scorpion, Leaf?

Dear Michael:

I think the very fact that some people call this the fish design, others the scorpion, Marvin suspects botehs, and I think the darn things are dragons, should raise just a BIT of suspicion about the leaf thing.

At least in the sense that the original design may have "morphed" - if there WAS an "original" design - into something "rare and strange".

As to whether dragons can be upside down: oh please. Everybody knows they FLY And they make The Worst models, cavorting around, rolling on their backs, spitting flame, so forth

Seriously - carpet designers like multi-directional motifs because carpets are seen from many directions, yes? And the small group of four around a central point makes an easy motif to remember, and repeat, which will look good from any angle.

And finally - I think Patrick stated it just exactly right: we can't know what the weaver's inspiration was, or what she wanted to say!

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-05-2002 12:01 AM:

A dragon, a leaf and what the weaver saw

Dear Sophia:

In your Salon, you described the device we have been discussing as a "Kurdish dragon." I wrote that I do not believe it is a dragon, zoomorphic or a traditional "Kurdish" design element. Rather, I made the connection of the element you highlighted in your Salon to part of the Herati pattern. Others have made other suggestions, such as the boteh or a scorpion.

In starting this thread, I thought the point you were attempting to make in your Salon was that this so-called Kurdish dragon, I believe you called it an "iconographic design", came west from China and entered the Kurdish design pool and somehow made its way into the what you describe as the Caucasian design pool and is somehow related to the classical dragon carpets. I also understood that the white image on bag face you depicted was illustrative or representative of this so-called "Kurdish dragon."

In response to my posts in this thread questioning the very existence of the so-called Kurdish dragon, you have written that your point is perception, both the artist's and ours. You ask, who really knows what the artist saw? Maybe the artist had her own ideas about what the design meant when she wove the bagface. Patrick Weiler has added that "regardless of the iconography, the inspiration of the artist cannot be determined." Perhaps this is so, but I do not believe that this point really addresses the issue of whether there is such a thing as a "Kurdish dragon."

You also state that because some people call this element a fish, a scorpion or even a lamp that it should raise some suspicion about my claim that it is a lancet, sickle or other leaf form. I do not think so, but all one needs to do is examine the Herati pattern. However, if it does cast suspicion on my interpretation of this design, it also does so at least equally for your theory that this represents a "Kurdish dragon."

In addition to disagreeing with you about what the design is, I do not agree with you that the issue is the individual weaver's inspiration or our perception of it. The bag face illustrated, which I used to own, is but one of many of the type. If you are going to argue that this bag face is illustrative of an "inconographic Kurdish dragon design" then I believe that it does not matter and should not matter whether the individual weaver of the one illustrated bag face saw a dragon or not. What matters is the tradition, its source and its manifestation over the entire group of weavings carrying this design.

In this regard, I do not believe you have made any demonstration that an "iconographic design" we might call the "Kurdish dragon" exists or ever existed at all among Kurdish weavers beyond the statement that you see dragons when you look at this particular bag face that is probably Kurdish, woven in northwest Persia. So I ask you, do you have any evidence that you can share with us (beyond what you think you see) that would help to establish that there is an "iconographic" Kurdish dragon design?

Thank you.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-05-2002 06:10 AM:

Dear Sophia,

Here they are. "The Night Dragons".

It's an original, very old, complete bag.
Has been used for putting in the night dress and slippers, untill the second world war demolished the house. Since then it hasn't been in use.

Dear Michael,

Herati design? Think that's too easy.
The Herati is mirrored design and has a specific centre.
These bags do not seem to have this.

Best regards,

Posted by Elise Sophia Gates on 02-05-2002 06:11 AM:

Here’s one further thought on the dragons, this from Carl Strock in his letter to the editor, Oriental Rug Review, Vol. 15 Number 4:

“(Ulrich) Schurmann describes the four hooked, predominately white motifs as animals in combat, and indeed they do resemble the dragon carpet motifs that are generally accepted as animals in combat.”

Apparently Mr. Strock had reviewed a similar bagface in an auction review (ORR 15/1 p. 12). He describes himself as having been “skeptical of the ‘animals in combat’ idea” until he “noticed the similarity to No. 93 in Ulrich Shurmann’s
Caucasian Rugs, a rug that Schurmann describes as a 17th century “animal carpet” from Kuba.”

And further:
“Whether Schurmann was right, and whether the generally accepted interpretation is correct, I don’t know. But I do think it reasonable to believe that whatever the motifs are on the early Caucasian rugs, they are the same as those on the bagfaces.”
Perhaps somebody can send us a scan of the referenced carpet? Food for thought, at any rate.

Sophia Gates

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-05-2002 12:36 PM:

Dear Michael:

Oh dear. Let's start with the assertion that the Kurds made dragons. I don't know that they did! But it makes sense that they might have, at least to me. Or, if "dragon" is too strong an idea, some sort of powerful animal. Why wouldn't they have? Weren't they acquainted with the idea? Everybody else in the region seems to have been! And they had much contact with people in the Caucasian region.

I agree with Vincent and others who have written that this design, and seen on this bag and others like it, is zoomorphic in origin. It doesn't feel at all like a Herati - for the reasons given. The curves are wrong and the center isn't strong enough.

I'll tell you another reason I don't think this is a herati derivation: that's a pretty, decorative design with no particular power to it. It is a "wallpaper" pattern. It is pretty and fills space inoffensively. It is NOT the kind of design one would expect to have "legs" (literally and figuratively, in this case!) The four-elements-around-a-center format is universal. It is a design IDEA - not an indicator of a design PRECURSOR, or a proto-design, and in this case the center, as Vincent points out, is barely there!

I feel the same way about the idea that the powerful Eagle rugs derived from an inoffensive little flower in a long-ago, far-away Persian carpet. NOT.

Animal combat, however, is a powerful symbol, full of magic - the kind of idea that would carry down through the ages regardless of the ethnicity of the people who portrayed it or what form it might have taken. The same thing is true of the animal tree, the burning palmettes or botehs, the ashik leaf/eyes: these are symbols, not just decorative designs. And there IS a difference!

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-06-2002 12:11 AM:


Dear Sophia:

I accept the fact that although you call the design element on illustrated bagface a "Kurdish dragon" you do not know that Kurds wove dragons. I assume this also means that you are not aware of any Kurdish traditions involving dragons or dragon imagery. If you are aware of such traditions, I would be most interested to learn of them.

By contrast, there seems to be no doubt that Kurdish weavers know and have known the Herati pattern over a considerable period. Here is a link to a colorful 19th century example:

I would go so far as to say that the Herati pattern is among the 3 or 4 most common and most widespread of patterns woven by Persian Kurdish weavers over the past 150 years. It is found in the weavings of virtually every weaving center known. It is difficult for me to envision a Persian Kurdish weaver who was not familiar with the pattern since at least the 19th century.

As I wrote above, it seems to me that weavings such as that you illustrate and call the Kurdish dragon are clearly related to and derived from the Herati pattern. But I also accept that there are also both village and tribal designs that could be interpreted as improvisation upon a familiar or frequent design or possibly even, as you call it, inspiration. On such occasion, a part or individual units of design may be exaggerated, reinterpreted, elongated etc. I doubt very much, however, whether such improvisation extends to completely new or different "iconography". Jacoby (How to Know Oriental Rugs) once described the process in the following way:

"If a Persian peasant or nomad wants to weave a carpet for his own use he sits down at the loom and starts. He may have a vague idea of the pattern but the details occur to him first as he works. He draws on tradition as does a gifted musician; both know how to improvise, one without notes the other without a model (cartoon)."

John Collins has stated it in a slightly different way: "There are themes in tribal and village weaving which clearly refer to classical design models. These may range from literal, albeit informal, interpretation of the Herati, Mina Khani, Harshang and other older models to less literal but nonetheless referential versions of the garden, vase and other classical forms ... It is my suspicion that design development proceeds first on a graphic level with subjective textural implications following. For instance, we see the serrated leaves in the early Herati design transmorgify into fish. In fact, the design becomes 'mahi-mahi' or 'fish' in Persian" ORR Vol XIII, No. 6 pages 10 - 11.

I could go on with other comments in this vein from many others.

I think it comes down not to your perception, but to this: Unlike dragon imagery, the Herati pattern represents exactly the kind of design tradition that would be familiar enough to offer room for improvisation, deconstruction, simplification or whatever you wish to call it. Furthermore, while it may seem convenient to you, I do not believe it helps your argument to claim that the Herati pattern is "wallpaper." In fact, the Herati pattern has proven to be among the most influential and resiliant design traditions in the last three hundred years of Persian carpet weaving. This fact exists regardless of whether one agrees with me about the source of your "Kurdish dragon" or not.

I am also aware of Carl Strock's bag, his letter and the other correspondence surrounding it. You may recall that several writers wrote to suggest that bag is a Herati snapshot. And those legs you are so fond of - serrated edges of the leaves. Finally, as you might have guessed, I also do not agree with you about the "Eagle" kazak. However, I will end our dialogue here.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-06-2002 12:28 PM:

A Lively Discussion!

