Posted by Steve Price on 05-05-2002 06:43 AM:

If you can't wash it, how do you clean it?

Hi Michael,

Your Salon essay warns against contacting the wool with water before using fixation methods on the dyes. This seem to me to present some serious dilemmas, practical and even logical.

First, the practical one. Rugs get dirty. Old rugs get have had even more time to get dirty than young ones have. Granted that water contact can damage the wool and dyes, I suspect that there are (or can be) components in the stuff with which a rug is soiled that are damaging, too. I'm told that dry cleaning removes oils and is much worse for a rug than water is. So, what is a collector to do?

Then, the logical one. The complete provenance of a rug is almost never known. Unfortunate, but true. So the collector is simply stuck with the options of restricting his collection to the handful of pieces on the planet in which he knows the history, or living with the fact that his pieces are not perfect. Most of us accept this alternative without becoming upset about it in the least. In fact, many collectors find fragments very appealing and collectible. Damage from incorrect washing is, obviously, pretty far down the list of ways in which these items differ from what the weaver took off her loom.


Steve Price

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-05-2002 08:34 AM:

Hallo all,

of course one can wash and one should wash. It is a kind of balance that one has to achieve. Each wet process is potentially hazardous for the integrity of the fiber. But the results of the various oxidation processes are harmful as well. Small dirt particles, like clay, damage it when the piece is moved. So just let it be is no solution. Unless the guess is that any wet process would be a bigger damage than help. This may happen, especially with yellow ground early textiles, which have been damaged considerably by wrong washing.

What we wanted to stress is: the dye lakes ( all dyes except Indigoids) must be fixed (the oxidation damage repaired) before the piece is washed ! Otherwise one would loose irreversibly a certain part of them, they swim away. The dye lake is then less saturated till even spotty, matt ( the lustre is lowered) and more susceptible towards light.

To know the provenance is important for treating a textile within the frame of textile art. How can we interprete or even build up measures when we cannot define the origin of this so called anonymous art ?
It is of course possilbe to get to know it. That depends on how high the measures of art dealing are set. For the normal fly over and do some shopping kind of business it is not possible. After a piece came down to the "C-level" once normally one cannot lift it - and who would like to pay for the expenses of that enterprise.
But in the Essen kilim exhibition there were quite some pieces with known origin, in some cases even the house where they were found.
For normal home decoration textiles this demand is too high, of course. Nevertheless it makes fun to discuss them, collect associations they trigger in our brains ( how archaic they are, for instance) - but one should keep in mind the built-in limitation of all such phantasies.



Posted by Steve Price on 05-05-2002 10:10 AM:

Hi Michael,

I normally wash my own stuff. How do I fix the dyes before washing? Is this a process that is practical to do in a bathtub?

I raised the matter of provenance mostly to emphasize that we don't know anything much about the past history of washing for the pieces offered for sale. This, as you point out, is not the only problem inherent in not knowing the provenance. On the other hand, there is much that can be learned without knowing provenance. For example, the Pazyryk carpet is, I think you would agree, a very important piece from an art historical standpoint. We know that it was found in a burial cave, but nobody knows where it was woven, what use it had before being put into the cave, or anything at all about it's provenance before that point. It would be even better if we knew those things, but it is an important historical item anyway.

And, of course, I absolutely agree with your position on how little useful information there is in peoples' fantasizing. I enjoy fantasy as much as the next guy, and I lead a rich fantasy life. But I never forget that my fantasies, no matter how fervently I get involved in them, are not truths to anyone else.


