Posted by R. John Howe on 02-14-2003 09:32 AM:

An Honest Confession Is...

Dear folks -

Joe Fell referred in this rug morning to the fact that weavers are often copying other weavings and I am hoping that his recognition of that will help him not think too badly of what I am confessing with this post.

Two of the pieces that I have admired since I first saw them at ACOR 6 in Indianapolis were included again in Joe's rug morning.

They are the two Central Asian pieces that follow. First, the little Beshiri "tulip" rug.

And then the unusual Kyrghyz bag face that follows it.

Between these two viewings I had worked with Chris Walters in his Cultural Survival demonstration tents at last summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and he asked me after if there was a rug I might want. I said that actually there were two small pieces that I'd like him to make custom for me.

Now I've done this before, sometimes successfully, as in the case of a Beshiri design I happened onto at the TM once, the copy of which lays on the floor under me as I write, but also sometimes with hilarious results.

I once asked Chris to make me a copy of Plate 31 in Peter Hoffmeister's book "Turkoman Carpets in Franconia." As I got a chance to say publicly in Peter's presence, I believe the weaver who copied this piece for me was trying to do me a favor. I think his thought process went something like this. This American obviously does not want a bag face with this design, he/she likely wants a rug based on it. So the weaver rotated this Ersari ikat design 90 degrees and enlarged the scale of the border and to my mind lost most of the graphic charm of the original. But it is clear even from this result that this weaver could produce this piece very closely.

Now as I say, I think this weaver was trying to do me a favor. An alternative explanation could be that there is a small rug god somewhere assigned specifically to deal with anyone who would dare make a knockoff of one of Mr. Hoffmeister's antique pieces. Peter was a very good sport about all of this and I have a photo of his wife and I holding up this failure to copy.

I will hope that Mr. Fell is at least not offended.

So a little time has passed since last summer and a week or so ago Chris Walters sent me pictures of my two custom rugs, which have been woven now, but which I will not see in the wool until about April.

Here are the results for your information/amusement.

First, here is Chris' effort to copy the piece with "tulip" design.

And here is the copy of the Kyrghyz bag face.

So what do you think? Is this effort successful? What differences do you see?


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 02-14-2003 10:05 AM:

Hi All,

Intending no offense, and much as I dislike inhibiting discussion, I see comments on the quality of Chris Walter's products as almost a requirement for answering John's questions. I believe Chris is doing some worthwhile things for the weavers, but in the final analysis this is a dealer selling rugs, and I ask anyone responding to avoid saying anything that could be taken as "comments bearing on the reputation of the seller".


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-14-2003 10:18 AM:

Dear folks -

Yes, Steve's right. I got a little too caught up in my story. Probably should have kept the producer out of it.

But I think we can examine these pieces without any reflection on the Ersari project, which is, after all, non-profit at the wholesale level.

The preview pictures are not taken with the kind of care Don Tuttle might lavish and so I won't really know what I have until I have them in hand, but I think we can describe differences in color, drawing, size, etc. without doing any harm.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-14-2003 04:37 PM:

Dear folks -

It may be that this is an awkward thread for people to respond to. So let me just give my own impressions and we'll see how it goes from there.

I mostly see the attempt to order a custom rug as an exercise in communication. There's me, trying to describe what I want, with words and enlarged color photos of the orginal pieces. There's a weaver, who is given the task of weaving my order. And there is a middle person, passing messages in both directions. Actually there are more than three people engaged in these three functions (e.g. there is someone who takes my enlarged photo and makes a cartoon for the weaver to follow). In such a situation, it is likely a small miracle if the communication is fully successful. And I think that is the main variable that affects the character of the rug I get in response to my order.

So how about these two?

Well, my first concern is whether the colors of the actual copies are close to those in the originals. I mean both the character of the colors and their range.

On first impression, the "tulp" rug copy seems less red than than does the original. It also seems to me that the white is more prominent in the copy. I am not sure, but it may be that the size of the compartments of the copy are slightly smaller than those of the original and that this diminishes the impact of the red in this piece.

My central questions about the "Kyrgyz" copy are (1) whether the red of its ground is as "alive" as is that of the original, and (2)whether the copy has the range of color that the original does. The copy seems darker and more restricted in color range in the photo.

On the other hand, I think the drawing in both pieces is pretty successful. I do not see much indication, in the copies, of conventionalizing of the designs of either of the originals. So that is an area where I think the weaver has done pretty well.

Third, the proportions of the copy of the Kyrgyz bag face seem close to that of the original. I am pretty satisfied there. The proportions of the "tulip" rug seem a little squarer in the copy than they do in the original. This to an extent is a matter of guess work based on experience. After these rugs were woven they went through three rounds of washing and shearing of the pile. A new rug will shrink somewhat (5%?) during the initial washing but not much in subsequents ones. This more square-ish shape of the tulip rug could be the result of the chance differences in such shrinkage.

