Archive for August, 2009

Keshishian Holiday Party, 2008

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

On December 15, 2008, Harold and Melissa Keshishian held a holiday party at their home in Washington, D.C.


They were busy hosting, and I had to catch them separately.

There were rug collectors, some possible dealers and Keshishian relatives and friends.

Harold, it is almost redundant to say, is an inveterate collector, and not just of rugs and textiles.  He is interested in Armenian and Ottoman items bacause of his family background, but things from almost any area of collecting interest can be encountered.

A few examples of what was about this afternoon.

First, coming in the front door one nearly faces a large wooden carving likely from southern Alaska.


On a nearby wall is part of an Ottoman item of dress, perhaps a sleeve of some sort.  From an Albanian messenger uniform, 1875.


In the entry hallway there is a small glass case with miniature items of various sorts.  I don’t have a photo of it, but one such was a small, exquisite ivory dog with a cane in its mouth.

Harold’s study is always arrayed with interesting textiles.  Here he talks to a dealer friend, F. J. Hakimian, an internationally known rug entrepreneur, about a rare, colorful,  Shah Rahrah woolen, brocade, striped Kerman shawl.  Early 18th century.


Several textiles were displayed on a central office table.  One of these was the Lakai embroidery in the image below.


A second piece on this table was this Ottoman item with metal.


This is, actually, a potentially, memorable photo.  Harold is bending over his textile, and left to right seated are Bruce Baganz, the president of The Textile Museum Board, Russ Pickering, and Michael Seidman, a Washington collector and TM board member.  To my mind it is the sort of photo to which Hali should aspire in its end-of-issue gallery.

Here are some additional shots of this interesting textile.


This is an Ottoman velour, with metal embroidery.  It is court quality, 18th century.

Harold saw similarities between the piece above and another, handkerchief-sized textile that had been brought in.


And when we got to the “show and tell” part of the evening, asked that they be shown side-by-side.


Also on this study table was Harold’s famous sumak mafrash panel.  This piece, repeatedly published, is one of the oldest and finest sumak weavings known.


Under this sumak panel was this richly colored and decorated textile.


This, too, seemed a textile deserving of multiple images.  This is a rare Kerman shawl, fragmented and reconstituted from several pieces.  18th century.


Some of the textiles at this party were worn and their wearers permitted me to take some images of them.




After a little eating and drinking, we were ready for the show and tell.

The first piece was this small kilim.


A closer detail of this piece.


I don’t think it was given an attribution.

A second piece was this southwest Persian bag face.


A little closer look at its distinctive central medallion.


The next piece shown was a longer Caucasian pile rug.


The field features large, colorful, spaciously arranged and internally instrumented botehs.


The minor borders on this rug contain unusual “checkmark” devices.  The main border has rosettes similar to the ones often seen on Talish rugs.


I don’t have access to the owner ‘s attribution, as I write, but the literature seems to suggest that this piece could have been woven in Karabagh, Baku or Genje .  Plate 167 in Bennett has a similar Talish-like border and is attributed to Genje.

The next show and tell piece was also a Caucasian, this unusual Shirvan.


It features a double-niche field design.


Its attractive, not frequently seen, main border was once heavily populated with a corrosive dark brown that has now mostly gone away.


Notice that the larger scale of this main border permitted it, originally, to frame the field without competing with the dense field designs.

The next piece  was the  inscribed, Persian, pictorial rug below.


A little closer look.


Someone in the room said that this is a depiction of a particular event and scene from Shahnameh.  Perhaps of Rustam lamenting for Suhrab.

The next rug was this small Kazak.


Predominantly red, white and blue, this piece has a nice green ground in one of its medallions.


It also has rectanguler devices at its ends that made its owner wonder whether it might not be a variety of “Karachof.”


This piece also exhibits a wider array of color than an initial impression suggests, including the green, already mentioned, but also a mild yellow and a purple.

There were two longish kilims in the room.  The first of these was the Anatolian slit weave below.


A closer detail of this piece.


