Jerry Thompson, 1936-2016

Jerry Thompson, died on March 18, 2016. 

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Jerry was an active and successful high-end dealer in oriental carpets in the Washington, D.C. area.  This was remarkable, in part, because he worked from his home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a hour and a half to the northwest.

Jerry was an important figure in the D.C. textile world.  We’ll do some of the usual “obit” things in this post, but want, mostly to give you a concrete sense of who Jerry was and how he served as a resource in the local textile community.

To attempt this we’re going to present a collage of internet clips reporting on Jerry in action.

(Note: We thank the owners and managers of turkotek.com for permission to use posts from their site.)

Here’s a beginning one in which Jerry sets the stage for a Textile Museum “potpourri rug morning.”  He had a definite, appealing “shtick.”

On September 8, 2007, Jerry Thompson hosted a “rug morning” at The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C. on the subject of “Potpourri: Carpets from the Middle East.”.


Daniel Walker, the TM’s Director, introduced Jerry, noting that Jerry has been doing rug mornings for over 30 years. 

Jerry explained the “potpourri” approach to a rug morning.

He said that a good analogy is the event at a carnival or county fair where a person guesses you age and weight, within narrow limits, from your physical appearance.  In this “rug potpourri” Jerry said, it would be his task to make a first attempt at suggesting where a given piece was likely woven.  The audience was invited to disagree or supplement Jerry’s indications.

Jerry also invited questions.  His practice, he added, would be to answer those that he could, commenting, as he did so, on their sagacity, but to suggest that any that he could not answer were simply inappropriate.  🙂
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You get a beginning flavor of how he operated. 
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Jerry collected Turkmen rugs and two of his Turkman pieces appear in the classic Louise Mackie-Jon Thompson, 1980 catalog “Turkmen.”
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The first of these is a Tekke chuval.
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Jerry said to me once that he thinks that Thompson chose this piece, in part, because the use of animals was unusual in a Tekke chuval elem.
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The second piece that Jerry owned that appeared in “Turkman” was the Yomut tent strut cover below.
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Jerry said that it is dangerous to claim that a piece is unique, but that he knows of no other Yomut strut cover with this “bird-on-a-pole” field design.
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Jerry also collected Persian city rugs.  Here is a tidbit from a TM program he did on them.
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 On October 7, 2007, Jerry Thompson presented a Textile Museum rug morning program on Persian city rugs.
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Jerry is a long-time collector-dealer in the Washington, DC area. He joked that he has been handling such rugs for over 30 years and is beginning to “catch on” a bit about them.

What we now describe as ‘Persian city rugs” are most usually rugs and carpets woven in the late 19th to the early twentieth centuries in such cities as Kerman, Kashan, the Sarouk area, Tabriz, Ishfahan, etc. Persian city rugs are usually curvilinear, woven following a set design of some sort, and are frankly commercial products, some woven under the auspices of western rug weaving operations (like Ziegler) in Iran.

Most Persian city rugs would not attract the attention of collectors much, but some instances of them rise above the ordinary and Jerry is a collector who does collect some city rugs. Wendel Swan is also, I believe, attracted to them, and I would expect that Harold Keshishian could produce more than a few if asked.

He began with a piece woven in Kerman.

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He said that this is a good beginning example of a Persian city rug. It displays some of their frequent characteristics. First, it seems very likely to have been woven following a design (perhaps a graph paper cartoon) that indicated, knot for knot, what this design in what specific colors should look like.

The indicator for this is that the drawing on it is nearly perfect. That is, no irregularities are displayed. The design is one that could have been woven from a cartoon that contained only one quarter of this whole. The weavers could mentally reflect the cartoon to produce the full top half and then reflect that half on a horizontal axis to produce the lower half.

Another sign that this Kerman piece was woven from a precise, predetermined design, Jerry said, is that it has perfectly resolved corners on its borders.

