Lost and Found rugs
I walked into a dealer's shop several years ago and there was a spectacular 18th-century Tekke main carpet spread out on the floor, with several ruggies around it, salivating. As I joined the assembly, the dealer was telling the story of selling the piece a decade before and how he had always regretted letting it go, but then he had a chance to buy it back and was celebrating his good fortune.
Well, I just had this experience. After buying my first two good rugs fifteen years ago (the other was the Baluchi Mina Khani I have posted previously), I went through a divorce, and my soon-to-be ex-wife and I flipped a coin to decide who got to pick which rug. She won the toss, and took this main carpet. A friend of mine was house-sitting for her recently and I asked him if they still had the wonderful Baluchi main carpet with all the green, and he said they had packed it away for the last ten years and were thinking of selling it. I had always had my eye out for something like it and haven't seen it; this was one of those experiences that I think justifies the dealer's attitude that they shouldn't necessarily bring out the good stuff for newbies. We bought this because it was beautiful, but I don't think we understood how unusually beautiful it was. True, the sides have been re-selvedged (we bought it in that condition) and a minor edge border was lost in that process...I knew this rug had issues, but it is so lovely. Knowing now from our discussions here in T'tek that "Mushwani" means nothing, I look at this and think it is likely a Timuri rug, and it looks pretty old to me, perhaps late 19th c. I have it rolled out and am enjoying it for the first time since 1995. Granted, it's not an 18th-century Tekke, but for me this rug is a fine thing. Life is good. But I recognize that my pleasure in this has a lot to do with the return of a piece I thought I'd never see again.
Just to put this in perspective, I should contrast this with my first rug purchase, in New Delhi the year before I bought this one. I paid $1200 for a c. 1950 butt-ugly Baluchi with a cotton foundation and an orange that would vaporize your eyelashes. It ended up offending me so much that I gave this rug to my sister who uses it in one of her closets to illuminate dark winter coats. As for worst first-purchases, I believe I would win the prize.
I wonder what other lost-and-found rug stories there are out there Turkotekistan...
Heck of a rug. Often, Baluchi "main carpets" strike me as not living up to the promise. That is, considering what the best Turkoman main carpets can be, I expect big things from the Baluch, but the ones I find often fall short. Yours is a beauty, with especially nice end finishes.
You might want to compare it to plate 47 in Three Dusty Dozen, where I too made the Timuri attribution.
Richard, I agree, the Turkoman main carpets are often superior, but to big and expensive.
This is just an uneducated guess!!
I wasn't so much trying to compare Baluch "main carpets" to Turkoman examples as I was suggesting that the Baluch weavers didn't seem to put their best effort into the larger carpet. I would dream of finding an exquisitely worked and colored large Baluch, but it wouldn't happen.
I am intrigued by the distinction you make between "main carpet" and just a large carpet, since I had previously assumed that "main carpet" actually meant "large carpet." There is something to it, however. After losing this one, I had looked in vain for a similar carpet. I had seen some nice ones in various versions of the blue/orange palette common in Baluchi group rugs, but not with the green and rich red of this one. And the end finishes are pretty elaborate too. I've just washed it (it was very dirty) and now it really glows. I honestly wonder what the story is on it, since it does seem so different from the usual large Baluch carpets.
It is becoming a common experience for me to want to look at "Three Dusty Dozen" or "Treasured Baluch Pieces" so I think I am going to have to add to the library here. I am with you about Turkmen main carpets. Before this Baluch came back into my life, I had considered trying to find a nice one that I could afford but it just didn't seem possible. The ones I like are often 20 times what I paid for this one (although if I figure in pain and suffering, maybe I break even).
Just a note of encouragement to pick up "Three Dusty Dozen" and "Treasured Baluch Pieces". They are among my favourite books, at very reasonable prices. From my perspective, a definite "must have" for Baluchophiles and others who appreciate fine tribal art!
Thanks, all...I just ordered "Three Dusty Dozen"...
Yes, that's a beauty. I wonder, per this question regarding size and quality of Baluch rugs, might this rug of yours represent an example of a rug woven for trade (expensive dye job, extra handiwork at the ends) as opposed to a "Main" carpet? I know the Baluch are quoted (in some source) as weaving carpets for trade on a regular basis, and I'm not talking about sedentary baluch either.