I am unsure, as I write, about the attribution assigned to this piece.  In his shorter book on kilims, Petsopoulos provides a Sivas example, in his Plate 95, that seems similar, but which lacks the banded, compartmented treatment here.

Another kilim shown was this one.


A closer detail.  Again, I’m not sure what was said in the room, but this piece resembles a group of “banded” kilims that Petsopoulos assigns to Malatya.


The next piece was a “transitional” period Navajo blanket of high quality.


While graphically impactful, the stark simplicity of the design of this piece does not reveal its real qualities.  For that a closer look is needed.




Here, it becomes apparent that the “blue” ground is in fact a subtle blue-brown stripe and that there are two reds.

The owner modeled it for us.


Another piece that Harold had out was this Caucasian silk  with a thatched-type embroidery.


It is covered with regularly-shaped blossom forms, but at its center are five crosses.  It is a rare piece, estimated to be 19th century, and has an Ottoman tax collector’s stamp on its back liner.


One very experienced and knowledgeable person said to me, looking at the piece, that he saw these devices as geometric forms, but not necessarily as Christian crosses.  My sense is that Harold does read them in this way, and that they suggest to him that this piece was created by Armenians.  Harold notes that Schurmann saw these devices as Christian crosses and says the size suggests that it would have been used as alter covering on which to place communion cups, etc.

The back of this piece, mentioned above, has an interesting, fancy, large-scaled, printed design of its own.  I asked Harold to hold it up for me to take.


The next piece was the handkerchief-size textile below.  You have seen it above, but I want to treat it on its own here.


The embroidery in this piece is exquisite.  I think the owner said that she bought it either in one of the Greek isles ,or on Cyprus.

Harold  spoke to the next piece, saying that it was rare, but not yet of a type that commands much collector interest.  It is a small, Macedonian, table cloth reconstituted, in the fashion of Greek Island textiles, from a plethora of costume textiles.  Such Macedonian textiles have the handle of “armor plate.”


Here is a closer look at one corner of it.


A next textile was this silk piece, thought by its owner to be from the Far East.


A closer detail.


Harold said that he had a similar piece in the house and had it brought out  for comparison.


Harold said that his piece, and he suspected this one, was/were woven in Southeast Asia, perhaps Indonesia.

A last piece was acknowledged to be outside the sort of thing we textile collectors usually include in our collecting universe.  The owner was the former U.S. ambassador to Armenia.  He said he had collected this piece from the artist who created it in Yerevan, Armenia.


This item is a long piece of oilcloth decorated with a complex design.   It is a more recent art form  practiced by contemporary artists in this area.  Here is a closer detail.


The owner was not sure of its intended use and wondered whether it could have been meant to be a floor-covering.

I don’t think anyone in the room answered with assurance, but oil cloth (which is cotton canvas impregnated with oil to make it water resistant) was used as floor coverings in less affluent homes in both Great Britain and the U.S., beginning in the early 18th century.  There is lots of reference to “painted” and “printed” canvas for floorcoverings in the literature of early American furnishings.  So it is possible that this item could have been intended as floor covering.

The show and tell ended, and folks turned to dessert and coffee and to a last drink, before thanking Harold and Melissa for a fine evening.


I hope you have enjoyed this virtual look at this nice holiday party, with rugs and textiles added.

R. John Howe

An Interesting Minimalist Piece

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 by rjohn

I sometimes find “minimalist” pieces attractive.  This might be seen as my reaction to the rug world mantra of “color, color, color,” but I liked such things before I collected rugs.  So I think my eye is taken by some minimalist rugs and textiles because I find such pieces intrinsically attractive.  Mind you, I have not given up color, but I can often find other qualities very appealing.

Here are few pieces I own of this type.  The image below is of a Navajo blanket, probably about 1910.  If you treat “post” attributions seriously, this piece seems most likely in the style of either Crystal or Ganado, despite not exhibiting any red.

A restricted use of color is countered, interestingly, by not alternating the color of the devices every other vertical row as might be expected.