Steve Price

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-05-2002 10:57 AM:

Hallo Steve,

yes, technically one could do this in a bath tub. With every treatment of this type
the combination of temperature and movement is important for the success. At best, and this is not possible in the bath tub, the fluid moves, the piece does not move as this would further weaken it ( fragments, for instance). For this reason we have build up a special
tank and auxilliary machinery - but in Konya. For treating fragments they must be fixed
on a transitional fabric, meticulously. Labour here in the West costs much more than in Turkey.
The Pazyryk carpet is a splendid example ! But now look what we could learn from the fact that we exactly know the spot where it was found. We know the other artefacts there, we can try to estimate how far the exchange economy of those people reached, we have access to the information what the people themselves created, what they imported etc. ... Imagine such a carpet would come up here, apperently quite old ( radiocarbon would prove the age), but no further informtion. What kind of "importance" should such a thing ever have ? What kind of "interpretation" could be build on this "ground" ? And then imagine some amateur "cleaned" it with the chlorine tap water of Istanbul or Samarkand, some cheap agressive detergent - after it had survived 2000 years buried in the desert ?
We do not want to put this argument too high. For more than 90% of what is traded it must not be applied. But what when we talk about important kilims or village rugs ? Anyway they cost more than pea nuts. Is it enough then that a poche dealer says: I place this at the early stratum in the archaic group ? Without giving to you anything that you could try to check, research, confirm ? It was our intention to stress to which level we all must come in order to justify this "textile art" denomination.



Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-05-2002 12:43 PM:

Fix, Spay or Neuter?


You mention "fixing" the dye lakes before washing. Does a "fixing" have any permanence? Can a dye be adequately "fixed" prior to weaving the rug, or is there a need to "fix" the dyes at each washing? Are different colors "fixed" differently?
There has been considerable discussion in the past regarding the stability of reds in Turkmen rugs. Two schools of thought have emerged, one held resolutely by those believing that the only good red is an old red and that IT WILL NOT BLEED under any circumstances. If it bled, it is not old or was not dyed with natural red dyes.
The other school of thought, held by many open minded, logical, respectable and intelligent individuals is that there are too many examples of bleeding reds on rugs that "should" be old enough not to exhibit signs of bleeding (pre-synthetic-era) and that therefore old reds can bleed.
I hope this "red-herring" isn't too far off track for the discussion here!

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Sophia_Gates on 05-05-2002 05:00 PM:

Provenance & Art

I think the authors of this Salon seem to have posted valuable information concerning the damage and de-stabilizing effects of time & improper washing on dye-lakes. Many of us have personally observed bleeding in very old pieces and finally this would seem to be a logical explanation of why that can occur.

On the other hand, I fail to see what provenance has to do with art. Beauty and creativity have nothing to do with the ownership of an object after it's been made. Nor has The Scientific Method anything to do with the esthetic experience.

Art just "is" - like nature. They can be examined but not "proved". You can't "prove" beauty! You can't "prove" profundity or magic. And who's to say that the fantasies you reference aren't in fact psychological truths? "Reality" is indeed far more complex than a shallow, simple-minded reading would indicate - and THAT, science can and has been "proving".

Posted by Steve Price on 05-05-2002 09:45 PM:

Hi Sophia,

You raise several points, and I would take issue with some of them.

Start with,
Art just "is" - like nature - that is, neither is subject to proof (of, I assume, the truth in an interpretation; if this is not what you mean, then proof of what?). Within certain constraints, our interpretation of natural phenomena is most certainly subject to proof. The tests are not flawless, but are far removed from "it just is". Lightning has an explanation that is almost surely correct. I doubt that you would offer "it just is" as an explanation. The same applies to the basis for inheritance, the fact that apples fall down and not up, and so on for as long a list as you would like to make.

As for
psychological truths, what does that mean? If it means the things that psychologists consider to be the facts of their discipline, then you are talking about something that is arrived at by the scientific method, not something external to it. If it means the personal beliefs that we hold but for which we cannot offer evidence, then you are talking about truths that are entirely personal to the individual. Fantasies, no matter how fervently someone believes in them, are not truths to anyone else. That, of course, is why we call them fantasies to begin with.

I agree that aesthetics is currently outside the realm of science and I suspect that it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. But there's lots more to art appreciation than aesthetics. One element especially relevant to oriental rugs as art is their ethnographic and cultural significance. That is unknowable without knowing which culture a piece came from, an element within the broad category of provenance. This, I believe, is what Michael was talking about in his essay when he raised provenance as an issue.