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That is, the borders approach each corner and then move around it smoothly with elements of the border drawn at a 45 degree angle in each corner. Such resolved corners are also sometimes described as mitered, a reference to the shape of some ecclesiastical hats.

Jerry said that this rug does not achieve the excellence of the old Kermans that so enthralled Edwards in his classic The Persian Carpet, but it does have (not counting shades) about 13 colors, about twice what one encounters in most rugs.

He estimated that this piece was likely woven about 1920. He said turn of the century Kermans would have been thinner than this one is and that, about World War II, Kermans took on washed-out colors and medallion designs with large areas of open field.

Note: Jerry did not broach the distinctive three weft structure of Kerman pile rugs.  Maybe he saw it as too technical for this RTAM audience (he certainly knew it).

A second city rug, below, is a Kashan, estimated to have been woven in the early 20th century.  Jerry said this rug is noticeably fine and thin.

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He said (I not sure he was referencing this piece in doing so) that there were some identifiable workshops in such cities as Kashan and Tabriz and that some feel that they can identify rugs woven in them. Perhaps the most famous workshop in Kashan is described as Motasham.

There are questions about whether rugs woven in this precise workshop can be identified. Some say that more pieces are claimed to be Motasham than could conceivably have been woven in a single workshop,  from the later 19th century into the early years of the 20th, and that the term is now likely an article of dealer hype and to be avoided. But others (I have heard Harold Keshishian make this argument) say that Motasham pieces often have technical features that permit at least probable identification (one is that they are claimed usually to have pink silk selvedges).

Jerry said (and he may, now, have been referencing his rug above) that some claim to be able to recognize “son of Motasham” pieces.

As we were discussing the piece above, Richard Isaacson, asked from the audience, “How do you know that it is a Kashan?” This is a good question, since although Kashans have technical features (i.e., asymmetric open left knots and blue wefts) that clearly distinguish them from rugs woven in Tabriz (the latter have symmetric knots very uniform looking because they were woven with a hook), the former could be difficult to distinguish from some Sarouks that use the same knot and also have blue wefts.

Jerry’s response, I think, ultimately suggested that he personally uses a species of what Neff and Maggs call weave pattern, that is the overall appearance of the weave on the back. Neff and Maggs, in their description of Kashan vs “old” Sarouk weave patterns say that in Kashans the “weft is sometimes barely perceptible” while with Sarouks “each weft line is visible along its complete transverse and varies in thickness”. They also say that there is something distinctive about the shape of the knot nodes of both Kashans and Sarouks, but don’t describe these shapes concretely.

My guess is that having handled many Kashans and Sarouks over the years Jerry has developed an ability to “read” the differences in their respective weave patterns in a gestalt way that he does not necessarily fully articulate to himself. But the difference in weft appearance alone would seem to be a pretty reliable basis for making this distinction. Interesting stuff.

The rug below is the only Tabriz that Jerry showed.

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He drew attention to its totally different palette (in truth Tabriz rugs are known for their wide variation in both design and coloration). Jerry said that this piece was made for market, but that he thought that it might be defensibly seen to have been woven by the Haji Jalili workshop in Tabriz.

He described it as “more subtle than dynamic,” and said that he loves the yellow. He said that the selvages are original and unusual in that they were two-cord rather than the expected single-cord. He said this rug hangs in his office.

Folks in the audience asked to see it reversed on the board.

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Jerry said that folks usually talk about rugs having a lighter or darker look when reversed.  He joked that when he is showing such a rug to a customer he says that one side is “richer” and the other “subtle.”  🙂

Jerry liked samplers (vagirehs).

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Here are two he owned.

The first is a subtle one.  He said that he owned this piece for several years before noticing that this is what it likely is.  Only the small strip of white-ground border at the edge of the field suggests that it a vagireh.  It is of the type sometimes called a “strike 0ff,” a smaller version of planned larger rug with all the colors and designs to be used.