Thank you, Michael, for all your thoughts and of course for the link to the lovely rug. Also I shall cherish the little bagface all the more, knowing it was yours!

I have learned a great deal from this exchange and I hope others have too!

John brings up a very interesting point in the Derivation thread - why does Sophia reject some ideas and accept others, as having had long histories or being the basis for continuing designs. John - that's the very crux of something I want to explore next. And yes, I do think we need to look at things differently! Absolutely! Not to throw the baby out with the bath water, but to bring a different perspective to bear. More on this later, I need to write it up in a more coherent form. But there is method to my madness

In any case, I will leave you for now, with the Schurmann carpet #93, referenced in Mr. Strock's letter above:

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-06-2002 04:27 PM:

another carpet to consider

Dear Sophia:

You are welcome. And, it takes guts to offer a Salon.

Anyway, I do not see much connection between Carl's furry bag face and this Caucasian rug. And what is/who wove his little bag? Not much help for the Kurdish dragon theory.

There is, however, another rug that I invite you to consider. A good image is found at plate 11, page 52 of Early Caucasian Rugs by Charles Ellis. This rug does not have any vestige of the Herati pattern, but it does have dragons and other animals that are quite clearly drawn. It has been often thought that this could be a Kurdish carpet, possibly a copy of an earlier rug based on its colors. If there is a Kurdish dragon, this carpet might help you frame the argument. The dragons there seem modeled on Chinese and Persian styles. Perhaps you or someone would be so kind as to scan the image and post it in this thread.

Good luck.

Regards, Michael

Editor's Note: This thread continues on a second page. Clicking on the numeral 2 at the lower left of the screen will bring you to it.

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-06-2002 05:47 PM:

Thank you, Michael, for the suggestion. Meanwhile - I don't have this book - anybody?

BTW - I've been reading about the Kurdish people today. There's a lot of information regarding the recent past and their current situation, but very little about the ancient past.

Their language is Indo-European, related to Farsi, and can be traced back to Zoroastrianism. Unfortunately, they only got a written language in 1921.

It would be helpful if we had some legends or stories, such as the Native American origin myths - but I haven't been able to find any. They apparently do have a strong tradition of oral poetry.

Help, anybody?

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 02-07-2002 03:19 AM:

Hi Sophia,

Check Salon 57, Thread "Influence of Yazdanism and Sufism in Kurdish Weavings" where you can also find this link (another Izady article):

On the Oriental Rug Review website there is a short story: "A Great Man and a Kurdish Carpet" by Kirk Wynn (Vol.13/3).
It seems to be a true story and I’m sure you will love it. Unfortunately I tried to open the website to copy the link, but ORR is off the air. I have the web page on my HD, so if you want I can send it to you by e-mail.


Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-07-2002 12:45 PM:


Dear Filiberto:

This is fascinating! And exactly what I had hoped to find - thank you.

Here is an excerpt from the link:

"Good and evil are believed by the Cult to be equally important and fundamental to the creation and continuation of the material world. The good Angels, are therefore, as venerable as the bad ones, if one may call them so. In fact, without this binary opposition the world would not exist. Cold exists only because there is also its opposite, warm; up is what it is only because there is also down. Good would cease to exist if evil ceased to balance its existence. "Knowledge" and "awareness" in man exist only because good and evil exist in equal force, to be used as points of reference by man to comprehend and balance his being. Good, traditionally represented by the symbol of a dog and evil by the symbol of a serpent, join each other in a dog-headed serpent to represent the embodiment of the act of world creation: the mixture of ether and matter, good and evil, and all other opposites that make up this world. Some reports by European travellers of the late 19th and early 2Oth centuries regarding the veneration of dogs by the Alevis, if true, may point to worship of the symbol of good, since there is plenty of evidence of veneration of the symbol of the serpent (and hence evil) in the Yezidi arts, particularly at their shrines in Lâlish (see Yezidism).

The symbol of a dog-headed serpent finds its precedent in the Kurdish art of the Mannaean period of the 9th century BC. Side-by-side representation of the dog and serpent symbols is already well-known through the ancient Mithraic temple art from England to Iran."

This highlights both the importance of dualism in Eastern religion - a topic I've touched on briefly in the "Icon" post - and the possibility of a Kurdish "dragon" - beautiful. And yes - please - I'd love it if you would email me the piece you have on disc.

This calls for a brief quote from WB Yeats:

"Oh sages standing in God's holy fire
Come, pyrn in a gyre
And be the singing masters of my soul"

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 02-07-2002 12:56 PM:


Here is the link for the story in ORR:

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-07-2002 01:53 PM:

Yezidi serpent

Dear Sophia and Filiberto:

Before anyone gets too excited, the serpent in question is not dragon like. It is a true serpent form with a serpentine S form below the head. The best image of this serpent, in situ, that I am aware of is that of the Khatun at the door of Sheikh Adi. On the wall next to the Khatun is an incredible etched serpent painted black that must close to six feet tall. A photo of this taken by Gertrude Bell about 1911 is found in Susan Meiselas's beautiful book, "KURDISTAN, In the Shadow of History". See pages 34 - 35. A website related to this book is found at:

Gertrude Bell's notes from 1911 are reprinted in the book and are as follows:

"After a climb of close upon two hours, we reached the summit of the hill and the path dipped down through sturdier oak woods, into a secluded valley, out of the heart of which rose the fluted spires of Sheikh Adi, a sanctuary and tiny village embosomed in planes and mulberries and ancient fig-trees. the Khatun...came to meet me...with a black cap upon her head and a heavy linen veil thrown over it and drawn tightly under her chin...

We passed through a doorway into a small paved court, still and peaceful and half-shaded by mulberries. The further side was bounded by the wall of the shrine, which opens into the court by a single door. Upon the wall near the door a snake is carved in relief upon the stones and painted black. With a singular magnetic attraction it catches and holds the eye, and the little court owes to its presence much of the indefinable sense of mystery which hangs over it as surely as hang the spreading branches of the mulberry-trees."

I have only seen a handful of old rugs with anything that might approximate this serpent and one old bag face. This bagface, in my collection, has a medallion design similar to the type illustrated by Daniel in his last Salon (in a two one two Karatchov type design possibly having its origins in the Holbein tradition) and what could be interpreted as a serpent in one minor border. Interesting to consider, however, is whether the much more common floral meander border found on many Kurdish rugs wherein the vine work upon which the flowers are placed forms an elongated "S" motif is somehow related to the serpent imagery. Of course, "S" motifs are universal. However, this Kurdish meander border has always struck me for its scale and drawing.

In terms of the Kurdish identity, I think one must start with the concept of Kurds being people of the mountain. To my knowledge, it is this imagery that dominates primarily.

Regards, Michael

Posted by Sophia_Gates on 02-09-2002 12:06 PM:

Dragon Lovers, Rejoice!

Here’s a treasure I found in the Rugs & Carpets of the World book, edited by Ian Bennett. It’s a Kurdish copy of a Caucasian Dragon rug. The rug is dated C.E. 1689.

Bennett goes on to say, regarding the increasingly geometric nature of Caucasian dragon rugs from approximately the mid 18th century to the mid 19th, that, “while we talk of the design of the dragon rugs as having degenerated, there is a distinct continuity of style, and many of the late examples are of fine quality. What we may also be dealing with is not so much a degeneration as a development from realism to abstraction, a perfectly acceptable progression in most art forms.”

However, I would argue that the geometric style or esthetic was always present in Caucasian rugs. Here is a detail of the Nidge rug, possibly from Kuba, Shirvan or Shusha, dating from about the early 17th century. So any influences from Persia would have collided head-on with a form already fully realized:

Now here, we have a fine example of a Persian rug:

Now – there is some argument that the rug was actually woven in Turkey. Other sources date it to 17th century Persia. Nevertheless it exemplifies the Persian esthetic. Splendid, isn’t it, with its naturalistic animals and intensely curvilinear format!

Here’s another example:

This detail of a splendid carpet, with its delicate scrolling vines and finely drawn blossoms, a complicated design on many layers, says to me “Persia!” And it, and others of its family, is meant to evoke images of love and procreation, of spring and fertile gardens – I think both real and metaphysical:

“When the first down appeared around thy face,
From the streaming of our tears is the carpet of spring
The charter of our good and evil fortune is a down,
Which grows on the rosy cheek of a youthful lover.
A down, fragrant as musk, has come up around thy cheek
O Cypress, when thou was bending toward the rose garden,
Hidden in thy breath were cypress and poplar green.
Al Khizr in the spring, in quest of the water of life
Has again appeared at this season, enveloped in green,
As though the earth, through the bitterness of parting, has sucked up the water.
From it springs up grass in every verdant meadow.
Sufi, burn the blue robe, now that there is a temptation
From wine and flute to turn aside to the green river.”

According to Ian Bennett, verses such as the one above often appear in the borders of such carpets – this particular one appears in the Baker carpet in the Metropolitan Museum. That one also portrays animals and a medallion – just for the sake of accuracy (
pace, Steve!)

