Two “Closet” Kermans Come Out, Briefly
Note: I need to acknowledge here at the beginning that this post is a little different from both it’s title and my conception of it when I first thought of it.
We ARE going to examine a couple of nice Kerman rugs, but then I wander with my camera and the post becomes what journalists call a “puff piece” for the shop of my rug dealer friend, Jamshid Aghamolla.
I have thought about it a bit, but have decided that I am unapologetic about this turn of events. Jamshid is that rare creature, an understated Persian rug dealer, who basically sees it as bad form to advertise. He believes, against the grain of the market and the world nowadays, that if he offers good material and deals openly and honestly that advertising will be unnecessary.
I, in turn, think it is necessary, occasionally, for others to speak up for someone who has such an optimistic view, despite what goes on.
Anyway, here’s to two nice Kermans and to Jamshid, the sort of dealer and person you’d want to deal with, if you could find him or her.
On to the post.
Early in June, 2010, I stopped by my friend Jamshid’s oriental rug shop,here in Washington, D.C.,
bringing a little tea, to supplement our conversation.
Coming through his front door, I automatically checked his right-side window where he tends to display a featured rug. He had a striking rug hanging.
“Nice piece in the window,” I said, finding safe places for our tea on his desk.
“There are two of them,” Jamshid said, “they’re ‘closet’ rugs. I thought people walking by during the Memorial Day weekend might enjoy them.”
Now the mention of “closet rug” requires some explanation. Many (most?) dealers have a cache of rugs that are referred to as “closet rugs.” Such rugs must meet at least two standards.
First, they must be pieces that the dealer personally admires greatly. This means that they will be beautiful rugs and also that they will have other features the dealer prizes, such at wonderful color, skillful drawing, exceptionally high quality materials, fine weaving, etc.
But secondly, and most essentially, closet rugs are pieces that the dealer is confident he could sell at a favorable price on any given day. One of the great disadvantages of a rug and textile inventory is that it is not “liquid.” A closet rug is selected in large part because it is like “money in the bank.” A closet rug is not, generally speaking, “for sale.” But its dealer-owner is confident that it can be converted into cash, instantly.
I remember the first closet rug that Jamshid ever showed me. It was a small Turkmen piece, similar to, but a little larger than what is often described as a “wedding” rug. I don’t have an image of the piece Jamshid had, but it was something like this.
It had wonderful color and precise, traditional Tekke drawing, but perhaps its most impressive feature was its handle. It was finely woven and velvety to touch, but more like a piece of much lighter weight material than a pile rug. Jamshid picked it up by a corner and dropped it repeatedly to demonstrate its unusual handle. It seemed to “pour” as it fell.
Although this piece was a closet rug, Jamshid was very attached to it. He told me that about 1980, a world-famous Turkmen scholar offered him a very high price for it and that he had declined. But Jamshid no longer owns it. A few years ago he was presented with an opportunity that required some extra cash and he sold this piece for far more than the Turkmen scholar had offered him.
I congratulated him at the time on being able to take advantage of this opportunity. He replied
“Yes, but I no longer have my little Turkmen.”
So that’s what a “closet” rug is. Now, armed with that understanding, let’s look at these two.
Wendel Swan and I returned on another day to take photos.
What follows may draw on images we both took.
The first of Jamshid’s two “closet” Kermans is the rug below.
This rug has a shape seen to be typical of old rugs: six feet wide and over eleven feet long.
Note: When I first put this post up I thought Jamshid had said that this first piece is a “Ravar” or “Laver” variety Kerman and I wrote that. Richard Purdon questioned that indication and I went back to Jamshid, who sees it as Kerman, but agrees that it is not of the Ravar sort. Sorry for the momentary error.
The field design is mostly devoted to two opposed, identical flower form arrangements, each of which occupies half of the field area.
Oddly, despite the profusion of plant forms, the corner brackets are connected by what appear to be architectural devices:
columns, that even appear to have “bases” or “capitals” that are part of the corner bracket designs.
The drawing on this rug is gracefully, in places, delicately, curvilinear. Here are a few detail images of other parts of it.
First, a large area of an upper corner,
with its elegant, spacious main border and resolved corners. It has densely drawn corner brackets and minor borders that do not compete.
Next is an upper portion of the field,
Spacious, delicate drawing and effective use of outlining.
I’m not sure that this is technically what is called a “vase” carpet, but it has vases at both ends from which plant forms emerge.
Despite the delicacy of much of its drawing this piece also exhibits considerable graphic punch with large plant-form “armatures” and “rosette” devices.