And, whether
we like it or not, collectors will ante up more money for an old piece than for a new one, and attribution would be important for that reason even if it had nothing to do with aesthetics at all. That's why there's money in faking old pieces, and in inventing fantasy criteria of age, and it's why it's worthwhile for a collector to know something about recognizing them.


Steve Price

Posted by Sophia_Gates on 05-06-2002 12:08 AM:

Old Rugs

Steve, I'm not going to get into another defense of Art right now! I simply lack the energy. However, I will say this: proving that certain conditions might result in lightening do NOT explain its existence, any more than Big Bang theories explain or prove the existence of the universe. That's an area to my mind more in the realm of metaphysics than of science - indeed, perhaps, attempting to explain MAN LIGHTENING UNIVERSE STARS. . . is still the business of artists.

I will admit it's been fashionable for the past few centuries to regard Science as God. But that's another story!

I understand your point about the cultural significance of tribal artifacts; however, I submit that their value as art is continuing long after their cultures are dead & buried. Why? Because that is one of the characteristics of art: it can transcend its period and reach out to humans across spans of time, race, religion and culture.

However, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the market for old rugs. I suspect, if collectors had more self-confidence, and if esthetics were indeed more important than age & provenance, if in other words people had more innate understanding and respect for Art, then we'd be perfectly happy to go out & buy newer pieces. Why? Because some of them are excellent. Some of them are dreadful. But - all in all they sure are cheaper!

Some old pieces are dreadful also. We tend to see the past via the glories of hindsight: much of the dreadful has already been discarded, so we get a distorted view of the glories of the past.

I suggest that we start buying rugs as if they were new, with as much critical faculty as we can muster. Really LOOK at them: are they really beautiful or do we merely think we're discovering some new design in an old rug (high unlikely, I think, given the highly conservative nature of, especially, tribal rugs) Is the thing well-designed and well-proportioned or is it just strange? Does is REALLY speak of Ancient Shamanic Mysteries or is it just out of proportion?

And did I actually hear Wendel speak of "intuition" when he said he was thankful he'd avoided purchasing a New "Antique"? I agree with him! That might actually be one of our strongest tools for avoiding bad rugs & bad art: that nagging feeling that Something Is Wrong. Maybe it's the design, maybe it's the composition of the field; maybe it's the relationship of field motif to negative space. Maybe the field motifs are too big for the border. Maybe that red shape should have an outline of brown?

In any case, I think listening to that little voice called Intuition is a Really Good Idea.

It appears we've entered an era in which we might actually start looking for small knots of faded fuchshine in order to reassure ourselves that our treasure is Really Really Old

Why not just buy it because it's Really Really Wonderful?

Posted by Steve Price on 05-06-2002 06:09 AM:

Hi Sophia,

I think we are at an impasse on the interpretation of natural phenomena, so let's leave it alone. And obviously, I think, we have no common ground from which to discuss interpretation of anything else since we differ so widely on how to decide whether an assertion is fact or fancy.


Steve Price

Note added a few hours after initial posting: In reading my message again, it looks as though it might be interpreted as a dismissal of Sophia and her thinking. That is not my intention. I disagree with her in the same way that, say, a Christian and a Jew disagree about whether Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Most Christians and most Jews simply agree to disagree, and don't argue about it. This is my position vis-a-vis my views and Sophia's about criteria for truth.

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-06-2002 11:39 AM:

Dye lakes and fixation

Dear Patrick,

for discussing Turcoman dyes I will open a new thread.

According to the general belief a dye lake is made up from mordant metals like alum, bound to a fiber like wool, and the single dye stuff molecules like, e.g., Quercetin or Luteolin for yellows or Alizarine plus Pseudopurpurine for a rich madder red. But this "model" does not fit to the facts and does not fit to some research results using the most sensible analytical procedures ( see below).
Other compounds are incorporated into these lakes as well. Therefore the water that is used while mordanting or dyeing and the procedures used for the post-dyeing treatment are important. Of course with a proper dyeing
this fixation is done prior to weaving. But with time, photo oxidation , chemical damage (sulfur dioxide in a room which is heated with an oven) these compounds are eroded. Then the lakes are weakened and, partly, water soluble. What we mean with fixing the lakes here is a process to re-construct these lakes prior to applying detergents in order to clean. If one does not do it part of the lakes are lost , the colours look matt and lacklustre then. With silicone one could improve the shine but never the "flatness" of the visual impact. With Indigoid dyes this effect does not occur. Pieces that are washed "dead" are the most common events in the carpet world.
Recently I had to reject an invitation for a review of two kilim fragments for an Austrian book because, as it seemed, the washing had made the colours that "flat" that even with a high class colour print it was not possible to try a coherent interpretation. The invitation to send the pieces instead of the pictures was rejected by the owner.