The piece above is an African raffia tube skirt from the Ivory Coast.  There is some color beyond the black, grey, white palette of the Navajo piece, but what strikes you, facing this piece, is its dramatic texturing.

The third piece is a macrame belt I made in the 1970s.

This belt is made of No. 10 white, cotton seine line and is done entirely in square knot and double half hitch.  Again, all texture.

The piece below is a child’s coir-fiber, rain cape knotted and worn by Miao minorities in southwest China.

This piece is knotted symmetrically, but is, even more, a piece that projects texture.

Early this year, I encountered and bought another piece in the minimalist vein.

This piece is best described with a very old-fashioned word.  It is, probably a “doily,” of some sort.  A “doily” is a small mat usually placed under a dish for protection of a table surface.  Traditionally, they were made of lace or even of paper.  I’m 72, and they were still visible in homes as I was growing up.  Although the need to protect surfaces from dishes still exists, one does not hear the term “doily” much anymore. The dealer from whom I bought this one thought that it had been made by an Amish woman about 1920 in Lancaster County, in southeast Pennsylvania.  It is more substantial than those made of lace or paper.

The mininalist nature of this textile extends beyond its color and design to include its structure and the way in which it was made.  There is no weaving at all, but it has firmer knots than you can find on any pile rug.  A couple of closer images will let you see some of this.

Here is a look at a back corner.

Mostly tan, but also some red, fibers were laid out at right angles to form a grid.  Then white cotton cord was used to tie each juncture firmly.  A firm knot, capable of being tied with a single end, is tied at each point at which vertical fibers cross horizontal ones.  The cotton tying cord then continues on to the next juncture, where it is tied again, etc.  This tying is done in concentric squares.

When all the junctures have been tied with the white cotton cord, the outside ends all around are cut (it was not clear, at this point in my considerations, when this cutting occured) and become a surrounding fringe.

Now the piece is turned over and “buttons” are rather crudely embroidered in brown wool to cover the tied junctures on that side.  Now we have a tan textile that has traces of red and also brown “buttons” decorating its grid intersections. (The piece looks more red than tan in the image below but, as I indicated early on, it in fact has a lot more tan cords than red.)

The last touch is that selected brown “buttons” are further embroidered in white to form an additional dimension of design.

Here is how these two colors of buttons now look close up.

This is how the completed piece looks overall, once more.

Despite the clear simplicity of the way in which this piece was made, it was not entirely clear how it was done, nor did I know what such a structure is called.

At first, I could not find anyone who knew either of these latter things.  Two dealers in antique U.S. textiles in the Black Angus antique mall in Adamstown, PA said they had seen such pieces, but did not know how the structure was described nor how they were actually made.  An expert weaver I consulted said the same thing.  The 90-year old mother of the hostess of a bed and breakfast I stayed at in July, said that she had seen such textiles and thought they were made on a wooden frame.

Recently, looking for something else in one of my macrame books, I found the answers.  The book with the answers is “Square Knotting or Macrame: Square Knot Handicraft Guide,” by Raoul Graumont & Elmer Wenstrom, 1949.  Their treatment is rooted in nautical knotting, but draws on that universe for knots particularly suited to decorative purposes.  The language used is full of nautical knotting terminology.

The first thing that caught my attention were images of some wooden frames and of a completed mat that seemed similar to mine.

The text says that to make such a piece one must build a frame precisely the interior size (that is, fringe not included) of the piece desired.  The openings in the woodern frame are of specified size vertically and horizontally.  Brads are driven in at these specified junctures across the top and bottom edges and labeled 1 through 8.  Similarly, brads are driven at the specified junctures down both sides and are labeled 8 through 14.

Now the basic material of the piece is put on the frame making multiple passes around the brads in a definite sequence.  For example, a first pass goes from brad 1 at the top to brad 1 at the bottom, then across to brad 7 and from brad 8 on the right side across to brad 14.

