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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Relics, Wrecks and Rags, Fragments of the Imagination

by Patrick Weiler

"The objects I love most are fragmentary and/or full of holes and have threadbare spots. So gradually I have learned to be happy with my antique Oriental holes, but of course you need some imagination to turn them into beautiful carpets."
Jan A. Timmerman (1)

Something that has survived the passage of time, especially an object or custom whose original culture has disappeared.
Something cherished for its age or historic interest.
An object kept for its association with the past; a memento.

The remains of something that has been wrecked or ruined.
Something shattered or dilapidated.
A person who is physically or mentally broken down or worn out.

A scrap; a fragment.

A small part broken off or detached.
An incomplete or isolated portion; a bit (2)

Rug Collector:
A person who is physically or mentally broken down or worn out. (See Wreck, above)

They are the discards in the pile that are used to repair rugs worth saving. They are the tattered parts of a damaged rug on its way to the dump, too worn for the floor.
They are what are left over when the good parts are already removed.
The dregs, the trash, the junk.

I have a bunch of what are euphemistically known as "study rugs".  While walking through my expansive gallery of these worn, torn, sad, old rugs I thought a salon featuring only beat-up relics and foot-worn fragments would generate an outpouring of fascination, interest and excitement or, at the very least, profound sympathy.  I suspect that many of us have one or two tattered remnants of once-splendid weavings still taking up space in the attic or basement. Or they may be front and center in your expensive collection (Orient Stars comes to mind).  Here, then, is an opportunity for you to share your own fragments with the rest of us.  An entire collection of fragments speaks volumes about the owner.

Here is a fragment of a Tekke main carpet from my collection.  How do I know it is Tekke and from a main carpet?  I studied it carefully for hours on end, compared it with photos and examples of the real thing, had it appraised by a certified rug appraiser and evaluated for insurance purposes.  I took it to ACOR and ICOC to discuss with the experts.

It is now mounted on a non-acidic fabric, framed under museum-quality glass and carefully stored in a properly humidified, cedar lined cabinet with no ambient light to degrade it and it is kept in an underground bunker capable of withstanding a nuclear attack.  OK, OK, so I really just keep it in a desk drawer gathering dust.  It came on a Christmas card from a rug dealer several years ago.  If nothing else, it surely is the epitome of a fragment.  Love the colors.   The design is dynamic, the contrasts striking.  But there probably isn’t enough of it to qualify as a true fragment.  It is more like a tiny patch.

So, let's move along to the REAL fragments.

Pricey Pieces
As the experts always say, buy the best you can afford (so you will buy it from them?).  The most famous fragments of the past were those from the renowned Spring of Khosroe, a carpet of sumptuous construction, including precious gems, that was cut apart as war booty.  Some of those gems may still be among us, but we will never know.  When speaking of fragments today, that would mean perhaps buying a piece of, say, the Ardebil carpet.  Well, you just missed your chance.

This fragment of one of the Ardebils was just sold.  For a mere $78,000 (3).  Granted, the estimate was only $20,000-$30,000.  OK, so it cost more than I paid for my first house.  Big deal.  It IS the best, remember.  If you were not the lucky bidder for the Ardebil, maybe you have purchased other pieces of similar quality and provenance.

Perhaps you were the high bidder for this little scrap of a fragment:

It recently sold at auction for just a bit over $200,000 per square foot.  There is only one-half of a square foot of it here, so the actual price of $101,525 was a bargain.  The funny thing about the rug this fragment came from is that it was built with planned obsolescence. The materials the rug was made from, silk foundation and pashmina wool, are so fine and tightly packed that the rug literally fell apart from its own weight.  There are a number of pieces of this old rug still remaining, mostly in museums.  It has up to 2,000 knots per square inch.  You can read all the complex details yourself at the Bonhams web site (4).

There is a well researched article available on the internet showing a number of ancient fragments, including this lovely piece:

The article by Gerard Pacquin, Silk and Wool: Ottoman Textile Designs in Turkish Rugs, was derived from a presentation to the Second International Congress on Turkish and Central Asian Carpets in Istanbul on October 16, 1994 (5).

Here is a beautiful fragment that can be seen on the NERS web site.

It is a piece of a once-large Kerman vase carpet.  Along with the other two known fragments from the same carpet, one can visualize what the entire piece looked like.  It is small fragments like this that can help us reconstruct the history of some of these enigmatic, ancient works of art.  The NERS exhibit is based on a 1991 catalog, Through The Collector's Eye - Oriental Rugs From New England Private Collections (6).