I really like that Baluch carpet. I am a sucker for the Mushwani design, if executed well and with good wool and colours.
Can you elaborate as to the "Timuri" attribution? Could you provide some structural details, and perhaps a close-up picture of the back and the end (kilim) design and finish?
You might have seen a discussion on Turkotek a while back about a somewhat similar rug that I have. Beyond a general similarity in design, I think that some of the palette is akin, especially that green. Does the structure and kilim look similar to mine? I don't think mine is Timuri, and have simply and tentatively ascribed it to the "Farah" region, mostly based on Parsons' example ("Carpets of Afghanistan").
Nice to know you got the rug back without the ex.
If I could add to the request for pics, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would love to see it glowing in the sun!
James, David, et al--
When both James' rug, just posted, and David's large Baluch rug posted elsewhere in this forum first came up, I had my (current) wife look at them, and told her the story of the rug above, saying that someday we had to try to get one of these. So, when I said I hadn't seen similar examples, what I meant was that I hadn't had the opportunity to purchase a similar example.
I wonder about the trade issue, whether the extra effort we can see in James' and my rug's end finishes would make sense if it was to sell. The issue comes up discussing Turkmen main carpets as well, as they seem to produce some for their own use and similar examples for the market, and the ones for the market aren't too shabby, either. My understanding is that kilims were used as floor coverings for Baluchi tents, but maybe there were larger carpets woven for presentation to khans or something, too.
As to my Timuri attribution, it is pretty vague. The handle is floppy (no warp depression), soft shiny wool, asymmetrical open left, the border to me seems to be a Timuri design, but I am not in a position to be confident. The sumak-esque embroidery in your rug, James, does seem similar, though this one has a bunch of bands of weft float too. Your rug certainly seems to be in fabulous condition, unlike this one. Mine has a bunch of good repairs and the pile is pretty low. I'm not as good with my camera as most of you are, but here are some details I shot this morning. I may have reduced their size too much, sorry.
The overall size of this is 117" x 66", though it has lost an inch or so on each side. One thing that is true of me as a collector is that my budget seldom has let me go for the pieces in great condition, and so I am particularly attracted to rugs like this that do have issues but have a powerful presence to me in spite of their issues.
Scott, weather permitting I will try to get some good outdoor light on it tomorrow for a shot...
I was all inspired to try for a good outdoor shot, and I have another 20 minute window of some good light, it appears...The problem is that I did just wash it and am unwilling to put it on the muddy grass and my only assistant at the moment is my 6-year-old who would either have to hold it up over the porch rail (but he doesn't have the six-foot wingspan) or shoot the photo and he is not very handy with the camera (though at the moment he is claiming otherwise). The weather forecast is for a week of cloudy, rainy weather beginning, well, in 20 minutes...argh!
So, later in the afternoon we had a sun break and, now with help, I shot it in some sun and in shade, and it didn't look as close to what it really looks like as the images I already posted. Maybe we need a more serious camera or something. Oh well. Sorry, campers...
James, et al--
I keep going back to the image of your carpet, especially having made such crappy images of my carpet this afternoon, and it's clear that the wool and colors in your carpet must be really wonderful. Why is it assumed that this would be something made to sell?--this appears to be something woven to give...Why do that wonderful embroidery on the ends? Economically, you would get as much at market as with some slit tapestry. I understand that it is conventional wisdom that these were woven for sale ("not that there's anything wrong with that..."), I just wonder how this analysis was done. The conventional wisdom on most Baluchi prayer rugs being woven for sale makes a little more sense to me, since there are quite a few out there. Your rug seems to me to be a pretty singular example, something more likely produced as a gift to an important person as to unload on the market; is it your sense that there are many like it? I guess if there are lots of these fabulous examples then, sure, some were probably woven for market, but if auctions are any indication (and my anecdotal experience of keeping my eyes open for them for about a decade), they aren't all that common.