At its top there is a cartouche with calligraphy.
Jamshid indicates that this is the name of the person for whom this rug was made.
There are some design devices used in this rug that inspire Jamshid to what he admits may be speculative flights of imagination.
He says that during the Qajar years, many upper-class Iranians traveled and studied in Europe, especially France. As a result, there was an acquaintance with European culture that might seem surprising.
Part of what Jamshid has noticed is that there are what seem to be “butterfly” forms in this rug. Here are some examples I found.
It may take more imagination to see the two large central “blossom” forms in the field design as putative “fans.”
Jamshid wonders whether the maker of this rug might not have admired Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly,” and tucked in some subtle design references.
Well, maybe, and maybe not. Interesting insights nonetheless.
The handle of this first rug is not what one might expect of one with the classic Kerman structure of two taunt wefts and one much smaller sinuous one between each row of knots. This weft usage, with fully depressed alternate warps, would seem, usually, to provide a handle that is noticeably firm and substantial.
Well, this rug is thin, with a short pile and does not exhibit the expected firmness. It is soft and flexible in one’s hand.
Here are a couple of close detail images of its back.
This second one is a little closer.
The second of Jamshid’s two closet Kermans is a very different piece.
Also a rug of delicate beauty, it retains the older “length-twice-width” shape, but is smaller, about 3 feet by 6 feet. The density of its designs contrasts sharply with the spaciousness of the larger one.
Here are some closer details of various parts of this smaller piece.
Again there is a vase,
and the field, major and minor borders are packed with floral designs that vary in character and scale just enough to avoid what would seem like inevitable competition.
Below is a large detail of much of the upper half of this piece.
The detail below shows that the field design is composed of “spray” after “spray” of flower forms,
with little surprising, realistic, “house-like” departures (there are two) and a range of color much wider than the initial impression provides. There is lots of green in this rug, but also a great deal of red and pink.
Here is another detail of the left side of this field, showing the second architectural device at its edge.
Smaller details below provide a closer look at the borders.
The corner treatment of the major border is resolved,
and it may be that the minor borders are resolved as well, but their dense intricacy seems to eliminate resolution as a visual issue.
The handle of this second Kerman is also very different from that if the first one. The material again is thin and the pile very close-cropped but it has more firmness against the hand.
Here is a look at its back.
So that’s primarily what I wanted to share when I set out to take photos for this piece.
But once we had taken images of the two Kermans, I wandered around Jamshid’s shop with my camera.
It is an interesting place, and Jamshid is an interesting dealer and person.
He is interested in history and literature and politics and art. Sometimes, it is difficult to get him to talk about rugs.
Jamshid has some newer material, but his interests are still centered in older and antique rugs.
His shop is primarily composed of two large display galleries, with a mezzanine above that functions as his office.
In the main gallery, there is a worn but stately East Turkestan long rug on one wall,
Coming in the front door one faces this “Eagle Kazak.”
Some hold that this version of this field design with the single “burst” device and the two armature-edged half-medallions above and below, is the older one.
One the left wall are several noteworthy pieces.
First is this colorful Caucasian,
with a large-scale, graphically strong border, surrounding a dark blue field full of crisply drawn designs and topped by a niche device.
Jaff Kurd bags are ubiquitous, but Jaff Kurd rugs are relatively rare.
This one features an irregular use of green in its field, framed by a white-ground border.
In the right-hand gallery is this lovely Bijar mat.
Further toward the front on this same wall, is this interesting Anatolian pile piece.
This well-composed little rug, is not old, old, but its design roots are ancient, echoing (for me at least) Anatolian “animal” rugs.
I wander up to the mezzanine and found a pair of khorjin faces.
Here they are again, one at a time and a little closer.
First, the one on the left,
and, below, the one on the right.
I didn’t ask Jamshid for his attribution but they seem to be South Persian, perhaps Qashqa’i.
I am not sure whether these two khorjin faces are closet rugs or whether Jamshid has just not yet decided to make them more visible. They are somewhat unusual. Perhaps he has placed them a bit out of the way in order to consider them further.
I stopped by a few days after our picture-taking to get Jamshid’s opinion of a small mat I had picked up and found that the two nice Kermans have returned to the closet. The right window was hosting an attractive Kashan.
So, if you are ever close to Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street, near the “Woodley Park – Zoo” subway stop, Jamshid is nearby.
2313 Calvert Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20008-2644
Open Mon-Sat 10:30am-6:30pm
Stop in for some civilized conversation.
If he likes you, he may even be willing to sell you a rug.
R. John Howe