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Art Underfoot

A Carefully Chosen Oriental Rug Can Give a Lifetime of Pleasure
Linda Lynton
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 1)

The largest and most prolific segment of the rug-weaving world is the cottage industry, found in thousands of villages throughout the Oriental rug-weaving region, where local women make rugs for sale. Although each region, and sometimes each village, has its own traditional styles and motifs, the designs the women often weave are dictated not by their own or their families' desires but by the impersonal demands of the market. As a result, the ethnographic purity of the tribal rug has become blurred and, in some cases, lost. In spite of this, the aesthetic quality and the historical interest of many village rugs can be superb.

Like the tribal variety, village rugs are usually no more than eight feet wide. Geometric designs in bright colors are customary, and the best ones have the liveliness that is found in all folk art and each is generally thought to be the expression of a single illiterate but highly skilled artist. Most rugs tend to be in smaller formats, with four feet by seven feet a common size. Runners of various lengths are also made in villages, as are a few prayer rugs and assorted flat-woven pieces of varying sizes. Village-based cottage industries have probably existed since people began living settled lives. The Turkish rugs that regularly appear in European Renaissance paintings were probably woven by women from such villages.

Urban rugs, which are created in large-scale production facilities, are typically large carpets or very fine wool and silk rugs. They look to the old court rugs for aesthetic inspiration. These rugs are designed by professionals, woven by teams of weavers who follow written or verbal instructions and create intricate, curvilinear patterns that are impossible to reproduce on simple village looms. At their best, these factories produce technically superb, tightlyknotted rugs with sophisticated color palettes.

The fine antique rugs of the court ateliers were made only during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for when the Middle Eastern empires declined, so did demand for these luxury goods. It was not until the emergence of Western demand in the late nineteenth century that the urban--and cottage--rug industry resurrected itself. The urban rug industry boomed from about 1875 until 1917, supplying a strong Western demand, and today the industry continues to thrive, though at a more sedate pace. Most of the fine antique carpets and rugs on the market today date from this period.

A new wave of high-quality rug making again is altering the face of the Oriental rug world. Starting with the DOBAG project in Turkey in 1981 (the name is an acronym for a government-sponsored project called Dogal Boya Arastirma ve Gelistirme Projesi), various entrepreneurs have begun creating replicas of traditional rugs using natural vegetable dyes (a material that decreased in use in the late nineteenth century). They incorporate antique and "authentic" patterns using top-quality materials and weaving skills. These rugs, inspired by original tribal, cottage or urban rugs, are now being produced by urban and village workshops in Turkey, Iran and India.

Another way of classifying Oriental rugs is to divide them aesthetically into collectible and decorative items. A decorative rug is one that we're more likely to walk or sit on and which will fit with the decor. It is generally large (room size) and was probably made within the past 100 years or so. This type of rug often has a subdued--some would argue bland--color scheme to ensure that it doesn't clash with the furniture. It is also more likely to be an urban carpet made for the Western market, which prefers square carpets to the thin rectangles favored in Persia. Modern tribal and village rugs are considered to be decorative because they have not yet withstood the test of time. Like automobiles, rugs become valuable once they've reached a certain age, but the resale price of a modern rug, regardless of its quality, devalues as quickly as that of a secondhand car.

Collectible rugs can be virtually any type of rug one chooses to collect, but most rug aficionados agree that they are invariably old, as they are either medieval fragments or court or tribal rugs. These specimens are rarely found on the floor and more likely to be displayed or stored in specially made containers.

What follows is an overview of each region's rug-making styles.

Just about every community in Turkey has a carpet-weaving tradition. Many of Turkey's people are descended from eleventh century nomadic central Asian tribes, but there are many other minority ethnic groups, such as the Kurds in the east, the Georgians near the Black Sea and the few remaining nomadic (Yuruk) groups, that have now largely settled in villages.

Turkish rugs are woven by village women who are affiliated with cottage industries. They usually have detailed geometric designs that are often typical of the women's village or region. Most of these rugs--with the exception of the Persian-style products of Hereke and a few other towns--are tied with the symmetrical, or "Turkish," knot. Colors are bright, with red predominating, and black, blue, yellow and white used for highlights.

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