This poem is unbelievably sensual. I can close my eyes and I am young again, breathing in the twilit air, stroking the cheek – well –you get the idea! This is akin to a Persian “Song of Solomon”. In these cases, the entire carpet is symbolic!



And here, we have a fragment of a vase carpet, very old, from the early 17th century. This is from the David Sylvester collection and is pictured in the current Hali. Now, note if you will the subtlety, the delicacy of form and the naturalistic drawing on the animals and leaves. The color is gentle and the entire carpet is delicate, magical, refined. Lovely.

And from that, some would have us believe, evolved this!

Does this feel, does is smell, does it TASTE like the lovely Safavid carpets pictured above? Does it have any similarity in color, in drawing, in the message it conveys? I think – ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! To me, this carpet SHOUTS. It says,

“Hallelujah – I am ALIVE!
I am SUN. I am EAGLE.
I am blossom in the fullness of summer.”

THIS is a Caucasian design. It is bold, it is powerful, it is geometric. And it has ancient roots, as old or older than the Persian designs – but very different both in form and in feeling – some philosophers, as I’ve mentioned, believe these are the same. The form IS the content – the bold diagonals, the brilliant color, the huge exuberant size of the sunblossom – they say


Anybody want a dragon? I come with my own phoenix! Let me in! I am beautiful in my own way.

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-09-2002 01:47 PM:

You rejoice prematurely

Dear Sophia:

I find you post very frustrating. The carpet signed Husayn Beg that you found in Bennett's book is the same carpet I gave you the reference to as plate 11 in Early Caucasian Rugs by Charles Grant Ellis. The inscription may be read as October 13, 1592 or October 17, 1689, but is almost certainly copied from another carpet. So now you can see it for yourself. Insofar as a centralized design is very odd for late 17 th century carpet and because of its color and weave which is Z2S dyed red with 2 or 3 shots this is not a Caucasian dragon carpet and is probably a 19th century Kurdish copy of an earlier rug.

As Ellis wrote, "it is not really a pleasure to destroy old idols but in any serious art study the application of new perspectives must at times produce that result. It seems probable that the present carpet represents a free copy, made centuries later, on the model of Husayn Beg's carpet by a weaver whose imitative skills found better accomplishment in dealing with several animal forms than with the other motifs."

Most commentators have agreed that many of the motifs are crude and misplaced. However, even Ellis agrees that the dragons come "closer to Chinese and Persian models than the best of the 17th century dragon rugs and the flaming lions are clearly recognizable.
This fact, however, also gives you nothing to rejoice over. Recall, as I pointed out in citing you to Yetkin in the other thread, that the dragons are used in dragon carpets as filler motifs. Note that on your bag, the so-called Kurdish dragon is drawn 90 degrees or turned to the side and form a primary motif. Completely different from the dragon as used here and in the overwhelming majority of dragon carpets. As Yetkin wrote, "the second major characteristic of dragon carpets are the stylized animal figures and, more especially, the dragons which fill the smaller lozenges."

Your argument/conclusion that the geometric style or aethestic was always present in Caucasian carpets seems to me absolutely unsupported by and, in fact, controverted by the existing corpus of known carpets. Certainly if we are talking about classical Caucasian carpets we can only talk about two main groups - the dragon and the floral. Moreover, the lozenge pattern links them both together. There are no carpets of comparable age that I am aware of that would support your argument/conclusion and certainly the other images you provide do not.

And holding out the Sylvestor carpet as the essence of Persian weaving and then comparing it to the Chelabard; give me a break. The Sylvestor carpet is an anomaly (May Beattie, for example, chose not to publish or exhibit it); but even if it were not, what point does it make to draw an analogy between the Chelabard/eagle and a single classical persian carpet? This does nothing to advance your argument and is frankly a giant step backward in the dialogue I thought we were trying to have.

And the 15th century Phoenix carpet, are you saying this is Caucasian design? Is not this part of the Anatolian influence that Yetkin wrote about?

Regards, Michael

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-09-2002 03:06 PM:


Dear Michael:

I'm grateful to you for having pointed out the carpet - yes, it is the same one! So I'm sorry for having claimed to "discover" it. I thought that it might be. But I was so excited when I saw it

I shall hereby give you FULL CREDIT for having pointed that out.

As far as its age is concerned: does it really matter???? You apparently, for one thing, disagree with Bennett but that's ok. Perhaps this can be sorted out in the afterlife

What I was trying to say in the first place is that I believe there could be a tradition of dragons in Kurdish carpets. And the more I look at the dragon on my bag and the dragon in the 15th century Anatolian rug, the more I think they are similar. The bag with the dragon/leaf and its sharp angular forms is very much more similar in appearance to the Anatolian dragon rug than it is to the fish/leaves in Herati pattern, also known as the fish pattern.

I have argued before that abstract/symbolic art can mean more than one thing so don't get all upset now, ok? I see no reason why a design can't be both arrow and tree. And as I tried to point out in the Icon thread, in my opinion that's one reason for the lasting popularity of geometric, abstract design: shapes and motifs can be layered or embellished or forms can appear in the negative space AROUND a motif, which adds to or completes the meaning. So I refuse to accept that I am "floating into space" here, although that too is recognized as a Yogic ideal

(Anybody see "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"?)

And, I do apologize for having included a vase carpet which May Beattie doesn't approve of. To me it's a very good example of a really pretty vase carpet. There were other examples I could have used but they were all faded - not that natural dyes fade - and said essentially the same thing: delicacy and fine detail. Prettiness vs. Primal Scream.

Michael, I can't provide you with any better "proof" than what I have laid before you: SOMETHING TO LOOK AT. I am a visual artist and a dancer. I LIVE in my body. Music is a first language. And, when I see visual art I LOOK at it. I do not read books and find out what I am supposed to be seeing. THAT was the point of this salon: to provide Turkotek and its participants with a different "point of view" - that of artist's eye.

And as has been pointed out: the fact that my viewpoint is a minority one - and can't be "proven" - at least not to your satisfaction - doesn't mean it isn't valid. It is shared by Alexander, an architect and AMAZING rug collector; and Jung, a famous philospher/psychologist - among many others. As John pointed out! Thank you, John.

And yes, I am aware the 15th century rug is Anatolian. But - the Kurds, do they not, travel into the region. And finally: I have, from all the accounts I read, formed the impression that weaving in the Caucasus region is an old, old craft. Do you give those resident weavers NO CREDIT for having developed their own style? Just look at their flatweaves! Look at those incredible horse covers! In my opinion the geometric style is clearly evident not only in the Nidge rugs but in the "real" dragon carpets and other designs from hundreds of years ago. I'm sure they could have done more curvilinear work had they wanted to. I think they didn't want to.

Also - a note on "filler" ornaments: one of the points I tried to make in my initial "thesis" was that the "filler" ornaments might be very important. Go back & check out the little squares and dragon shapes in the Star-Lattice rug.

Finally, I do NOT understand why a hyperattenuated, super-stylized city style should be considered more vital and weighty than a "folkloric" geometric style, which if you must insist, was provided via the Turkic people although I believe it was local too. Why? Because given the opportunity that's what people MADE. They didn't make fancy, multi-level floral wall - whoops - I meant carpets.

Please - give the weavers and the local designers some credit! If I listen to the "literature" I have to assume that all this fabulous art was the result of bad copying.

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-09-2002 09:19 PM:

ships passing in the night

Dear Sophia:

I conclude that we are like ships passing in the night.

For one thing, I could not care less about receiving credit or not receiving credit for pointing out the Haseyn Beg carpet. Not relevant or of any interest to me. I am only interested in the carpet for what it is and what it is not.

I do not believe I am disagreeing with Bennett, but perhaps I am. I agree that the carpet bears a date; the date can be read in one of two ways. Either date is inconsistent with the objective facts related to this carpet. The most likely conclusion, based on color, weave, structure and handle is a 19th century copy. The age may or may not be important depending on the context. If it is being cited as a evidence of a Kurdish dragon, it is probably only relevant that it seems to be a copy of another rug and woven by Kurds. If it is being used to show some progression and tradition of dragons by Kurds, then the date is probably quite important.

You write that Bennett refers to the increasingly geometric nature of Caucasian dragon carpets from the mid 18th century to the mid 19th century and then adds that while carpet people talk about degeneration, there is in his opinion continuity of style and many fine examples. I do not think I or most people would disagree much with this observation. There is continuity of the style, it just becomes less fluid, less naturalistic and more geometric. And it is this point that Bennett is making. Moreover, do not take my word for it or Bennett's or Yetkin or Ellis - nearly the entire body of dragon carpets is published in two or three easily available sources, read the books and draw your own conclusions.

One thing I do disagree with is the conclusion you draw from Bennett's observation about continuity among the latest woven dragon carpets from earlier dragon carpets. Essentially you take Bennett's observation and turn it on its head. If I understand you, you would say this increasingly geometric nature is a return to the true Caucasian style or aesthetic that was always there. To support this conclusion, you depict the Nidge carpet???