Finally, the end finish of the "tulip" copy is different from the original. Instead of the blue stripes on red kilim, the weaver of the copy has put in some weft twining in contrasting colors. The ends on the original Kyrgyz bag face are missing and the weaver of the copy of that piece has chosen to use an end finish more usual for Turkmen rugs.

It does seem clear to me from what I can see, that these weavers can weave these two pieces successfully.

Others may now feel more free to comment.


R. John Howe

Posted by Tracy Davis on 02-15-2003 03:06 PM:

I just read this today--I'd have commented earlier, awkward or not, but I just didn't see the posts.

John, looking at the originals and the finished new weavings, if I had not heard your story I would have said that the new rugs were "inspired by" the originals rather than "copies" thereof.

Part of the original tulip rug's charm is in the scale of the border in proportion to the grid of the field elements, and this has been *significantly* altered in the copy, making (IMhO) a much more static design.

The Khirgiz looks a little more successful from a design/proportion standpoint, but in terms of color saturation and tonal balance I think it's pretty dismal compared with the original. Tonal balance is something that often gets overlooked in analyzing a rug, but its effects can be crucial to the aesthetic success or failure of a weaving, particularly in tribal rugs that don't have a lot of colors. I think it's a big part of why earlier Turkmen work in general is better. But I digress.

In any case, I took the photos of the Kirghiz pieces and changed them to grayscale (see below) so you can see what I mean:

This clearly illustrates the tonal balance difference between the two rugs. It also may be why, at least in part, the tulip rug's colors don't look as lively--you can see, for example, that the blue flowers in the copy don't have the light highlights possessed by the original.

Obviously the weavers are competent from a technical standpoint, but could it be that their aesthetic sense has been dulled by prolonged exposure to too many mediocre rugs? Kind of like spending too much time in a Wal-Mart--when the clothes start looking good to me, I know I've been there too long...

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-15-2003 06:27 PM:

Hi Tracy -

Yes, what you have done by taking the comparison to gray-scale is interesting and telling. And it does appear that my previous indication that I did not notice conventionalization is incorrect. The color scheme of the Kyrgyz piece does seem to have been simplified.

And I take your scale of border point on the tulip rug too. I hadn't really seen that but I do think its different. It shows that even what seems like a quite small change can have a large aesthetic effect.

Carolyn Bosly, who wrote the little "Rugs to Riches" book (one that I do not generally recommend) does talk usefully about her experiences in having rugs made custom. She says that sometimes she's had to do it four times to get it right.

One of the reasons I'm interested in copying rugs is that I think we sometimes romanticize especially tribal weaving skills. Obviously, there is something called weaving skill and it likely varies apprieciably, but I suspect that the answer to what antique rugs could still be woven today, is, with a few Mughul pashmina exceptions, almost anything.

I'm still going to suspend my final judgment until I see these pieces in the wool but your grey-scale analysis is very impressive.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-16-2003 06:33 AM:

Dear folks -

One additional thought about attempts to weave a particular rug in term of a close specification, as I have tried to have done here.

I heard George Jevremovic, of Woven Lengends, say once that his experience with "Turkic" weavers (and these Ersari Turkmen weavers may also fall into this group) is that if you give them a specific rug to weave, they will kind of weave it, but will almost always also kind of "go their own way." This can have good results (it could provide space for creative and aesthetically successful weaver contributions) and bad.

He added that if you ask a Chinese weaver to weave a specific question, he or she will ask you questions: they want to get it precisely right. George said that this is one reason he was having "city" rugs woven in China. Murray Eiland, Jr. in his volume on Chinese rugs argues that "originality" may well need to be redefined somewhat when dealing with Chinese weaving, because of this Chinese tendency.

So that may be something that is implicated in the "communications" problem I described.

But, perhaps as Bosly says, I just have to use my three more tries to get it right.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 02-17-2003 07:20 PM:

A Little "Help" From a Friend

Dear folks -

Since I have talked about it above it might be useful to let you see my effort to copy Peter Hoffmeister's lovely Plate 31 in his "Turkoman Carpets in Frankonia" volume done with Simon Crosby.

Here is an image of Plate 31.

I think it is a little gem. One of those pieces that looks simple until you begin really to examine it.

Here is what came to me when I tried to have it copied.

The color in this one seems quite good to me. Again, it seems clear that this weaver can reproduce this original.

And here is the photo that Peter took of it with his wife and I holding up.

This last image came to me as a post card and on the back of it Peter had written kindly, "Happy Rug."


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 02-19-2003 06:08 AM:

Hi John,

The colors of the copy - or should I say "reinterpretation" - are probably good. What I do not like is the shift of balance between the border and the field. I definitely donít like the weaver choice! Excuse me, but the huge checkered border make me think about a table cloth or a picnic blanket!
That weaver should be punished with several lashes.

P.S. Oh well, thinking about it, you can always use your rug as a sofreh.