Personally, I think the purpose for weaving a carpet like mine and yours is unknowable. All we know for sure is that each and every one of them that we now own was sold at some point in time. The wool on mine is very soft and silky, and I too like the end finishes which are rather dramatic for a Baluch. Whether or not mine was made to keep, give or sell, note that the weaver made a rather blatant error or "correction" in the design. Originally, she planned to have two main borders, but decided against it, presumably because that would have constrained the main field too much. Also, note that the weaver wasn't able to keep the same width in the main border on either side. My inference is that she was not at the top end in weaving skills. So I suppose that you could say that she was not very good and was making it for herself, or that she made it as a gift and thought the recipient would understand her difficulties and appreciate the effort, or she made it to sell and accepted the likelihood that the price would be lower because of imperfections.
Whatever the case, like many rugs that I have encountered on the market in the south and central Asian region, this one appears to have had minimal use over its decades of ownership (I think it is likely more than 60 years old, and maybe older). So it has been cherished, regardless of the initial intention of the weaver...
My remarks regarding the impetus behind weaving these rugs was really more at generating a discussion than an assertion of fact, an attempt to understand the disparity of size and in color exhibited by these rugs. Are the size and function of a baluch type carpet direct correlates?
It is my understanding that these carpets "in the baluch tradition" are the products of two peoples, one, the Timuri and their relations of a central asian origin, and the baluch proper, being of a more Persian origin. They could well have had differing customs regarding the use of carpets, as related to function and size. The impression I have gained is that these two basic groups, the Timuri and the Baluch, have in essence been undergoing a process of slow assimilation, which is reflected in the structure, size(?), designs, motives, colors, etc., found in their carpets.
Is it possible that these elaborate end treatments are more of a specific tribal characteristic, say a particular Timuri group, than a function of the market? Interestingly, there was a discussion here on Turkotek some time ago regarding a Timuri(?) prayer rug with an elaborate end treatment quite similar to that found on Jame's carpet (and for that matter, yours).
The inexpense of natural dyes has been cited as the dominant factor in their prevalence in Baluch type weaving. It seems al least plausible that the use of a lot of expensive dyes could indicate an economic motive, especially if the appearence of such dyes is far removed from the norm, yet Wegner has observed that rugs of exceptional qualities were cherished and retained by these baluch type peoples. That said, I'm still wary of "Khan Presentation Pieces" that appear on the market.
As I mentioned in my recent post, I'm not sure whether it is possible to know the reason for which a particular rug was woven. That being said, I suppose that it is logical to assume that certain types of rugs were more often woven for commerce, and others for personal use. With respect to these Baluch carpets though, I am not sure whether there is any information source that can clarify this point further. I certainly haven't run across it.
I can't remember ever being offered a "Khan Presentation Piece", but that does sound grand. My observation is simply that based on my limited personal experience there seems to have been a culture of "preservation" of rugs and carpets among Central and South Asian populations. As a result, an occasional rug or carpet in excellent or very good condition sometimes still emerges on the market, either locally or to the West via pickers and other dealers. I think this is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence, for an obvious reason; there aren't very many left.
James, David, et al--
I realize that ascertaining the functions of these rugs is entirely speculative, and also that many of the pronouncements we do have about them are dubious. As with David's nifty big carpet being woven in a prison in Herat. This is not to say that there isn't evidence, and James' reference to the "culture of 'preservation'" is intriguing. Personally, I think that people of authority ("khans" or whatever) were given rugs and other such gifts, and that they were responsible for the sale (and the profit). I am not absolutely sure, but I think some sort of rug economy like that existed around the Qashqa'i and their leadership. It would make sense for nomads to pay their respects (that is, "taxes") in weavings, and it would explain why some of these are pretty fancy. It would also explain why some are in such good shape: they weren't used but added to the stack of pieces to be sold or bartered when it was necessary or advantageous to do so. It sounds like that massive Timuri rug in the article on Tom Cole's website was part of such a transaction. In that culture, weavings could certainly function as a kind of currency in this way. But I recognize that this is ENTIRELY speculative and that it would be goofy to proclaim this or that piece as a "khan presentation piece" (though the example on Cole's site certainly looks the part!).
James, I was enchanted with that asymmetrical prayer-rug-esque shift in your carpet when I first saw it months ago, and it still intrigues me. The extra border at the end closest to the camera mimics the arch found on older Baluchi prayer rugs (I have previously posted my two examples that have this in the Dokhtori qazi thread), where the hand panels are connected across the top. And though you have alluded to this being woven by an inexperienced weaver, certainly other aspects of this piece look like the work of a very skillful weaver; would someone without much experience get to work with such fine materials and on such a large item that consumes so much of them? It sure looks intentional to me. A prayer rug for a REALLY big person! Do you really think it is only 60 years old? I would think it is c. 1900 at least. Are there synthetic dyes in it or something? I don't see anything but lovely old colors there...
Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but at which end of your rug was the weaving begun?
Do you have some source of information to the proposition that rugs were paid as tribute to leadership figures in the tribes? Either the Baluch groups, or the South Persians?
I have been caught with my hand in the cookie jar of speculation. I just looked at the Tom Cole article (here is a link ), and while it does say that the marvelous 4.5m x 3m carpet was in the possession of a khan, it says nothing about how it was woven. The Qashqa'i reference is based on my memory of reading Opie's book on the South Persians and how the khans participated in the rug world, but that book is in my local university library and I don't have it here. I am probably spewing nonsense, but it had a certain logic when I posted it. This would be a good area of inquiry for Jerry Anderson, actually, were he around to ask. I would think that even into the recent past (before the Soviets) that there would be some remnants of the sort of exchange I theorized, if it existed. I wonder if there are any folks out there who would know if there was an exchange of these things that were not for dowries (plenty of evidence for that) or for sale in the marketplace. That is what I am getting at, but for evidence, I might as well propose that they were woven as antennae for laser-guided tracking beams on the mother ship.
Well, I suppose it could have been intentional, but one never knows. Either way, I find that it adds a bit of character to the piece. I might be a bit conservative in dating. I think it might have all natural dyes, though there is an orange that I think is suspect. The other colours look quite good to me, and it has a wonderful green. I suppose it could be from the 1st quarter of the 20th century, but even if it is later I think it is a very nice piece using good materials.
Rich, it is woven from the "notched" end, which is part of the reason why I think that it was a "mistake" rather than a deliberate attempt at a mihrab.
At the least, if your weaver was merely executing a change in plans as to layout, she did it elegantly. As to the orange that gives you pause, is any of it shown in the close images? I don't see any colors there that would bother me.
I wasn't going for the throat on the issue of "weaving for august personages." I just wondered whether you had sources that led your thinking that way. My abiding belief is that we'd all be surprised a dozen times over if we fully appreciated the attitudes of the weavers of these rugs on any number of levels
My favorite part of Jim Opie's "Southern Persia" book is at the end, where he is in the Shiraz bazaar with his friend and mentor, Hajji Rahimpour. Hajji has pulled the dealer aside to speak with him privately. Jim asks a member of the delegation what Hajji is doing. "Leave him be," says the cohort. "Hajji is making a psychology with this man."
Oh, you were doing the right thing with me. I think there is something to my speculation, and I was hoping that people with experience in the field might have insights that they would be willing to contribute. In the absence of evidence, however, a speculation becomes as valid as anything else, and there needs to be the appearance of rigor, lest we stumble off from the possible to the ridiculous.
Clearly there was someone here at WSU awhile ago with an interest in rugs, since our library has Jenny Housego's Tribal Rugs and the Opie book. I'm the only one who has checked them out in the last decade, though. I do specifically recall some section of that where he talks about the Qashqa'i khans setting up some sort of cottage industry, I think dating back into the 19th c. I would think that weavings would be the most valuable currency they would have, and it would make sense that the most powerful individuals would have a significant stash of them. How the economics of that market worked is beyond me, though.
I love that scene at the end of Opie's book too. There is another scene in the beginning, with Qashqa'i women haggling over a machine-made copy of a vaguely "Shiraz" rug that was also powerful. It is a great book. Speaking of which, I ordered "Treasured Baluch Pieces" today...I should have some fun rugs to look at soon!
Another Good Book
Another relevant book, but one that is not all about rugs is Nomad: A Year in the Life of a Qashqa'i Tribesman in Iran, by Lois Beck. Here is her web page:
Nomad follows a Qashqai family on their migration during 1970-71. There is a poignant chapter about their daughter weaving a rug which must be sold to pay bills. 1970 is certainly not "antique", but the dynamics of the migration and nomadic life were probably still similar to many years ago. There is some information regarding the forced settlement of the Qashqai during the reign of Reza Shah, as described in Wikipedia:
"By the mid-1930s, Reza Shah's constructive, but dictatorial style of rule had caused intense dissatisfaction to the Shi'a clergy throughout Iran, thus widening the gap between religion and government. He forbade photographing aspects of Iran he considered backwards, like camels, he banned Iranian dress and chadors in favour of Western dress.  Women who resisted this compulsory unveiling had their veils forcibly removed. He dealt harshly with opposition: troops were sent to massacre protesters at mosques and nomads who refused to settle; newspapers were closed and liberals imprisoned."