Then you use a 15th century animal carpet to further this and the argument that there is a Kurdish dragon carpet??? I am getting dizzy from all the plot changes here.

Dragons everywhere? Well, dragons surely exist on carpets but which ones, in what orientation, in relation to what, when, where. And a Kurdish dragon? I still have not seen a Kurdish expression of the idea or symbol - as you use these words - of a dragon.

And I do not believe I have any where asked you for proof. I believe I have only asked you for evidence of any kind beyond your personal perception. By all means go to the carpets. In this regard, I now read you latest post to again descend to that place where persons claiming special insight, intuition, perception and knowledge always seem to descend. You show no knowledge of or respect for people like Beattie, Klose, Ellis etc. Never mind they spent lifetimes studying, thinking about, handling carpets you have admittedly little knowledge of.

You tell me I ought to give the weavers some credit and look at their carpets instead of letting the literature tell me what I am seeing. That is precisely what I have asked you to do, listent o the weavers and their output without agenda, having discarded your intuition and perception. Go back and start over.

Regarding me and your admonishment that I give the weavers some credit - you do not know much, if anything, about me or the way I look at or collect carpets and do not really consider you to be in a position to judge me. In fact, I believe I honor and we honor weavers by carefully considering their work, exploring and seeking to understand the traditions behind that work, the context of the weaving and what others see and have concluded about these weaving. Of course, I could do better. But one thing I am fairly confident of, the understanding and appreciation of carpets has much less to do with intuition and much more to do careful and humble study of all available sources. I doubt very much that intuition and perception without a firm grasp of people like Beattie, Ellis, Klose, Yetkin means anything at all just as intuition, perception and probably inspiration mean very little to a weaver without a firn grasp of her weaving tradition, loom and yarn.

Good luck, Michael

Posted by Marla Mallett on 02-10-2002 04:21 PM:

I did indeed hope to stay out of these arguments, as my feelings run so high on the issues being discussed. First of all, writers in the rug field such as Beattie and Close brought lifetime backgrounds in Biology and Physics to the study of rugs. It’s quite natural that they should apply the same kind of methodology as in their scientific lives—collecting endless data. Who, among rug scholars has thus far contributed an artist’s perspective? And dealt thoroughly with the issues of creativity, and the ways in which artists’ perspectives have influenced the art form itself? No one that I can think of. If we ignore the part played by artists’ intuition or pure fancy, or delight in creation, how in the world can we expect to understand the work and its development? Likewise, if we don’t understand the inherent limitations of each process, the restrictions of varying materials and structures, how can we thoroughly understand and appreciate the end products? Cataloging design elements is useful and may help to trace design movements, but cannot go very far in helping anyone understand WHY or how design elements became more abstract, or less so at various points. Rather than resisting diligently, why should any collector not TRY to understand the mindsets of individuals involved in the creative process? And, indeed, belittle those perspectives?! Otherwise, our appreciation of the pieces we collect is sure to be shallow. I wonder if anyone in this group has actually sat with weavers and talked about their weavings with them—to try to elicit notions of why some of their products pleased them immensely, while others failed to do so? To learn what aspects of each piece were especially meaningful? And what aspects of the work they considered “wallpaper”? Every artist and artisan has successes and failures--pieces with aspects that represent small personal triumphs, while others are dull but quite suited for the marketplace and useful because they provide food for the family. Only if we can recognize individual artistic triumphs will we eventually understand “design evolution.”


Posted by Wendel Swan on 02-11-2002 09:03 AM:

The topic

Dear Sophia,

I have struggled to find the nexus between the title of this salon and your introduction or with any of your postings.

You have shown images of Moroccan flatweaves, Kurdish bags, a Turkmen asmalyk, Mimbres bowls, Berber jewelry, some Kustar rugs and even a cat, while rambling about goddesses, women's rights, belly dancing, Chinese calligraphy, symbolism, hard-wiring of the brain and your intuition. In short, almost everything except matters touching upon the design sources of Caucasian rugs.

In this thread you make a statement that resembles a thesis and follow it with your support:

"However, I would argue that the geometric style or esthetic was always present in Caucasian rugs. Here is a detail of the Nigde rug, possibly from Kuba, Shirvan or Shusha, dating from about the early 17th century. So any influences from Persia would have collided head-on with a form already fully realized."

Of the Nigde carpet in his charge at the Metropolitan Museum, Maurice Dimand said: "The diaper and the rich polychromy are reminiscent not only of the dragon rugs but of some Persian vase rugs. Other Kuba floral rugs recall Persian floral rugs, chiefly those of Kurdistan."

You show us a picture of an Eagle Kazak and say:

"Does this feel, does is smell, does it TASTE like the lovely Safavid carpets pictured above? Does it have any similarity in color, in drawing, in the message it conveys? I think - ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! To me, this carpet SHOUTS. It says,

"Hallelujah - I am ALIVE!
I am SUN. I am EAGLE.
I am blossom in the fullness of summer."

THIS is a Caucasian design. It is bold, it is powerful, it is geometric. And it has ancient roots, as old or older than the Persian designs - but very different both in form and in feeling - some philosophers, as I?ve mentioned, believe these are the same. The form IS the content - the bold diagonals, the brilliant color, the huge exuberant size of the sunblossom - they say


Your comparison of the vase carpet and the "Eagle Kazak" reminds me of the tactics employed by the anti-Darwinists in juxtaposing images of a chimpanzee and a proper Englishman and declaring (in your words): "ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

However, I think you have not wisely chosen an example to illustrate your point. Perhaps you accept literally the misnomers "Eagle Kazak" and "sunburst" for this design, but the many authorities who have addressed this issue would argue that the only accurate one is blossom.

The noted scholar Christine Klose, writing with both persuasion and illustrations in issue 14 (December, 1997) of Ghereh magazine, traces the "Eagle Kazak" design back through consecutive carpets groups to the Persian blossom and sickle carpets (a sub-group of the "vase" carpets of the 17th Century.

Aside from your intuition, what is the basis for your assertion that the so-called Eagle Kazak design is, first, a Caucasian design, and secondly has roots as old or older than the Persian design?

Michael Wendorf has wisely suggested that you should familiarize yourself with the works of those who have studied and written about the Caucasian group of rugs, including Charles Grant Ellis. Charlie Ellis probably handled and studied more classical Caucasian carpets than anyone ever has or maybe ever will.

Perhaps your intuition or the chorus of shouts from the rugs will prove Charlie wrong, but he saw undeniable connections between Persia and the Caucasian rugs. To begin with, in Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he notes that Shah Abbas created rug factories in Shirvan and Karabagh and that the sturdy dragon and blossom carpets represent "a significant product of the period when Caucasia was under Persian domination."

Ellis also says that the designs of the smaller and more flexible Caucasian rugs "offer partial paraphrases of elements copied from various sorts of Persian rugs or the ?commercial carpets? of the Caucasus, if not Anatolian prototypes."

Like many other authors, in Early Caucasian Rugs, Ellis notes that the Caucasian dragon rugs are in a design continuum that includes the Harshang and Afshan patterns of both Persian and Indian carpets. Perhaps you might be interested in this observation from the man who spent decades with these old Caucasian rugs in his lap:

"It is the boldness and vitality of their geometric adaptations of curvilinear designing that have blessed them with the impression of novelty. Usually the models have been Persian types which had endless repeat patterns in the manner peculiar to textiles in general."

Murray Eiland is among the scholars who note the connection between Caucasian designs and the Persian Afshan and Harshang patterns, whose roots are in 17th and 18th Century Persian and Indian floral rugs. He has specifically noted the similarity between the Harshang design and the Star Kazak group.

Eiland writes in the latest edition of his Oriental Rug - A Complete Guide: "Indeed, the more one looks at Caucasian design, the more one finds Persian and other outside influences, although they are perhaps less prominent in the Kazak-type rugs. This is not surprising. While Azerbaijan was entirely within the Persian cultural sphere until the Karabagh and Shirvan areas were ceded to Russia in 1813, the Kazak district had a greater variety of influences."

The only thing I could say in your defense in this: It is difficult to describe the weaving traditions of the indigenous people of the Caucasus given the paucity of extant pre-1800 Caucasian weaving outside the dragon and blossom categories. (In fact, the Tabriz Hypothesis of Wertime and Wright argues that the latter could in fact be Persian products.)

The origin of "Caucasian" designs in exterior sources has long been discussed in the literature and at various rug conferences. Those whom I have quoted above would have no problem in coherent disagreement with their work. You owe it to yourself to have at least some familiarity with their writings and to the readers of Turkotek to make at least a preliminary survey of the available sources before assuming that your intuition is unfailing and their works are but irrelevant fodder.

Wendel Swan

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-11-2002 01:19 PM:

Did Apes Descend From Englishmen?

Bravo Marla! Thank you for once again attempting to explain how things are made. This does seem to be difficult for certain people to understand.

Apparently the role of individual creativity and religion; nature; wars; sexuality; political situations in which the artist might find herself; belief systems; and other art forms besides Persian rugs are to be considered unimportant.