The nice thing about collecting fragments like this is that you certainly do not need to live in a spacious mansion in order to display your collection, although Jim Dixon of California had his house built specifically to display his rugs.  Some fragments from his collection are discussed on the San Francisco Bay Area Rug Society web site (7).  This one may be a Fostat fragment:

Quite a bit has been written about the Fostat fragments, found in an excavated dump near Cairo, Egypt.  “Fragments…They are the tattered parts of a damaged rug on its way to the dump, too worn for the floor.”  (8)  You can find a fascinating presentation of some Fostat fragments and other weavings with offset knotting in the Woven Structures Update on Marla Mallet’s web site, including this piece:

There is a great fragment in a Tom Cole article that appeared in Hali (10):

This appears to be the middle of what was once a very striking carpet.  Again, one wonders about the cause of such condition.  It is possible that, as the edges frayed, someone “cleaned it up a little” for continued use on the floor.  It is lucky that this remnant was saved, since many thousands of rugs ended up in our landfills and incinerators once they had reached the end of their useful floor life.  Wall-to-wall machine-made carpeting relegated many rugs to the attics, basements, garages and garbage cans of our homes in the middle third of the 20th century.

A few missing knots does not a fragment make

How much of a rug needs to be missing to consider what is left a fragment?  Is every bagface merely a fragment?  If the back is missing, the whole bag is no longer intact, but is the face alone considered a fragment?   No.  This interpretation has most likely been responsible for many bag faces having been detached from the rest of the bag.  Why sell a whole saddlebag when you can get more money for two faces?  The parts can probably be sold for more than the whole, which is why most of them have been rendered into individual pieces.  Many were dismembered upon reaching the marketplace in their country of origin, or when they entered the Western Market.

The same goes for intact mafrash.  They are difficult to adequately display, unless you fill them with bedding and place them in a colorful array at the back of your yurt.  Some Shahsavan mafrash have been turned upside down and placed over a frame, making a very colorful table, but most have been separated and sold as individual pieces.

We collectors like to have a full set of saddlebags, but shoppers in the early 20th century Western Market would not buy a bag for anthropological enjoyment.  No.  They wanted a small oriental mat for the bedside or for use as a doily.  Many a Shahsavan bagface has probably been used as a doily.  I even use them myself for doilies.  Like this pair:

These are not fragments, but individual end-panels from the same Shahsavan mafrash.  Each of these was bought separately, about a year apart, on eBay.  If you have the two side panels, let me know.   I may be able to buy one this year and the other one next year.

A small ornamental mat, usually of lace or linen.
A small table napkin. (2)

The name Doily has a disputed origin.  Here are a few expert opinions:

“You all know what a doily is, don't you?  It is a cloth “napkin,'' for want of a better word, usually white, that I always find on the arms of chairs and on the back of the chair where your pomade-laden head rests.   Like many strange words, the Doily was named after the linen draper who invented it in London (although he might have spelled his name Doiley, Doylet or Doyly).  It (the term “doily”) appeared in print in an article in the Jan. 24, 1712 edition of The Spectator.” (11)

And there is this description:

“[After Doily or Doyly, 18th-century London] Robert D'Oilly, Baron of Hook Norton.  Incidentally, this Robert was given his Barony on condition that he gave the king three shillings' worth of linen table-cloths per year.  Since lace making was one of the specialties of the region, and because Robert wanted to show off, these table-cloths were beautifully embroidered by the D'Oilly ladies, and were reserved by the king's household for great occasions.  They were known as "D'Oilly's linen". But, by the nineteenth century, these "doilies" had shrunk to fussy plate-sized circles of lace.” (12)

And yet another:

“Who invented the doily?  Count D'Oyley was supposedly a decorator back in 17th Century London.  He created the first doilies.   They were made of a woolen material.  In the 1800s in France, they started making the paper doily.  They were brought here to the United States in the mid-1800s.” (13)

Baron, Count or Draper, we will probably never know.  Enough about doilies, back to the fragments!

Study Rug
It is not known who coined the phrase “study rug”, but a good example of fragments being useful in the actual study of rugs can be seen earlier in Salon 92, The “Tuning-Fork” Kurdish Rugs by Guido Imbimbo and Daniel Deschuyteneer.  Here is a photo of one of the fragments that was used as a comparison in their study (14).

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would be reluctant to bring out the old checkbook if I were to see a Hunk-O-Kurd like this at the local CarpetCo Membership Warehouse.  Do you only buy something like this if you already have the rest of the collection?  Or was this the starter rug of the bunch and then someone went off the deep end from there (must have been quite into the deep end already to buy this remnant) and formed a collection around it?   Due to the relatively good condition of this fragment, I suspect that a local khan in Kurdistan was downsizing from the palace to a condo and needed to have his rug shortened.

Here is a picture of the cover of Oriental Rug Review (15):

It shows a fragmentary Turkish kilim. These were collected frantically a decade ago.  The hype surrounding early kilims, the scandals surrounding the origins of their designs, and the intentions of the dealers who sold them to feverishly focused collectors polarized the rug collecting community. But it also brought a new respect for the beauty, value and importance of mere fragments of important, old weavings.