Once the material is on the brads and supported by them and the frame, one takes a tying cord and begins to tie knots at all of the intersections.  The knot tied is a “clove hitch,” a knot very well-suited to tying a sequence of  intersecting materials together firmly with a continuing single cord.  Here is an image of a clove hitch tied on a horizontal rod.

This knot is tied starting from below the bar with a single strand and taking it around the front of the bar going over its top and down behind its back.  Now this working end is brought forward from the back on the right side of the beginning section of the cord and then taken up, over, around and behind the bar again, moving to the left.  The working end is then brought forward from under the bar and pushed up underneath the second wrapping on the front side and is tightened by pulling this working end up.  Once tightened a clove hitch is remarkably firm.

And below is a visible series of clove hitches tied in this actual textile.

Notice that the tying cords move parallel with one of the material sections being tied where one material section crosses another, but that the white tying cord goes round them both tying them together before it goes on.  In the detail above, you can also see part of the concentric squares in which the tying cords move.  A separate cord is used for each of these concentric squares.

The directions say that the material sections that form the fringe are cut last, after everything else has been done and the piece is ready to come off the frame and the brads.

The book says this textile is called a “cross clove hitched doily.”  I no longer own it, but I like its minimal character very much.

Graumont and Wenstrom also give directions for some other methods for making different mats and rugs.  Some are done on wire frames, others are based on expanded versions of a knot called the Carrick Bend.

Here is one other especially nice looking rug for which this book provides instruction.

The finished character of the edges of this minimalist piece is especially nice.

This is the end of my little dissertation on minimalist pieces, triggered by my ownership of this little clove-hitched doily.

Not always, but sometimes, for me, less is more.


R. John Howe

DC IHBS Hosts Philadelphia Rug Society, Part 1, Caucasians

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 by rjohn

On May 18, 2008 the DC area rug club, the IHBS, hosted the Philadelphia Rug Society in a “show and tell” program of selected pieces.

Some considerable planning and preparation had been made and some of it was visibly going on as we arrived.

The Textile Museum made the Myers Room and one other available and a free lunch was served (just in case you thought the latter is an empty set)

Austin Doyle, the IHBS president, welcomed the Philadelpia Rug Society members.

Austin was the presenter for the first group of pieces, the Caucasians.  He began with the textile below.

Caucasian 1

This is a verneh (Caucasian flatwoven structure) with camels.  Verneh with a camel caravan are called Shadda and attributed to Karabagh, more specifically to Lombaran in the Barda district, to the East of Nagorny Karabagh.

Usually woven in two widths and sewn together along one edge.  Two colors, red and blue are used for warps.  The same colors are also used for the ground wefts.  Where both are the same, one finds a solid blue or red ground.  Borders have red warps and blue wefts, which give a different color tonality.  The camel figures are woven in extra-weft wrapping (sumac).  The white is undyed cotton.

Someone from the audience noted that there are both dromedary camels (one hump) and Bacterian camels (two humps) in this piece.

Caucasian 1a

The second Caucasian rug was the one below.

Caucasian 2

This is a Alpan Kuba fragment, with a bold design and beautiful colors.  It is missing approximately half of its length as well as its main border and outer guard stripe.

The designs consist of a single vertical row of repeating eight-pointed medallions, surrounded by elongated hexagons with claw-like projections.

The name refers to the town of Alpan, situated to the northeast of Kuba. Raoul Tschebull maintains that the geometric Alpan design can be traced, via 17th-18th century Azerbaijan silk embroideries back to the pattern of unglazed tiles found throughout the Islamic world.

The next Caucasian rug was the Seichour piece below from the extreme northern part of the Kuba khanate.

Caucasian 3

Caucasian 3 has the characteristic blue selvege and colors of Seichour rugs.  It has an unusual bird border and a fine weave, of approximately 130 kpsi.  Its Kasim Ushag design (usually seen in Karabagh rugs) derived from 17th century Caucasian embroideries.  This rug is a very close match with the Seichour rug in Raoul Tschebull article, Hali 62, page 84.  Field clearly derived from early Caucasian workshop carpets while the medallion is reminiscent of early Caucasian embroideries such as the one on page 106 of this same issue.

