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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 3)

Kãshãn, the Safavid center for silk rugs and carpets in central Persia, revitalized its industry in the nineteenth century to produce fine wool rugs with cotton foundations and asymmetrical knots, as well as fine silk prayer rugs. Famous for its high-quality, intricately detailed curvilinear patterns and classical Persian carpets, this town also produced rugs featuring the tree of life and gardens with cavorting birds and animals. Even today, its rugs are among the finest that are produced.

The eastern province of Kermãn is another renowned area of classic Persian carpet weaving, with the carpets of Ravar being the most illustrious. Although its weaving quality can vary, Kermãn is famous for its often innovative designs within the classical Persian style. Many patterns are similar to those found in Indian carpets, and it is their darker, less variegated color schemes that set them apart. Kermãn's garden and tree-of-life rugs are also well known.

Persia contains dozens of different tribal groups, some of which still have traditional nomadic lifestyles. Although fewer than 100,000 of the once politically important Bakhtiyari tribe of southern Iran still follow a seminomadic lifestyle, most Persian tribes have settled in towns and villages, and rug weaving is now largely part of a local cottage industry. Sizes and patterns vary, with their "garden carpets," which consist of repeating rectangles that contain stylized floral forms, among the most popular.

Eastern Persia, stretching from Turkmenistan in the north through western Afghanistan to southeast Pakistan, is home to a group of distinct nomadic tribes collectively known as the Belouch. They consist of such peoples as the Aimaq and Timuri of Afghanistan, the Kurds of northeastern Iran and the "true" Belouchis of southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. The rugs produced by these groups often have similar color schemes and designs, but the weave structures vary considerably. They are finely woven with lustrous wool and have dark somber colors, such as deep indigo blue and red, with white highlights, although some weavers use undyed camel hair, which produces the tan color that is so typical of these rugs. Goat hair is often used in the selvages--the edges of the rugs--and the ends of the rugs usually have several inches of intricately patterned kilims (flat weaves) to protect the pile from unraveling.

The dark colors of these rugs caused most early Western collectors to denigrate them, with the result that most of them remained very inexpensive until a decade or so ago. But as collectors began to understand the complex ethnographic mix of tribes under the Belouch label and increasingly recognized the different tribal styles, a market for these rugs sprang up.

The Caucasus is a range of rugged mountains stretching 650 miles from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Its numerous valleys contain a variety of ethnic groups and several different nations and political entities, namely Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, as well as such distinctive districts as Dagestan in southern Russia. Rug-producing areas include the Kuba, Dagestan, Shirvan, Karabagh and Talish.

Most Caucasian rugs, such as the Kazak, are created by cottage industries and are characterized by a wide range of vibrant, bold colors and geometric designs. Green, a difficult color to create with vegetable dyes because it is not as common as blue and red, is often found in the rugs of this region--a feature that differentiates them from most other Oriental carpets. One of the most famous Caucasian rugs is the Kazak, which sometimes has an "eagle" or "sunburst" design. Kazaks were woven in an area of Armenia to the northwest of Lake Sevan, and its rugs were produced by both Christian and Muslim groups, with strong but harmonious colors created with good-quality dyes.

Kuba, in northern Azerbaijan close to Dagestan, is another major rug-producing area. Here, blue cotton selvages are common, with high knot counts. Many of its nineteenth- and early twentieth-century rugs are in the form of runners--long and narrow.

Shirvan, on the southern side of the mountains, produces highly collectible rugs with typical Caucasian motifs such as the repeating eight-pointed star patterns. The knot counts are high, and wefts are of wool or cotton with ivory cotton selvages.

The group of central Asian states south of the Aral Sea--Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Kara-Kalpak Republic--are home to various nomadic tribes collectively known as the Turkomen. The major tribes are the Tekke, Yomut, Ersari, Saryk, Chodor, Arabatchi and Salor. Starting in the late nineteenth century, the fierce independence of these tribes was broken by Russian, and later Soviet, imperialism; now most have settled in towns and villages. Their traditional nineteenth century weavings, created when the tribes were still nomads, are highly collectible items.


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