Not all old weavings are beautiful or important.  Many of us own rugs in a less-than-serviceable condition.  We also buy pieces of bags, chunks of carpets and barely recognizable shreds of questionable value.  This brings us to my collection.

Here is a piece/fragment of an Ersari chuval:

It is in relatively good shape, which makes me wonder what happened to the rest of the bag.  Perhaps there was a divorce in the family and each partner wanted half of it.  This is most definitely in “fragmentary” condition.  Even if it is only half of the original, it is worth less than half of what the whole would be.  As a matter of fact, it is not worth very much at all, unless I happen to sell it, in which case it would become an extremely rare and valuable Halfsari Chuhalf.

Remarkably, there is a Saryk chuval in the recent Hali #134, from the Pinner collection, in virtually the same condition as this piece, but the other half was also cut in half and all three pieces were sold at the same time.  I assume to the same buyer, probably to sell on the internet a piece at a time.

Below is a bagface that probably would not be considered a fragment.   There is just too much of it left, even though it is missing a bit around the edges.  But enough is extant to consider it complete, especially because the field is intact and it retains most of the outer guard border.

Its partner, however, is a relic of a different color.

Looks quite a bit like its partner, right?  Except this one could be considered fragmentary, due to the considerably reduced ends.   Note that the outer guard border is missing top and bottom and is mostly gone at the sides, too.  Also, there is quite a bite missing from the left side and at the top left corner and there is a hole in the field.  The condition of this one makes one wonder how the more extensive damage occurred, especially to only this one of the two matched bagfaces.

This next rug was shown on a Show and Tell a couple of years back:

It is decidedly fragmentary.  However, it is the only example I know of like this.  Being novel makes being fragmentary less important.   The design is reminiscent of countless Karabagh rugs, but they are usually in a longer format and more commercial rather than rustic.  With an archaic wildness and modulating colors, this piece demands attention.  Here is a close up showing the colors and meaty construction:

Kordi Bag
Here is what may be a sofreh, or possibly a grain or bedding bag front.   It is shown on a previous Turkotek salon, and also was discussed on Show and Tell (17):

There is a large chunk missing from the bottom corners on both sides.  The selvage is worn on both sides near the middle and the soumak is worn at the bottom.  Is this a fragment?  I would not recommend using it on the floor.  It is hard to say what caused this type of damage.  Perhaps ropes were attached at the bottom corners.  Possibly it was used as a bag in a three-legged race at the local Kordi Kounty Fair.

This next piece may be a Nafar, the smallest tribe of the Khamseh Confederation.   The field design is a three-branch bush. The main border is a boteh design and a floral meander on a white ground surrounds the main border on both sides, but not on the top or bottom, because this is just a fragment.  It became too worn to use on the floor and too expensive to repair.

But, it still retains the haunting beauty of truly old and somewhat unique naturally dyed colors.  The blues and greens are soft but clear.  The field is a deep, dark blue.  The madder red border is a soft, brick orange. A close up shows some of these colors.

Even closer you can see the saturated aubergine and the fineness of the weave.

These weavers chose the finest wool and used colors dyed by the best dyers around.  One would be hard pressed to find an example of this quality and age in perfect condition.  The market truly does not appreciate many of these fragmentary vestiges of what once would have been articles of wealth, status and pride.

Of course not all fragments are outstanding examples of great beauty, rarity and value.  Take, for instance, this interesting piece:

It is not easy to make out the design of the field.  It is a diagonal design of stars.  I was not familiar with the design when I bought it.  But poking around the internet and looking through books can sometimes be rewarding.  Michael Craycraft noted the resemblance of the stars in this type of rug to Seljuk stars.  He would call this a Qainat Arab Baluch.

This close-up shows the rather chunky construction and the interesting abrash where the field color is lighter at the bottom and darker at the top.  It is constructed of asymmetric knots open right, as is commonly assumed to be a trait of Arab Baluch weavings.  The condition is quite bad.  But since I do not have any other Arab Baluch rugs with asymmetric, open right pile, this was a nice fragment and study rug to buy.  For about the price of a half-case of beer.  Take that, Heinrich Kirchheim!

The black “waves” at the edge of the field in this Arab Baluch are also in one of Mr. Kirchheim’s Seljuk fragments, but green, as seen in an article in ORR (18):

I may sell this fragment to poor Heinrich, but I am afraid his budget is not large enough.

This is another rug that almost made it to the landfill.  I picked it up at a yard sale a number of years ago.  I think it may be from around the 1920’s.

It was probably commercially made in one of the Hamadan area villages, baled, brought to the US on a steamship and sold at a major department store for about what I paid for it 75 years later, $15.  Not too good as an investment.  It is now retired from floor use and graces the top of a trunk in the living room.  As plain as it is, I have still been able to use it as a veritable reference book.  The “s” border, the lattice field, the colors and the construction have been useful to compare with other rugs.

Discussion  Proceed to Part 2