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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.
Salon 133: Ugly Rugs and Odd Ducks
by Patrick Weiler
It was the best of collections, it was the worst of collections (apologies to Dickens). Turkotek is proud to bring to you a new low in rug collecting!
Rug collectors like to think that their collections have transformed, along with their base of knowledge, from neophyte to expert through a process of refining, reducing and focusing to meet the most exacting, rigorous and highest intellectual standards.
Some collections probably do.
I suspect, however, that many retain enough pieces exhibiting egregious errors, unfortunate horrors, misguided mistakes and execrable examples as to be eternally embarrassing. Along with a few odd ducks.
Loathe as we may be to admit to our pitiful propensity to purchase piss-poor pieces profligately, I propose this Salon as an opportunity for a cleansing, crummy-carpet catharsis (and as an opportunity for me to produce enough annoying alliterations to make you want to quit buying rugs).
The repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables, as in “on scrolls of silver snowy sentences” (Hart Crane). Modern alliteration is predominantly consonantal; certain literary traditions, such as Old English verse, also alliterate using vowel sounds.
But I digress frequently, if not eloquently. So, here are some pictures of Odd Ducks. I may as well get them out of the way; then we can enjoy the Ugly Rugs.
I like to think that this Aimaq “Baluch” rug is not ugly at all. It is certainly “condition-challenged” though. I do not know if the weaver was attempting to weave ducks, but only these two panels at the top of an overall lattice-design contain what seem to be waterfowl swimming in a pool. This rug is certainly old and includes the “electric blue” color that vividly contrasts with the typical conservative Baluch-type palette.
This next picture shows what certainly appear to be duck-like avian creatures. They are marching (quite the duck-like trait) along the inner-field of an otherwise ordinary Heriz rug. They may represent falcons or some other manly bird, but they sure look like ducks to me:
Heriz carpets, in general, are neither ugly nor odd nor for the most part very old.
OK, enough ducks. I am sure you are all patiently awaiting the embarrassing display of Ugly Rugs from my extensive collection of such pieces. To a great extent, Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder, but there are “universally accepted” standards of norm in most areas of art and collecting. I offer to you that, also, Ugly is in the eye of the Rug-holder. Some of you may actually LIKE these next few rugs. In the Art of Rugs, there are some features which are generally considered important in determining the quality of any given piece. These include, in no specific order, Color, Condition, Age, Rarity, Design, Structure and even Quirkiness. Quirkiness is a feature which I am honored to introduce to the rug lexicon.
Quirkiness could be considered integral to the Rarity or Design qualities, but seems to occupy a separate place of importance in many rug collections. A little Quirkiness can elevate a pedestrian piece to exalted status. Take, for example, the presence of a single chicken on a Baluch bagface, animal heads on the trees in the elem of an old Tekke engsi and various representations of anatomically-correct human designs on Caucasian rugs. There are also structural quirks such as "lazy lines", combinations of knotting, unusual techniques like offset knotting and multiple wefts. They all add enough interest to make an otherwise unremarkable piece worth acquiring and often can multiply the value of such pieces significantly. The problem with Quirkiness, though, is that it often tramples on the other rug features, disturbing the serene appreciation of the otherwise universally accepted qualities, and trumping the whole lot of them on occasion. And Quirkiness is what may be the only saving grace of many pieces which would otherwise be considered unworthy, or even ugly. It has taken me decades of rug collecting, trading-up, bartering, giving away, displaying, storing and moth control to begin to understand what truly makes a rug ugly. Some rugs just shout UGLY the first time you see them. Some are ugly on some levels but OK on others. Some ugliness is only appreciated after long study. Trust me, I have put in many years of studying ugly rugs.Way too many ugly rugs seem to have ended up in my possession over the years.
In my early years of collecting, it was due to simple ignorance. Mostly, though, the more recent examples were purchased due to even MORE ignorance and to purchasing on the internet. The internet presents numerous problems, including less than candid condition, color and age descriptions by the sellers. This can be due to innocent unawareness of features important to collectors. It can also, and way too often, be because the seller is all too aware of these deleterious features and of a conscious, evil, despicable (is this a bit too harsh?) purposeful intent to mislead. All of this is what influences me to present my first Ugly Rug of this salon.