Many of the forcibly settled nomads went back to their migratory ways after the shah was deposed in favor of his son in 1941.
There have been Qashqai settled weavers for many generations and one might assume that most of the "antique tribal rugs" we buy today were woven for sale in villages or towns. Firuzabad was known as a Qashqai weaving center.
Many were woven by nomadic tribes, too, and were sold or exchanged for other goods when the tribe passed by a village or town on migration or when they were settled in for the winter.
It is interesting how large some tribal rugs can be, but photos do show large rugs being used in the black goat hair tents for visitors and being made by a few nomad women together on horizontal looms.
Well, my Frank Diehr books (Treasured Baluch Pieces and Three Dusty Dozen) have arrived and I am in a semi-delirious state, having gazed at a whole bunch of images of killer Baluchi weavings over the last couple of days. While I was not surprised that there were many intoxicating images, I was pleasantly surprised that there was so much interesting text beyond the descriptions of the pieces themselves. As suggested earlier here by Frank, Plate 47 of Three Dusty Dozen does indeed appear to be a similar example to my Timuri carpet, but it was a treat to find the discussion of epic song/poetry of the Baluchis on pp. 44-45. This is an area of professional interest to me, being a musician who has studied similar traditions among the Kirghiz, the Mandinka of West Africa, and the ancient Irish. This reminded me that there is a CD on the Shanachie label, of Baluchi singers, Love Songs and Trance Hymns by a group called the Baluchi Ensemble of Karachi, which gives a sense of Baluchi music, though if memory serves there are no examples of epic poetry sung in this recording (does anyone know of such a recording?).
Anyway, there are tantalizing hints of other uses of Baluchi rugs and weavings beyond personal family use and for sale in the market in this section on Baluchi epic poetry. He says that he found a "small number of references to rugs and other textiles." Of the three examples he gives one example of what must have been one heck of a shawl, "worn but for one night and then given away as a generous gift," and another example where a beautiful "mat" was given as a gift/bribe to a Turk sultan, imagining the "carpet of some splendour...,valuable and beautiful enough to bribe a powerful Sultan of non-Baluch descent." What great books!
From the perspective of my own field, I can say with some confidence that epic singers have been shown to be remarkably accurate on a lot of historical information, though in a form more imaginatively-wrought than historiological, most dramatically demonstrated perhaps when Heinrich Schliemann uncovered Troy just where Homer said it would be (the Iliad being an oral tradition for 500 years before in was written down c. 800 BCE). Given the paucity of historical information on these weavings, this source seems to me to be a major find. I wish there were some easy way to track down the 1994 HALI 78 article, "Flexible Identities" that he mentions. Nevertheless, there is an example of an economic use of Baluchi rugs representing an established (that is, not an exceptional case) tradition, that is neither in the market or the family, dating from the late 15th century. So, I guess that must have ended the debate about the Baluchi not being a major rug weaving culture in the "classical" period, didn't it?
Anyway, thanks again for the book recommendations!
I'm glad you like those books!
As to the snippets from Baluch literature, not many have, surprisingly, commented on those, as ruggies often don't read the text, just saliver over the pictures.
But a thought of caution: While I agree that oral traditions may have been very stable, esp. since the Baluch had a cast of bards that were trained for years in reciting the stories, the impressive rug in question might have been a Persian, Indian or Turkoman rug, a prized posession and valuable because it was rare and aqcuired trough bravery rather than weaving, and/or it might have been a flatweave (the tribes in question lived in the Baluchistan proper /Southern Afghanistan broder regions). It is no proof that the Baluch of the 15th cent. were actually weaving exquisite pile rugs, or rugs at all, just an indication that they valued rugs, and yes, PERHAPS they produced them themselves. Still, I found it useful to publish those hints, as any information on Baluch rugs prior to, say (bravely), 1800, is very rare indeed.
This is just an uneducated guess!!