Fischer, C.-H., Bischof, M., Rabe, J.G.(1990): Identification of natural and early synthetic
textile dyes with HPLC and UV-Vis-Spectroscopy by Diode Array detection.-J. Liq. Chrom. 13: 119 ff.
Rabe, J.G., Bischof, M., Fischer, C.-H.(1990): Natürliche und synthetische Farbstoffe in
Teppichen und Flachgeweben. - Wege zu ihrer Identifizierung. - Restauro, 96, 189-195.

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-07-2002 03:02 PM:

knowing the origin

Dear Sophia,
excuse my late answer, please. You wrote "Art just "is" - like nature . They can be examined but not "proved". You can't "prove" beauty! You can't "prove" profundity or magic. And who's to say that the fantasies you reference aren't in fact psychological truths?" and to know the real origin of a weave does not contribute to the evaluation of its artistic qualities.
I believe in moving close to the subject. Look, please, at pl. 28 of the McCoy-Jones kilim collection in San Francisco. This kilim was admired by a lot of people at the ICOC as being bold, archaic, creative etc. like to art that just is. - If you take this piece to the Orient and show it to whatever kilim weaver you will see that every lady will laugh and firmly state that this kilim is a mishappened weave. May be no talent, no motivation, other things to do in life so one could not further think of this piece on the loom.
You, Sophia, have the human right to conitinue to adore it : but it is not art then. And then look at the kilim pl. 24 of the Rageth book on radiocarbon dating of kilims. At its source every weaver will admire it ( it is a good example of washing damage, especially to its "minor dyes" so washing damaged its aesthetic quality by artificially unbalancing the colour
harmony a bit). This is no proof that it is art, of course.
Then imagine a beautiful Buddha statuette appears on the international art market. Its origin
is unknown, most likely Angkor Wat. Apparently in this case not to know the real origin does not handicap the evaluation of its artistic merits.
Where does this difference come from ? For Buddha statuettes some hundred years of independant ( from the art market) research has set up a kind of intersubjective standard of measure to evaluate the quality of these artifacts. To place a new arrival properly into this frame is more or less easy ( this example I owe to a discussion with Dietmar Pelz).
For early kilims and village rugs we did not establish yet such a set of measures. We just start to reserch them properly. There is only one group of kilims where we know what for they have been made so we can start to discuss what seems to be a successful aesthetical solution and what should be regarded as a minor one. Therefore it is essential to know the original context of a weave as good as one can ! No word against intuition and phantasy. But if these
are not balanced by knowledge they are convincing only to the single person that displays it.
Compare it to how you would build a house. Firm ground is essential, yes ? This knowledge
about the origin is the only part of firm ground to start with. In case you do not have even that any derivative thought is free floating - and not more "firm" than that.



Posted by Sophia_Gates on 05-07-2002 08:51 PM:

Origins, Etc.

Dear Michael:

Your points are well-taken. However, the fact that some Middle-Eastern ladies laughed at the McCoy-Jones kilim means less than nothing. A good study of the history of Western painting would reveal many cases of people laughing at great art. One has only to go back as far as the 19th century to read the comments of the French Academy about the Romantic & Impressionist painters. And we know all too well the tragic story of Van Gogh, an artist of enormous passion and originality who never sold a piece and died broke and discouraged by his own hand.

I regret constantly having to refer to the history of painting in order to illustrate points about rugs. However as you have pointed out we're still just learning about rugs and haven't the wealth of knowledge concerning them - and I doubt we ever will have - so I hope you'll forgive me for reintroducing Art-As-Painting into these discussions!