The next rug was also attributed to Seichour.

Caucasian 4

It has a small pattern light-red trellis field with corroded brown.  Its striking border has an abrashed blue-green ground, decorated with attractive, large-scale blossoms, curved leaves and blue selveges.

Its field is similar to that in a third-quarter 19th century Kuba rug in Hali 47, page 87.  Its field design and color are also similar to a Zeikhur prayer rug, dated 1861, in Tschebull’s article in Hali 62, page 86.

The next rug was a Marasali with an unusual pictorial field design.

Caucasian 5

The field of this rug includes fantastic animals and human figures, including Rustam, killing the white Div (demon).

Caucasian 5a

Rustam was the mightiest of Persian heroes and was imortalized by the 10th century poet Ferdowsi in the Shahnameh, or Epic of Kings.

Caucasian 5b

The rug has flame botehs and major and minor borders all characteristic of Marasali.

Caucasian 5c

The boteh design derived from Kashmir and then Kerman shawl designs and was used relatively early in Marasali rugs.

The next rug shown was likely one of the stars of the day.

Caucasian 6

It is a large Kuba prayer format piece.  Austin said that it is similar to several rugs in “Caucasian Prayer Rugs” by Ralph Kaffel, that are dated there from early to the mid-19th century.

Kuba rugs are noted for their naturalistic flowers, as seen in this piece.

Caucasian 6a

The tall, peaked mirhab is usually a sign of age.

Caucasian 6b

Its wonderful blue and black main border has a design that initially looks like a stylized Kufic script, but may, instead, be composed of countered botehs with one additional device and little red accent dots.  Blue selveges, and warps plaited together a the ends are both characteristics of Kuba.  Cross hatch minor borders can be seen in either Shirvan or Kuba rugs.

The next rug was the white-ground Shirvan prayer format piece below.

Caucasian 7

Austin indicated that this rug could possibly be from Daghestan (land of the mountains) north of Shirvan.  It has a spacious, serrated, lattice field, with many types of flowers.

Caucasian 7a

The piece has an inner medachyl guard border and a dragon S main border.  It also has a serrated mirhab with a continuation of the minor border design.

Caucasian 7b

Its flattened type mirhab can be seen in early pieces (it is dated 1864).  This rug has a possible anthromorphic touch with devices that are read by some as “smiling faces” in the floral design spandrels.  Its flatwoven ends finish with braiding.

Caucasian 7c

The next piece was the Karabagh khorjin face below.

Caucasian 7

This piece has an unusual central floral medallion and an apparent use of cochineal.  The field has the rudiments of a Herati design, with curving leaves resembling fish.  The Herati design is characteristic of Persia, and is unusual in the Caucasus, but can be seen in Karabagh.

Austin next moved to an unusual Shirvan rug.

Caucasian 8

The red-ground field, in this piece, contains four rows of flowers, with seven flowers in each row.  These floral figures have an anthromorphic appearance,

Caucasian 8a

and were termed a “Kelleli motif” by the Russian scholar Liatif Kerimov who thought that these looked like figures in Caucasian folks dances “Jally.”  Usually, these Kelleli figures are restricted to single bands in the upper and lower sections of the rug’s field.  The rows of figures decrease subtly in size going up the field, giving a sense of depth.  The rug belongs to a small group of squarish Shirvan rugs, often pictorial.

It has a white dragon border.

Caucasian 8b

Its knot count is approximately 100 kpsi.

The next Caucasian rug was the small Bijov below.

Caucasian 9

The design of this rug is a descendent of a very old one composed of repeated palmettes flanked by curved leaves.  It centers on three different connected and ascending palmette (or shield) forms on the vertical axis of the field, each flanked by “curled-leaf” motifs.

Caucasian 9a

Below each palmette are leaf-like elements which project at 45 degrees.  These rugs can be compared to some of the 19th century dragon soumaks, and presumably derive from 17th and 18th century dragon rugs from the Karabagh area.