And welcome, Wendal, to this discussion. It is always a pleasure to hear your erudite thoughts.

I'm presenting a lot of information because that is how art works. Artists are people who are affected by many things, not just other art. This seems to escape the folks who continue insisting that art strictly derives from other art. And an area as rich in history and ethnic diversity as the Caucasus would by definition be affected by many, many factors.

You mention that it is improper, regardless of what the Eagle/Sunburst/Flower Kazak LOOKS like, it is a flower. Period. Please go back and LOOK AT THE RUG.

And Wendel, please clarify: are you saying the ape descended from the Englishman? Because that's what the Persian design-influence school seems to be insisting upon.

Again: please look at the rugs without fixating on the motifs. DESIGN IS NOT THE SAME THING AS MOTIF. Design consists of shape, color, line, pattern, texture, size, color. MOTIFS can be anything. And yes - I have already agreed that some Caucasian rugs absorbed certain Persian MOTIFS. That is manifestly so. But they did NOT, apparently, absorb the DESIGN. Persian design is floral, curvilinear, delicate, naturalistic. Caucasian design is geometric, bold, highly colored, abstract.

Now: I will read more books if you will make a painting or a rug. I will read more books if you will learn to perform a woman's dance from Asia. I will read more books if you will learn to distinguish Arabic music from Turkish and both from Persian, learn to choreograph a dance from each. I will read more books if you will learn to perform the ritual exorcism dance from North Africa. I will read more books if you will study Dualism and write a paper about it.

For, if we listen to the School Of Design Degeneration, we will have to believe that art is a process of decay and not of creation. We will have to assume that artists spend their time looking at other art (preferably Persian) and not at nature. They are of course cooped up in their houses and do not study nature, how colors are made, how light affects form. They have no religions and they are asexual. Symbols mean nothing to them and neither do real animals and plants.

In short, we wouldn't HAVE any art. And, we probably wouldn't be here because people would be too busy reading to learn how to survive. Which for the human race means: creativity and communication.

Now. I will read more books anyway. Because I am willing to admit when I can learn more. Will you do as I suggest?

Posted by Wendel Swan on 02-11-2002 04:11 PM:

Dear Sophia,

Your post states: "You mention that it is improper, regardless of what the Eagle/Sunburst/Flower Kazak LOOKS like, it is a flower. Period. Please go back and LOOK AT THE RUG."

I clearly did not say that it is a flower. I cited Christine Klose's article as one, among many scholarly works, that traces this particular design back to Persian blossom and sickle carpets.

Sophia, I have looked at that rug. It may surprise you to learn that others have been looking at these for decades and I don't think anyone (who is permitted to walk freely among us) has seriously suggested that it in fact traces back to either an eagle or a sunburst. You may stare at that Eagle Kazak image for as long as you want and fantasize all you want about what it is and what it was and what it shouts to you and what it means. But until you compare it with other weavings and put it in its historical context, its nature will remain your own private fantasy.

Next you say: "And Wendel, please clarify: are you saying the ape descended from the Englishman? Because that's what the Persian design-influence school seems to be insisting upon."

There can be no question that Shah Abbas, as a patron of many arts, caused and enabled many artists to create an abundance of elaborate and ornate work that many Westerners now associate with Persian culture. His pervasive influence endures, just as those of Sulaiman the Magnificent in the 16th Century and Cosimo Medici in the 15th Century have in their respective cultures.

You are the only one suggesting judgmental aspects to the proliferation and adaptation of designs developed during the Savafid dynasty. Writers like Ellis, Dimand, Eiland and Klose have simply recognized that designs change with cultures, time and geography and they have identified some of those changes. They have not used the word evolve, which may imply a qualitative improvement, nor the word devolve, which could imply a degradation.

Incidentally, you have captioned your last post: "Did Apes Descend From Englishmen?" The answer is: could be. It depends on how long the Englishmen spent in the isolation of the African highlands.

You further statement is: "Persian design is floral, curvilinear, delicate, naturalistic. Caucasian design is geometric, bold, highly colored, abstract."

You have reduced the definitions of and distinctions bewteen Persian and Caucasian to an absurdity. Given the ebb and flow of political fortunes in the region, you cannot make such fine distinctions. Where and what Persia was depends on when you were looking for it.

While there is perhaps some basis for seeing Caucasian weavings as essentially more geometric, many Karabagh and Kuba rugs are floral and delicate, while Bakhtiyari, Lori and Qashqai gabbehs are bold and abstract. The Shahsavan produce some textiles that are extremely simple while others are relatively intricate. In many discussions on TurkoTek, I have pointed out the non-representational and geometric nature of many works of Islamic art, including some Persian.

I love your suggestion: "Now: I will read more books if you will make a painting or a rug. I will read more books if you will learn to perform a woman's dance from Asia."

The woman's dance is certainly a novel idea. If I did so and Steve made an mpeg of it, TurkoTek would rival the Comedy Channel. In fact, I just turned down the chance to perform as a non-dancing extra with the Kirov Ballet here in Washington. (I don't think they would have cast me in a woman's role anyway.) But, so what? I can't imagine that doing so would in any way enhance my appreciation or understanding of textiles.

I'll not take up dance or choreography, but I also promise not to write about them or about distinguishing Arabic music from Turkish and both from Persian, or performing the ritual exorcism dance from North Africa. I promise.


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-11-2002 06:34 PM:

shallow waters

Dear Marla:

In reading your post above, I had several reactions. First, I do not believe that I or anyone else contributing to this Salon has said that it is not legitimate to apply one's background, experience or knowledge of the creative process to the study of rugs. If you inferred this from something I wrote, I wish to clarify this point for you. However, I also wish to reaffirm that I think it is equally valid to to bring a background in biology, physics, botony or even law to the study of rugs. It all depends on what you do with it.
Likewise, I think most collectors have been at least somewhat involved in the creative process. For example, I believe that formulating a collection can be creative.

What I reject (and perhaps even belittle to use your word), is the assumption that simply because a person calls themselves an artist or makes their living in the fine arts that this automatically bestows upon them some special power of perception or intuitive powers. Ever stood in front of a judge and jury of your peers and start to second guess your powers of perception and intuition? What about in your classroom? Do you really believe that simply because one person paints in oil instead of in ink or words that one has more power of perception or intuition?

No, I for one do not doubt the legitimacy of experience or knowledge of the creative process. If that were the topic of this Salon, I would keep my lips buttoned and listen and observe. Perhaps there would be something that would deepen what to you is my apparently shallow understanding of rugs.

It it far from that. Sophia has repeatedly stated that she can identify ideas, symbols and significance in some symbols and identify others that have no ideas, symbolism or significance. Front and center is an analysis of dragon carpets and Caucasian design. This despite her openly stating in her Salon that she knows very little about dragon carpets. In fact, based on my readings, this view is stated with a fair amount of condescension for any one who has the temerity to point out gaps, flaws or generally disagree. It is also claimed that this knowledge is so obvious if one only looks that one really not bother to acquaint oneself with the carpets or what others have concluded after a life time of study. The collection of endless data I think you call it.

Here we just disagree. While I may agree that the collection of endless data by itself may not add much, I think that people like Beattie, Klose, Ellis, Yetkin and others have done a lot more than collect endless data. God forbid that someone ever write about you that you spent your life collecting endless data about weaving techniques and structures. I think it is a lot more than that.

In sum, I am all for trying to understand the mindset of weavers and the process of weaving and weaving traditions. I am also all for learning to recognize artistic triumphs, the part played by the weaver's intuition or fancy and anyone who wants to study and write about it just as I am interested in understanding the inherent limitations of the weaving process and the restrictions of varying materials and structures. I just do not see it in this Salon. What I see is A Thought She Really Digs, and then Working to Stick the Big Toe Into the Shoe Until it Fits. This is now Cinderella fable. Take the Eagle/Chelabard juxtaposed with the vase carpet in this thread which we are asked to smell and taste. These images are used to show the alleged bold, geometric essence of Caucasian design versus Persian design. Nevermind we are comparing a classical urban workshop carpet against a 19th century tribal or village carpet. Exactly the same impression could be made my taking a Caucasian dragon carpet and juxtaposing it against any of thousands of bold, geometric 19th century persian tribal carpets. And it would misinform us just as much about the essence of design, symbol, idea and significance.

Best to you, Michael

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-11-2002 08:11 PM:

Hi Marla -

Glad to see your couldn't stay out.

I know that you feel it very important that we honor the weaver's perspective in our examination of weavings and mostly I think this has resulted in some useful corrections with regard to some tendencies.

But in this salon, it seems to me, Sophia has not just said that it would be useful to adopt the weaver's perspective, she has claimed (without any real evidence as far as I can tell) that, not just she, but all of us, CAN discern the meanings that various rug designs had for their weavers long after the latter have been dead and gone and without our consulting them at all.

It is this latter claim and the general tendency to argue by assertion and to claim insight, but to resist looking for and at evidence evidence related to the claims being made that has moved some of us in the direction of doubt.