I purchased this piece online. It was glowingly depicted as a most rare, delightful and desirable example of 19th Century Caucasian Kazak production. It looked OK in the pictures, albeit somewhat unusual for a Kazak. The rudimentary experience I have had with rugs persuaded me that in fact it may be a less lovely, lowly, lacking, lusterless Luri. Until it was actually in my hands, though, little did I know that it even surpassed this most pitiful, poor prediction; it was seriously ugly in so many ways.
It was described thusly:
Despite the age of this carpet, it is very well preserved. This rug has a wonderful bold color combination and an interesting rustic and archaic overall design. Good material quality. This is quite a bold and attractive rug which will be an unusual addition to a collection or can be employed to give many faithful years of service.
This is not to denigrate either the rug or the seller. The rug is large enough that a full photo shows little detail. The few close photos, however, did not show some of the fading dyes, heavy wear in places, the suspect orange dyes and the condition issues such as missing rows of knots at either end or the selvage splitting away for several inches in one place. It is 99” long by 42” wide. This is a rather long rug and may have been woven in the kelleh size and shape, sometimes called gallery carpets. Here is Ugly Rug #1 in a close-up shot.
How does it score in relation to Color, Condition, Age, Rarity, Design, Structure and Quirkiness?
Color: It has many good colors, although there seems to be some bleeding in some of the reds at one end; some colors appear to be fading and some of the orange colors are “suspect”. These issues would normally eliminate a rug from contending for a place in the collection. The abrash in the field is quite abrupt, although charming. With 5 being the best, this one probably scores a 2.
Condition: It is, unfortunately, worn to the knots in many areas, with a few rows of knots missing at each end and the selvage coming away in one area for a few inches. This is not a rug for the floor, regardless of the optimistic suggestion of the seller. This is also a 2.
Age: It could well be late 19th century, putting it into the typical “collectable” category, but it is not of “great age”, nor of recent vintage. Age gets a 3.
Rarity: Here we have what is arguably a unique rug. Is that enough to warrant a place in your collection? If the rarity is that it is of an ugliness rarely encountered, the answer would be no. I would have to give the rarity score a 4. Just because it is ugly does not mean it is not rare and just because it is rare does not mean it is desirable.
Design: The basic design is not unusual. It is a row of connected medallions in a plain, blue field with scattered rosettes. Often, Luri rug medallions are hooked diamonds. These medallions in this rug are bulky, cross-shapes, with un-hooked diamonds inside. It is a challenge to consider the intention of the weaver when making this rug. Was it an attempt to copy city rugs and was it to be sold, or was it made for local consumption? It is difficult to visualize a rug company selecting this one from the offerings of others. None of the medallions is identical and the Luri-style filler rosettes inside the yellow diamonds within the medallions seem to be like a cell undergoing mitosis. The Design score for this piece has to be a 1.
mi·to·sis (mī tō′sis, mi-)
noun pl. mitoses -·ses′ (-sēz′)
Biol. the indirect and more common method of nuclear division of cells, consisting typically of prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase: the nuclear chromatin first appears as long threads which shorten and thicken to form the typical number of chromosomes, each of which splits lengthwise to double in number with half of each set then moving toward opposite poles of the cell to become reorganized into two new nuclei with the normal number of chromosomes.
Structure: With a meager 5x5, or 25 knots per square inch and 2, 3 and sometimes 4 red and brown wool wefts and salt-and-pepper warps, it seems to meet most Luri construction features. The selvages have been wrapped with dark brown wool – possibly later. Structure must be graded within the type. Too often we are asked to be impressed with a high knot count and even, regular weaving. This would be exactly the opposite of what one would prefer in, say, an antique Qashqa’i gabbeh. In light of the rustic origin of this piece, structure rates at least a 3.
Quirkiness: This rug has it in spades.
“The Italian versions of early cards used the suits Cups, Swords, Coins and Batons, which, on migration to England, became Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs. The image for Spades on English and French cards looks somewhat like that of the German Acorn or Leaf suits, but its origin is revealed by its name rather than its shape. The Spanish and Italian for sword is 'espada' and 'spada' respectively, hence the suit 'Swords' became anglicized as 'Spades'.