Caucasian 9b

Bijov rugs are usually some of the largest of those from the eastern Caucasus, so this one is unusual.  While Bidjov rugs are often coarsely woven, this one is finer.  Its fineness has the effect of permitting the design to retain its effectiveness despite the small format.

Caucasian Rug 10 was the Seichour long rug below.

Caucasian 10

This opulently designed rug features three fully drawn, dramatic St. Andrews cross devices.  The diagonal cross designs display richly ariculated floral elements on a white field.  The colors are lovely.

Caucasian 10a

The rug scholar, Murray Eiland, says that these rugs were actually made in Tabasaran, a tribal area in southern Daghestan, north of Kuba.  Wright and Wertime claim this design was created in the 19th century for commercial purposes.

Caucasian 10b

This rug so impressed Dennis Dodds that he came to the front to make sure we noticed it merits.

Caucasian 10c

The next “Caucasian” piece was the one below.

“Caucasian” 11

The reason for the quotation marks is that it is not certain that this is a Caucasian weaving.  It may have been woven in Karabagh, but it may also be from eastern Anatolian.

Regardless, it is an interesting mafrash panel.  There is reddish red wrapping and a red flatweave with blue and white brocade.  There are highlights in white cotton.

The jade green and the shade of blue that occurs on the yellow band are consistent with Kurdish work from eastern Anatolia.

“Caucasian” 11a

The arrowheads and diamond figures in the field are consistent with either Karabagh or eastern Anatolia.

“Caucasian” 11b

I am treating the last Caucasian piece shown out of sequence because I momentarily “lost” it in the 315 photos I took during this event.  It is the south Caucasian long rug below.  Both warps and wefts are wool.

Caucasian 12

This graphically attractive rug features diagonal use of cruciform devices on a navy field.  These devices and this usage are similar to those seen in Shahsavan flatweaves.

Caucasian 12a

This rug has an archaic main border with trefoil minor borders.

Caucasian 12 b and c

The color palette in this piece is wide and beautiful.  It includes: greens, gold, medium blue, natural camel hair, tomato rust, salmon, deep blue, walnut, brass brown and ivory.

This is the end of the Caucasian part of this program.   We plan to add additional sections as they become available.

My thanks to  Austin and to the owners of the pieces shown for permission to share them with you.


R. John Howe

More About the Grogan Rug

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 by rjohn

Dennis Dodds has pointed us to some known rugs with designs similar to the Grogan auction rug in my post above.

He first mentions two rugs that appear in the catalogs from this spring’s ICOC XI in Istanbul.  These two pieces are in the TIEM collection. Here are two images of each of them, first an overall image and then a closer one.  (Wendel Swan was good enough to make these scans for me.)





Dennis also pointed to a piece in the McMullen collection. That image (still only of a detail) covers two pages and is presented as two joined scans immediately below. Again, first an overall image and then a detail.



The fourth similar piece, I’ve been able to find quickly was indicated by Dennis as in Hali, 128. Again there is an overall image and then a closer one.



We may have more to say about some of the similarities and differences in this group of rugs.

R. John Howe

In a Dining Room in Boston…

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 by rjohn

The catalog for a Grogan Company rug auction on December 10, 2007, presents the rug below as Lot 65.

(Note: Images from the Grogan on-line catalog.)


The catalog description is:

65 Rare Persian Garden Carpet, dated 1221 (1806); 19 feet 5 inches x 7 feet

This exceedingly rare classical carpet was recently rediscovered in the Dining Room of the Back Bay townhouse of the late Byzantine Art scholar, Carroll Wales; the poetic inscriptions and early date make this carpet almost unique among early Garden Carpets. “As-is.”


It is not that rugs like this are not seen with fair frequency on the international market. They are.

But it is somehow nice to consider that such a piece lay, until recently, in someone’s Back Bay Boston dining room. This was a dining room that deserved the capital letters of the description.


R. John Howe