You said at one point in another post here that in your experience the perspectives of the weavers you have known has always turned out to be similar to your own. Now if that were formulated with a little precision and tested in subsequent experience and these similarities you noticed persisted in this test, then we might have gone a little way toward mobilizing some evidence from which a species of hard wiring might be inferred.

But we do not seem to be advancing in that way. In fact, we now appear to be receding into the assertion of what might be called "privileged hypotheses." The heat is rising but the light is getting dimmer.


R. John Howe

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-12-2002 12:20 AM:

Form, Gentlemen! FORM!

John/Wendal/Michael - please! I am not claiming to be able to read "meanings". I am claiming that we can use design/visual language, the basics of which I provided for you (did you bother to LOOK at that thread?) - to look at art from a FORMAL perspective and understand it in that light.

This is my WORK. This is what I DO. It's what I've BEEN doing essentially all my life. My parents were both fine and commercial artists - I started learning this stuff before I could read. I have tried to give some ideas to you as to how you can understand this way of learning/seeing but I've been met with nothing but mockery. I was not kidding when I suggested that Wendal (and the rest of you) should perhaps try to immerse yourselves in other forms of education. Are you so wise that you can't grow? Are you so positive that linear thinking and book learning are the only ways to see and grow?

And speaking of book learning: methinks a few months studying ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese and Persian, Greek and Minoan, Hebrew, Etruscan and Roman art/history, myth and symbolism would not be amiss. Apparently these rather musty ideas I've been presenting are striking some of you as really radical! They are NOT. They have been around practically forever. But then, I have a degree in art history

I, meanwhile, will be reading more about rugs. And, ancient Kurdish history. Also more about the Armenians and the Zoroastrians. You?

Other writers have met with scorn on this board for suggesting that rugs contain information that hasn't been popularly read or understood yet. What I am proposing is not so radical, it's merely how designers and artists work to create art. And the study of symbol, myth and iconography is a respected field of inquiry into human life and human history. And I do believe, that since women are the primary weavers of most tribal and village rugs - the ones I love, the ones I believed most Turkotek contributors like too, that some information on women's studies wouldn't be remiss either

Truthfully, if you won't open your eyes and ears a little I think I am going to cry

But seriously - I've put a great deal of time and energy into this salon. I done copious amounts of research and spent hours and hours and hours preparing scans, trying to provide images and concrete information that you can grab ahold of to SEE what I'm trying to say. I did not want to simply rehash stuff that you already know or that you would simply & easily agree with.

These are fields of endeavor which are taken seriously both in the academic and the "real" world, so I do not understand why you are determined not to try and look at what I've done, slow down and drop the prejudices, read the threads on icon/symbol and design, reread my initial salon, and see if you can't get SOMETHING out of it.

Some very intelligent and creative people have written comments contradictory to yours, so I'm not worried. Obviously people do not feel this salon has been a waste of time. And, my friend Sam Gorden has given me permission to quote from his work - thank you Sam - I'll put some of his thoughts up later this evening or tomorrow, from works which he's previously written, and which bear directly on this subject. Sam knows approximately 100 times as much as I do, yet his outlook on the subject is very similar.

And so you'll know - I was invited to do this - it was not my idea. I have not been rude, or at any rate nearly as rude as I can be, in the face of several days of battering. Indeed, I have tried to keep the tone light & humorous and still hold to my points and try to share my insights. It occurs to me that several people have been thrown off Turkotek for less insulting behavior than you have shown to me. It is not I who am proclaiming to know everything - it is YOU.

And, if you will PLEASE go back and read my initial "thesis", you will look at the rugs. You will notice they are all 19th century rugs. Yet Wendal doesn't think I should be talking about those in the same breath with 17th century Persians. Hello? I'm not the one who says they are descendants of 17th century persian rugs. You are. I said off the bat I'm not an expert on old dragon rugs, but that I think they show evidence - FORMAL EVIDENCE, gentlemen, not cryptic symbolism - of a strong design system based on squared-off geometric forms, high coloration, and larger, simpler shapes rather than dainty little linear shapes. Wendal, obviously I am stressing the point in order to differentiate between Persian design types and Caucasian design types. And if you'll read my initial thesis, you will see that I have taken into account the possibility of idea transfer between the Caucasian and Persian TRIBAL carpets - the same strong geometric shapes you reference. THAT is an idea of DESIGN TRANSFER - not mere MOTIF TRANSFER.

So - what is the problem? That I refuse to tamely admit that the strong graphic shape on my bagface is a leaf, regardless of what it looks like; or that the Kurds might have been acquainted with dragons - or scorpions, if dragons are too intense - why is this so strange? Other scholars and collectors have apparently thought bags of this type have a zoological basis - so? Are they all wet too?

As far as the symbols go: see the design thread and you will find there referenced a book you can read. Gentlemen, in the areas of myth and symbol, music, painting and dance, making art and studying the links between concrete art and the subconscious mind, the mind of dream and myth - you are in my house. Yet you give me no credit for having any knowledge whatsover, and claim that the only kind that means anything is what Other People Have Said.

These things are real. They have existed for thousands of years. They were our language before we had written languages. There is a tremendous amount of literature on these subjects. I am suggesting that you let a LITTLE BIT OF IT into your minds and hearts.

I have admitted areas in which my initial thoughts were weak or incomplete, such as the transfer of motifs from Persian rugs into the eastern region of the Caucasus. However, from a FORMAL STANDPOINT, Persian DESIGN did not, to my mind, prove to be the dominant strain in Caucasian art. I do not understand why this is so hard to see. The "evidence" is in the rugs: what do they LOOK LIKE. Yes, there is overlap. No, the Persian strain did not prove to be dominant. In my opinion. From a formal standpoint.

Why? I think, because people weaving in the Caucasian region had their OWN design ideas, and they made those.

Here's another question: Wendal, on the one hand you scorn me for looking at 19th century rugs, yet you also say that there's no evidence of ones older than 1800. So? What am I supposed to look at?

I, at least, am trying to shed some light on matters.

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-12-2002 07:18 AM:

Hi Sopia -

Just an aside. You may preoccupy Wendel a bit if you persist in awarding him an "a" rather than an "e" in the second syllable of his first name.

But in more direct response to what you say immediately above, I think, with all due respect and with utter friendliness you HAVE claimed that both you and we can "read" the meanings the weavers of the past experienced as they wove the rugs we collect.

Here is one sentence you wrote in another thread that gave both Steve and I pause:

"...the people who MADE the rugs had feelings, and their designs REFLECTED or EMBODIED those feelings. AND - they still have the power to invoke those feelings in you..."

Now I may misread you, but I think you are saying that we can have empathetically the same feelings the weavers had when they wove the designs in their rugs. And I think your use of the terms "hard wiring" and "collective consciousness" is congruent with that claim.

But now you say that you are NOT claiming that we can "read" the designs in the rugs. This seems to me to be a shift in position and I'm not following the distinction being made.

By the way, I intend nothing unfriendly in my own persistence. Nearly all our hosts are invited and we mean to treat them well. But it is true that when you are in the arena of ideas, folks may "come after you" a bit, and you are unavoidably accountable for what you are heard to say. Especially if you are not a devotee of Aristotilean logic.


R. John Howe

Posted by Christoph Huber on 02-12-2002 07:40 AM:

Dear all

I wanted to stay out of the discussion too and although I doubt to be of great help I have to express my surprise about the seemingly irreconcilability of the Persian-Caucasian-thread. I think you're speaking of different 'levels', which have both their own value and don't really contradict:

It is very clear that most Caucasian rugs owe very much to Persian predecessors.
It is very clear that many (19th century) Caucasian rugs look, feel, are very different from Persian models.
Caucasian rugs adopt the 'blueprint' of Persian workshop models (Michael's, ... point) AND they introduce new colour concepts, scales etc. thus achieving a very different, new 'form' (Sophia's point).

A similar dispute may could be provoked about Picasso's (,...) work: It is said to be inspired (among other things of course) by African tribal art. While it seems to me important to mention this substantial source of inspiration it doesn't belittle Picasso's own creativity (perhaps on the contrary) and it doesn't explain his whole work and yet...

Possible points for discussion could for example have been:
What reasons could be found for the different approaches / "styles", from the standpoint of the weavers, the technical possibilities, the market, ...?
The creative "digestion" of classical Persian models produced in Caucasian and South Persian villages rather different results. Why?
Why didn't Caucasian weavers, expressing themselves in a very different way from the workshop carpets they're depending on, invent something really new or relied on the indigenous Caucasian tradition (if there was any...)? It's a kind of "new vine in old tubes", isn't it?
How much of what makes up the "Caucasian character" has to do with scale? (The carpets became smaller while at the same time the ornaments on them grew. Is this change (at this scale) unique to Caucasian carpets?)
What about the surprising boldness borders of Safavid (NW-Persian Medallion-) carpets in comparison to the field can have? What are the reasons for these style-means? Have they something to do with Caucasian village weavers?

Best regards,

Posted by Marla Mallett on 02-12-2002 09:30 AM:

I wrote the following comments before reading the last three posts, so it deals with earlier points. Sorry.