We have been 'calling a spade a spade' for many centuries, but the expression 'in spades' is a 20th century US coinage. The term was often used before that in relation to card games, where Bridge contracts might be entered into in the minor suits of Clubs or Diamonds or, for the higher scores, 'in Hearts' or, best of all, 'in Spades'.
The figurative meaning, i.e. the non-cards-related 'very greatly' meaning, isn't found before the 1920s. The American journalist and writer Damon Runyon used the expression that way in a piece for Hearst's International magazine, in October 1929:
"I always hear the same thing about every bum on Broadway, male and female, including some I know are bums, in spades, right from taw." It isn't possible to be sure that the figurative 'in spades' derives from Bridge, but the coincidence of the time and place of the origin of the expression and the popularity of the card game certainly does suggest a connection.”
And you also probably wonder what the word “taw” means. I suspect that it relates to the game of marbles, as in this from yourdictionary.com: “The line from which a player shoots in marbles.” Therefore, I suppose it means they were bums from the outset, or from the minute they entered the scene.
If an “internal elem” (postulated by Shiv Sikri) denotes a latent prayer-rug design, this one prays up a latent howling hurricane of an internal elem. This rug is a train wreck from a design perspective. The borders change, the medallions are all different, the abrash is abrupt, the lines are not straight, and on and on. It is almost abstract. The Quirkiness rating is easily a perfect 5.
In total, this is a 20 out of 35. Barely above average, with numerous features arguing against even considering this rug for a collection; unless you happen to collect only very ugly or quirky rugs.
So, in summary, this is a very ugly rug. It has some “suspect colors”, very loose construction, condition issues, non-noteworthy design and OK age. But in Quirkiness, it must be one of the most endearing rugs I know. It certainly meets all the criteria for Ugly, though.
Here is another rug for your entertainment and review:
It was also an internet purchase, described as antique Bakhtiari. It is 62” wide by 83” long. It was commercially made, with the typical Heriz-type medallion design copied usually in a more floral version by settled Bakhtiari weavers in the Chahar Mahal region. In this case the design is an even more-geometricized (or, some would say, degenerate) version. Antique it is not. In hand, it seems to have been made mid-20th century. Here is a closeup:
The nearly neon orange (needless to say it was not noticeable on the internet photos), problematic pinks and some bleeding reds put this immediately into the undesirable category. Structurally, it is solid as a board, with fully depressed cotton warps and blue cotton wefts. It is sturdy enough to withstand an army. As a serviceable floor rug in a high-traffic area, it is perfect. It is also very ugly. If you enjoy scoring, you are welcome to try my scale with the rest of these rugs. If, on the other hand, you are bored out of your mind by now, I suggest taking up knitting.
Next is this rather unusual item.
It is in a wagireh (sampler) format, 45’ wide by 58’ long. Samplers were made by the rug designers to be used by rug weavers to recreate the borders, fields and motifs into larger size rugs. After purchasing this rug online, I saw another in the same format, size and construction in a dealer showroom. I have not, though, seen a full-size rug made from the designs in this sampler. I have concluded from this evidence that these pieces were made due to the popularity of true wagireh pieces and were an attempt to capitalize on the trend. This is not the only trend I have jumped on right away, to my everlasting chagrin. You should see me in my disco clothes, high-heeled shoes and dazzling gold jewelry.
This close view shows two things: the glaring orange and a couple of the birds in the field. Once again, the inimitable internet made the obvious orange invisible.
In this case, the quirky birds bring no salvation to an otherwise ugly rug. It does serve a purpose, though. It is on the floor of the entryway just inside my front door. It pleases me tremendously to tread upon it mercilessly each time I enter or leave the premises. It will undoubtedly outlive me and serve to irritate some future owner just as much.
Next is this fairly innocuous piece. It is an Afghan prayer rug, 29 to 31” wide by 44” long. In the trade it would be known as a Baluch, but way too many rugs of Afghan origin have been mislabeled in this way over the years. Even the sobriquet Afghan-Baluch is probably misleading and most likely inaccurate for most of them.