To my mind, your attempts to make accurate assessments of age and origin, to establish a sort of baseline, are valid. But they will still not establish whether or not a piece is "art"! And as far as Steve's argument concerning "cultural validity" - that too has merit but is fluid as well: consider the validity these old pieces have now assumed, through our collection and studies of them, to our own culture! Indeed, the little white ACOR piece has attained some importance by virtue of its controversial origins as well as its inclusion in the ACOR show. As a matter of fact, the actions of today's collectors may well establish which pieces are regarded as important generations from now.

Additionally, your comments on wool and dyes and the nature of dye absorbtion are fascinating and most welcome. And, as a practical matter your approach to limiting the most stringent approaches to restoration to only a small number of pieces does make sense, although to my mind ALL the old tribal pieces have value as cultural artifacts. Indeed, my own feeling about restoration is one of wariness, for fear of ruining a piece.

Finally, your assessment of the big kilim you restored is certainly beyond question, to my mind. I think it's wonderful, although like Vincent and Yon I don't see why a new one couldn't have been made - but the weaver's decision to use that dark, dark color in the background was brilliant. It's a beautiful piece and I'm sure we are all delighted to have shared it with you.

All the best,

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-08-2002 08:59 AM:

Dear Sophia,
nothing against transferring my examples to paintings. But you must transfer it in the right way - like this:
Not the people laughed about the painting ! All painters , persons who had learned the techniques of how to paint, laughed about the painting. But 10 000 kms away, where even the most advanced connoisseurs do not understand much of even the most simple primaries of how to make a paint, the majority of people admired this crook painting as "creative art" !
May be a lot of painters found the technically "good" picture ( pl. 28 in Rageth) technically perfect, but boring and uninspired, but they accepted it as a painting.

We often heard in the fifties such jokes about Picasso. But he was technically well educated
- he did not want to paint like the majority of his contemporary colleagues though he could have done that as well.
With this view pl. 24 of McCoy-Jones is a mishappened kilim and under no perspectives
such a thing can be regarded as art whereas with pl. 28 of Rageth such a discussion would make sense.
The prejudice that it is not important to know the real origin ( and that means: to have, at least theoretical, access to the context in which the weave was made) of a piece often has
funny consequences. One example for how easy people with this attitude can be fooled - and the ACOR minder is another example:

In the nineties a big international firm wanted to create rugs that should be perceived as "creative" by its customers. They were done in big workshops, for example, in the vicinity of Nigde. Female teachers, paid by the Turkish government, supervised the work of the weavers. We visited the place. Then we saw things that every weaver in Anatolia would regard to be a mistake ( motifs that are drawn wrong, design elements not placed in the middle of the border but lapping into the main field, intentionally made irregularities...) and asked the weavers: what is this, please ? They fell ashamed but said the design and the teachers forced her to weave these mistakes. Not that she does not know that it is a mistake or that she could not it better. But the patron wants it like that ...
And now you have to accept - I mean you must, no alternative left for you - that this merchandize was marketed very successful in your country just by claiming that it is real creative weaving. Independant of further discussing things here the approach to textile art that you follow can be fooled that easy !

The same with this white ground minder at ACOR.
It is immediately evident that the design is "wrong". No weaver would do such a thing.
Such a minder has either a 1-4 symmetry or a field with small repetitive patterns or is left blank - but never ever this design ! This is an ironic joke that Oriental people made about the perception that some Western people have about simple, bold designs. And as long as scholars refuse to interprete this textile art within its context ( and this unavoidably will always start with getting to know the real origin) these jokes will go on.

Yours sincerely


Posted by Steve Price on 05-08-2002 02:52 PM:

Hi People,

The topic of this thread morphed into Textile Art and Its Context. I created a thread with that title, and copied the relevant messages into it.

In order to save me the time it takes to keep moving messages from one thread to another, I am closing this one to new posts.

If you want to put in a message about art and its context, please use the other thread. If you have some thoughts relevant to the question with which this thread opened, let me know and I'll unlock the thread for further posts.


Steve Price

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