Since the names of Ellis, Beattie and others have been raised repeatedly in this discussion, and cited as the most important sources of wisdom with regard to our subject, I think we should consider what’s in those treatises. Let’s take Ellis, for example. With all due respect for the years and care he put into his studies, I submit that his writings teach us virtually nothing about woven FOLK ART.

First of all, he deals almost solely with one kind of carpet genre—16th and 17th century carpets designed by workshop pen-and-paper artists and executed by robot weaver copists. In his writings, we typically find the following: 1. He describes at great length the carpet we can see for ourselves in the plate on the opposite page; 2. He lists comparable or closely related carpets in other public or private collections; 3. When possible, he shows us European paintings which include similar examples, thus helping to date the pieces and establish that they were successful commercial products often made for foreign markets; 4. He occasionally shows examples of related motifs in other media; 5. He speculates on the place of production, often with little or no evidence—sometimes pressing his ideas in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary (as with well-documented “Transylvanian” imports into Hungary from Turkey); 6. He dismisses village “spin-offs” with a disgusted shrug. If you doubt this, his attitude is summed up in his damning review of the Kircheim “Orient Stars” exhibition at the Hamburg ICOC which was published by ORR. He views the most remarkable pieces in that collection as crude and degenerate objects artificially elevated to undeserved status.

I submit that there is a very big difference between DEGENERATE design and DERIVATIVE design. All visual ideas devised by humans come from somewhere, not out of a vacuum, but this does not make the earliest works necessarily the best or most significant.

Unfortunately, scholars so fascinated with ostentatious “classic” furnishing rugs have tended to think about all carpets in the same way—as products which merely degenerated in successive production, especially when country weavers spun off quite different products. As ideas (sometimes both layout and motif) were plucked from workshop products by village weavers, they often were transformed into gutsy, much more primitive TEXTILE products—objects actually well suited to WEAVING processes and structures—by individuals free to exercise their own judgments about what to do with the forms, and how to adapt the ideas and motifs to better suit their medium. So, were these more primitive objects degenerate and inferior? Sometimes. Or were they superior textile art? Sometimes. Depended upon the skill and ingenuity of the individuals involved. Among untutored country weavers, it is truly amazing that so many fascinating and even powerful pieces resulted. WHY is it that so many of us react much more strongly to these true TEXTILE objects than to the often beautiful but also soul-less workshop productions that frequently stretched the medium to its limits and beyond? The most successful woven folk art that incorporated city motifs TRANSFORMED them, rather than merely COPYING them. Copywork in such instances often merely resulted in a poor use of scale—a characteristic that many people tend to describe as “poor drawing.” Not just wallpaper, but inferior wallpaper.

Occasionally, dedicated scholars of “classic” pile carpets and other weavings have even misunderstood instances in which structural and technical textile constraints have shaped designs directly. The best example of this misunderstanding appears in Werner Bruggeman’s YAYLA, the thick catalog of his ICOC kilim exhibition in Berlin, and in Christine Klose’s defense of his treatise. In this lengthy German text Bruggeman attempts mightily to derive a whole range of very early Anatolian Turkmen kilim designs from Anatolian pile workshop carpets!

Thus I cannot agree with Michael’s opinion that “the understanding and appreciation of carpets has much less to do with intuition and much more to do careful and humble study of all available sources.” He goes on to say, “I doubt very much that intuition and perception without a firm grasp of people like Beattie, Ellis, Klose, Yetkin means anything at all…” I personally cannot accept that the perspective of these scholars is the only valid, or even most valid, perspective when dealing with a wide range of West and Central Asian woven artifacts. Nor do I think it as relevant as a study of the rugs themselves and their varying aesthetics.


Posted by Yon Bard on 02-12-2002 10:06 AM:

Sophia, as far as I can tell (and forgive me if I have missed it) you have not responded to the assertion that the difference between large-scale linear geometric designs and small-scale curvilinear designs is not between Caucasian and Persian but between rural (village and nomadic) and urban or royal-court work. These differences have to do with the technical resources available to the weavers rather than with their geographic, national, or religious differences.

It would have been interesting to discuss the sources of the differences between the weaving styles of different rural groups - say East and West Caucasian vs. Turkomen vs. S.W. Persian vs. East and West Anatolian. They all draw from a common, or at least overlapping pool of motifs and they all use linear geometric interpretations of them, but yet they are (at least most of the time) recognizably distinct. This would be more interesting than rehashing the arguments about origin and meaning of the motifs, which, if I understand correctly, was not your intention. Perhaps the title of the Salon - 'Design Sources ...' - was misinterpreted by most participants (including myself) to refer to the motifs. If so, we should erase everything said so far and start from scratch.

Regards, Yon

Editor's Note: This thread continues on a second page. Clicking on the numeral 3 at the lower left of the screen will bring you to it.

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-12-2002 02:50 PM:

city, village, tribal/folk

Dear Colleagues:

I tend to agree with Yon and Christoph that it might be wise to start over and focus on traditional folk art, or village and tribal weavings and ignore the urban/workshop carpets. I believe that we have been hopelessly sidetracked by some unfortunate references and examples of dragon carpts and dragons in the Salon when what Sophia really wants to discuss is more related to form and content among indigenous weavers. Do I have it Sophia?

When wearing a teacher's hat, I have always found it helpful, (and my students have found it helpful) to talk initially about the context in which a rug or carpet is woven. In this regard, I try to demonstrate that the criteria by which we assess and appreciate a weaving depends in part on the answer to the question of the context of production. Though there is overlap, I use the catagories of (1)city or urban commercial production, (2) village or cottage industry and (3) tribal or folk rugs. Many writers and collectors have considered this issue in relation to Caucasian carpets, but none from Sophia's perspective - among them Schurrmann and Burns for starters.

And Marla, I think you mischaracterize what I wrote. I did not say people like Ellis, Klose, Yetkin are the only source or the only valid source of information or understanding. What I said is that we need to humbly and carefully use any and all sources and that intuition and perception, without a firm grounding of available sources including people like these writers (certainly in relation to classical Caucasian weaving), does not amount to much. Similarly, I still find it difficult to believe that intuition, perception and even inspiration mean much in a weaver with no firm grounding in her tradition, her loom and her yarn. How exactly does she communicate if she is not familar with her vocabulary? In fact, I do not read Sophia to argue otherwise. I will defer to you on this point in any event.

Best, Michael

Posted by Marla Mallett on 02-12-2002 03:28 PM:


What does that mean: “a weaver with no firm grounding in her tradition, her loom and her yarn”? I don’t believe anyone has mentioned inadequate craftsmanship, or lack of basic mechanical weaving skills. What do these have to do with a weaver's "vocabulary"?


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-12-2002 03:46 PM:

an analogy


My use of tradition, loom and yarn is meant as an analogy to a writer who has no knowledge or awareness of those sources who precede him on the subject on which he writes.

Best to you, Michael

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-12-2002 04:12 PM:


Dear Yon,

I don't think we've been spinning our wheels at all. It's difficult when first confronted with the problem to define the differences between design and motif, symbol and pattern. So we're beginning to develop a language which should help us see differently.

I agree, it would be interesting to discuss the differences between east and west Caucasian rugs from a design standpoint.
And the differences between Turkmen and Caucasian rugs, so forth.

Why did people choose different design ideas?

I submit, they chose different ideas because they had different things to SAY.

John - I'm not contradicting myself. I'm saying we respond viscerally to certain art - on a subconscious level - some people prefer to think that doesn't happen at all.

And, we respond consciously, to certain imagery or color ranges that were put there deliberately by the artist and which contain symbolic and/or iconic meanings.

No, we can't know EXACTLY what those were, especially in the case of a form in which there is virtually no written history to corroborate their production. It gets very tricky in the case of an area like the Caucasus, in which many ethnic and religious groups reside and through which many people travel. Nevertheless, one can argue, as Gantzhorn does, that crosses in some instances are indeed referrels to Jesus, and in others, the square forms are symbols of the Ka'aba. I am arguing that hand and eye forms have very old and nearly universal atropaic meanings. Dragons have multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings.

It gets more complicated when we recognize the fact that artists, when we work, are frequently making subconscious choices. Often we work almost in a trance-like state. This happens most frequently of course when one is making abstract or semi/abstract images - but even the very choice of imagery or style is not so much a conscious choice as a feeling of pressure inside the skull.

Art may be governed by conscious choices in terms of design elements, formal elements, but the desire to create and the statement that wants to crawl out come from a different level of the brain. Alas, as Picasso said, "nobody knows less about art. . .than artists" SO, it can come as quite a shock when a visitor to the studio detects dragons in the soup

In the case of many forms, such as the cross, Marla argues correctly that these might have been an outgrowth of the technique of weaving. And again, some of us would prefer to believe that art contains no symbolism, at least not that which can truly be "read" and understood by - yes - all, or at least all who are versed in the language of symbolism used in a particular piece.