The variation in width subtracts from its value – both monetary and aesthetic. It is a rather unusual “Baluch” rug in that it has fully depressed wool warps and a hemp weft. I know that it predates the Afghan war and refugee rugs because I bought it in the mid 1980’s.It was one of my earliest purchases, and my first prayer rug. Do not bother attempting to interpret the design motifs. The value of your labor is greater than the price of the rug. It is ugly in many ways. The colors are bland, the design is imprecise, the construction and materials are cheap and any semblance to the intent or precision of its design origins is laughable. I had to tie knots in the warp ends to keep it from unraveling; to no avail, however. It is so ugly that even it’s quirkiness is no salvation.
Speaking of ugly Afghan rugs, here is another early purchase. This one violates nearly every rule of rug buying. It was ridiculously cheap, poorly made, with drab colors and an odd design. It is 20-1/2” wide by 26” long with also fully depressed warps. This one, though, has the dirty grey wool warp and weft common to many of the inexpensive Afghan Baluch rugs of the 3rd quarter 20th century. The photos, from front and rear, show what sunlight over 20 years will do to unstable colors. The blue on the back has turned grey and the other colors have become drab. Except, of course, the orange. When new, all the colors were identical front to back.
It does, however, contain a design of mystery and suspense; the "winged horse-woman with headphones". It possibly is related to the Assyrian winged horsemen statues at the Louvre Museum in Paris or Ahura Mazda. Neither of them wear headphones, though. I have not researched the origin of this design, but even if I knew where it came from, it could not possibly increase the value of this rug a whit.
What is a whit, anyway? From yourdictionary.com:
The least bit; an iota
Origin: Middle English, amount, from Old English wiht.
Dang, now we need to know what the heck is an iota? Would you recognize one if you saw it? Again, from yourdictionary.com:
the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet (Ι, ι)a very small quantity; jot
Origin: Gr iōta < Sem, as in Heb yōdh
This does not adequately explain the etymology of the word to my satisfaction, but if you want to learn more, please do it on your own time. I am on a schedule here, to bring ugly rugs for your viewing pleasure! So, on to another ugly rug:
This is a Kurdish rug with a width which varies from 33” at the top to an astounding 37” at the bottom and what remains is 79” long. It is severely worn throughout, missing the bottom border and has several repair patches from different rug scraps. It is painfully plain, although it contains a quirky blend of beautiful boteh designs in a more or less diagonal orientation. Another redeeming feature is the insertion of several quadrupeds, many with two heads. The colors are all good, but the condition and variation in width put it squarely in the Ugly category. When it was offered on the internet, the price was low enough that I felt I should buy it just to keep someone from throwing it into the trash (I do not recommend this strategy as a means of improving your collection).
Well, that is probably enough ugly rugs to put you off your feed for a while. I will not post pictures of my Pakistan Princess Bokhara mat; I will spare you the disgust and humiliation. Granted, I acquired it as part of the furnishings of the house I live in. This does, however, make one curious about why we own some of these ugly rugs in the first place.
I bought some of my ugly rugs as furnishing pieces to put on the floor, prior to beginning to actually “study” rugs. The first one that I bought was a machine-made rug from Sears (no, I do not still have it). Price has always been a factor in my purchases, although with assiduous searching one can now find pieces that are now affordable although previously priced too high. The old saying that you should buy the most expensive piece you can afford sounds good to someone with unlimited means, but most of us buy the best we can find within a price range we can afford.
This would be a great time for a novice rug enthusiast to begin a stellar collection of ugly rugs, due to the current economic lull. With the internet (caveat emptor) bringing a vast array of rugs of varying quality to the living rooms of nearly everyone, the search for rugs has been transformed. In the late 1980’s I would visit all the rug dealers around, attend auctions, browse GOB sales, haunt antique stores and flea-markets, estate sales and yard sales. I have now amassed a huge inventory of crude, ugly, worn-out fragments of no value or use whatsoever. They are too worn for the floor and have no art-historic value at all. Most were bought at astronomically high prices and no one would consider buying them now, even for a pittance. Their true value is what I assign to them when donating them to Goodwill and taking the charitable deduction from the IRS. Please contact your accountant for tax advice, as I am neither an attorney, accountant nor rug expert.
Now you are encouraged to bare your soul and share examples of your most embarrassing rugs and weavings for all of us to denigrate mercilessly.
I have retained a few of my own more egregious examples for sharing while this Salon is on line. Due to the extremely odiferous nature of this salon, the Internet Police may banish it as soon as they are informed, though, so post your ugly rugs right away!
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