For example: you grew up in the US, presumably in a Christian home or at least in a Christian environment. Yet - I'd wager that when you look at Memling's painting you are not "reading" it. You are not versed in the very specific iconography of that and a whole body of related paintings. Not having been trained in this system of "reading" a painting, you resist the idea that it exists at all. However, a course in the history of Western painting would quickly disabuse you of that notion. Painters had to make things just so in terms of iconography or the painting wouldn't convey the proper message. Don't forget, this was before most people could read and The Church was reinforcing its message.

It gets, as I've stated, much more complicated with rugs. With the exception of the Persian court-type rugs which are clearly inscribed, and which most certainly reference garden imagery, the rugs of the Turkmen or the Caucasian village weaver are drawing upon an image-pool or symbol-language which is much more ambiguous. Research in this area would definitely be a fascinating study. However - there are certain images which do clearly serve as symbols. I've tried to point a few of those out.

So - when is a cigar, just a cigar? Well, that's one field I'm suggesting we need to learn more about.

On the subject of FORMAL development, design development, I think it's more clear and easier to understand. Matters of choice in scale, color, creating blocky forms instead of curvy ones, coarseness of weave, which technique to use at all - these are deliberate and can be varied by the individual weaver. I believe that these are matters of choice DEPENDING UPON A NUMBER OF FACTORS.

For example: let's say a weaver wants to make a rug and she's poor. So, she makes a fairly small rug in a fairly coarse weave. But, she can afford beautifully dyed wool in a range of reds and golds. And, she personally enjoys floral forms, but she's not a terribly experienced weaver and she's strung her warps coarsely - i.e., she has less warps, bigger knots, so forth. So, her rug comes out small, coarsely woven, with blocky flowers and vibrant warm colors. It's an expression! Just like a painting.

Now: next door, the lady has more money and she's a more experienced weaver. She HATES floral forms and prefers subtle color. So, she makes a more finely woven piece but it has to cover the wall behind the couch so it's larger than the neighbors'. Her rug comes out in a subtle range of blues, tans, and golds with a finely honed star pattern, very sharp-edged and geometric. This is ALSO an expression.

Is this making sense?

I'm sure you've all encountered Turkmen weavings or even Baluchis with extraordinarily fine weaving, and others, same tribe and era, coarser and with different designs. Even among the apparently similar Turkmen weavings there is great variation to people who are used to looking at them. These are expressions within a type of design which these people adapted and developed as their own. Why, I don't know. A good topic for discussion, though! Some folks have suggested that Turkmen rugs are red because they had to buy indigo. This is apparently true - but I submit, if the Turkmen weavers had really and truly wanted to make BLUE rugs - they would have found the means.

I believe art is often a matter of the differential between necessity and desire. We DESIRE to say something, to make something; we are limited OR driven by necessity - we want to make a red painting but have no red paint. We REALLY want to make a red painting, we STEAL the red paint. The Quashqua'i weavers who made those exquisitely fine millefiore prayer rugs - they REALLY wanted to make those! And likewise: I think the Caucasian weavers liked coarser, more geometric rugs. They were more expressive of what they wanted to say.

PS: Sorry Wendel

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 02-12-2002 04:32 PM:


Dear Sophia:

How do you square this with my general observation that the weavers who lived in more mountainous areas of the Caucasus created rugs that are typically heavier, longer piled, bolder and simpler than those weavers from the lower and coastal areas? Rugs from these lower and coastal areas tend to have shorter cut pile, with more varied and complex designs and color combinations.

Best, Michael

Posted by Sophia Gates on 02-12-2002 06:38 PM:

Lone Wolves? Not!

Dear Michael:

One can easily reconcile the presence of individual artists creating within a given region the same way one squares the presence of "movements" in art history, for example, the Impressionists.

A group of people, probably living in close proximity and around the same time period, share similar belief-systems, environments, and perhaps economic situations. Thus, they communicate with one another and develop what could be considered a "regional style". In other words, all the artists within the movement are individuals and to people who are trained to do so, their work can be discerned - it's hard if you aren't trained - and sometimes even if you are - to tell a Cubist era Braque from a Picasso. That's because they're working on the same problems, with the same materials, and also communicating with one another.

However, differences can be greater or smaller. For example even among just the Kazaks one will find many degrees of shagginess, knot count, coloration and design. Because these people are working within a "movement", as it were, their work will be more similar than different - just as Cubist work is different from Impressionist.

Artists in America, and since the Romantic movement in Europe, have been unfortunately perceived - and often live - as real lone wolves. However, this wasn't always true in Europe and isn't true among Native American groups. I believe it probably wasn't at all true among Eastern weavers - Marla, any comments? Art is much more of a communal, shared activity in these cases. Also, the reasons for producing vary greatly depending upon the place, time, culture and economic conditions the artist is working in.

A Navajo sandpainter, for example, is by definition a shaman or a shaman's assistant. These are called "singers" in Dineh tradition and the sandpaintings are used in healing ceremonies. These artists follow very particular designs every time, or the "place where the gods come & go" won't call the gods at all. This is why sandpainting rugs aren't the same as real sandpaintings: they've been carefully altered in certain details. Thus they are beautiful, decorative and functional but not "alive". On the other hand, there is room within even the traditional sandpaintings for some individual expression - tobacco bags, for instance, can perhaps be varied a bit. This might be akin to certain African carvings which are said to literally be alive - they have real power to these people and creating them is a very serious responsibility.

Whether tribal weavings have this kind of power - outside of the North African tradition - is an open question. I think some writers believe they do. Others might prefer to see them more as repositories of traditional symbols and designs but not really "alive". In these cases, however, they do seem to follow a certain rather precise design with but minor variations within a certain framework. The very conservative nature of these weavings tends to lend some support to the idea that they do have a symbolic or iconic purpose. It's very difficult to prove this without written language verification and stories from living weavers are vague and contradictory.

That's why I've suggested that an immersion in the culture - the music, the dance, languages, other art forms, anthropological studies, religious studies - in the Mesopotamian region alone we are dealing with THOUSANDS of years and hundreds of religions, cultural ideas and sects - all would help us understand the art that is produced by these cultures. And I do believe that real understanding can only come from doing. Reading is good up to a point but listening to music is better, learning to dance is better, learning to speak a language, connect with people who are writing down oral traditions and poetry - better! Learning to make - BEST!

On the level of village weaving, or settled nomadic weaving, I think we start to see more individualism. Life is both subject to more outside influences, bringing fresh ideas, but also may create a need for cash producing products. Economic pressure for people to continue - or begin - to create certain designs might account, for example, for the lasting presence of Persian motifs in Eastern Caucasian rugs although the DESIGN of those rugs remains bolder, more geometric, and differently colored than their Persian neighbors'. Why? Because, I think, they liked them that way! There's no real reason why these women, or the designers who tried to codify the designs under the Russians, couldn't have made or designed more finely woven, curvilinear rugs - except that they wouldn't have pleased their makers. And, people looking for Caucasian Rugs would have been very disappointed!

In any case, the divorce of artist from culture is a relatively modern idea. A tragic one, in my opinion: we are marginalized and no longer considered of vital use to our cultures. This is possibly, even now, less true in Europe. The US of A has always been a culture that's business friendly and technology friendly rather than artist friendly. Maybe we'll change as we mature.

And people do, regardless, continue to work in movements or groups. Southwestern Art, Photo Realism, Surrealism, Fantasy Art, art of the women's movement, Urban and Outsider Art can all be considered movements and most of us can find a niche or even two, somewhere within that motley assortment. This is in America of course. In Europe, one would find some overlapping but also some different groupings. German Expressionism, for example, is an old movement going back to the early 20th century - but one still sees wonderful pieces produced in this idiom. Why? Because it's strong and vital. Its combination of semi-abstract form with powerful, passionate design ideas allowing for maximum - well- expressiveness - appeal to those artists and to the people who buy their work. Other movements have pretty much withered away, although the inventiveness they introduced into Modern Western Art continues to provide living artists with design ideas: cubism for example. Still a perfectly workable design idea for the right artist.

So even in cultures where artists are perceived as Lone Wolf Eccentrics - real individualists - ideas and techniques and formal concepts are shared, not only within an era or a culture but across time and space. And many of us, when stuck, go right back to Western Culture 101: the life class! And for a few hours, we're right back at the beginning, with a Greek who had an idea - that man was beautiful.

Posted by Vincent Keers on 02-12-2002 08:16 PM:

Time out

Lets talk rugs for a change.

Just have a look at this Karabagh runner. Probably 1870+10-10

Get in the runner and look for the tiny, white bearded guy. He's so lovely.

I know some of you like beards and all, so this is tribute to you and to all who beard the lions in their den? (Your language is poor in proverbs with beards in my dictionary) I wonder....this runner is copied a 100.000 times in Northern Iran in the last 100 years.

Ugly, dead runners. They just couldn't get it right. Maybe some can scratch their beards, shake their heads and tell me what this runner is all about.

I think it's Caucasian first. And if I'm
prooved to be dead wrong.......... I'll grow a beard!

Mother Goddess help me,