Here are two views of the subtle piece. The first is head on and you can see the small white-ground stripe at the top edge of the field that triggered Jerry’s suspicion

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The second side image below is to let you see the bottom end of this piece.

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Jerry said “the blue field piece is a Hamadan woven with characteristic Sultanabad design elements.”

The visible question of this strike-off sampler is “Should we use this white-ground border or not?”

Jerry also sent along another vagireh he owns:

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It is an unusual one.  It’s not clear that it is of the type intended to guide the weaving of a complete rug.  Jerry said “this predominantly green field piece is a Mahal.”

 Jerry was very attracted to Caucasian rugs and one of his last acts, as an active member of the Washington area textile community ,was to produce and curate an exhibition of them in 2006 at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland.  He drew on his own collection and those of two friends in his area.
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Jerry wrote a catalog for this exhibition.  This catalog was an admirable and substantial piece of work and personal publishing.  It provided a map, a six-page initial discussion, and then full-color largish “finger-nail” images and gallery labels of all of the pieces in the exhibition.
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 Done as a piece of personal publishing it’s something to be proud of.
Here are a few of Jerry’s Caucasian Rugs.

Jerry owns one of the most sumptuous “eagle Kazaks” of which I know.

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Wendel Jerry Thompson RTAM June 2011 Eagle Kazak (002)*

It has a full, meaty pile, wonderful color and graphic punch,

Jerry often says that it has enough “Coke-bottle” green to slake the thirst of aficionados of that color.

Jerry liked Shirvans, but insisted that the side selvedges be absolutely correct.  With Schurmann he insisted that Shirvan selvedges must always be two-cord and white cotton.  And on his own rugs they had to be in perfect condition.  He would have them redone if they were not.  I used to kid him that he was fixated about this.

Here is a Shirvan rug (not Jerry’s) showing its white side selvedges.

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And here is a closer corner to let you see them a little better.

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Below is one of Jerry’s Shirvans shown in this exhibition.

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He said that rugs from the eastern Caucasus display many, minute design elements.  The Shirvan rug, below, is an exceptional one because of the spaciousness of its design.

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(The 2006 catalog uses the word “paucity,” but I prefer the more positive usage “spacious.”)

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Jerry would buy outlandish pieces, if they took his fancy in some way.
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This was his last piece in one TM “rug morning.”  He introduced  it by acknowledging that it is a rather dramatic departure from both his own, and more generally held, standards of what might be seen as “collectible.”  He said that he wanted a few minutes of explanation before the hooting began.  🙂
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He said that it is Chinese, perhaps about 1920, with a garish palette of pretty obviously synthetic dyes, but that its graphics still have appeal for him. So much so that he has actually had a little restoration work done on it.

I asked to see the back and he was a good sport about that.

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Very often there is good conversation after an RTAM.  Here’s Jerry with an audience member.
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Wendel Swan sent me this remembrance:
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“I don’t remember meeting Jerry Thompson for the first time, but it was probably in the late 1970’s at The Textile Museum.  He was from Waterloo, Iowa and I was from Rock Island, Illinois, about 140 miles distant.  Whenever or wherever we met, it immediately seemed as if we had always known one another.  “Jerry and Kaye lived in Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia but with a population of just over 2,000.  Their house was on a large lot in a newish subdivision outside the historic area and Jerry conducted his rug business from the lower level of the house, but it wasn’t retail.  He was good at his business because he was good with people.  Surprisingly, his most important customer was a large corporation in New York City.” Despite being at least an hour and a half from Washington, Jerry attended most meetings of the rug societies and events at The Textile Museum, including receptions, conferences and Rug and Textile Appreciation mornings.  Jerry was a frequent presenter at the RTAMs, usually bringing in and discussing pieces from his collection.“Jerry was naturally gregarious, had a wonderful laugh and sense of humor, never complained or criticized and his enthusiasm for rugs was contagious during his RTAM presentations.  It was that warm personality that caused Diane and me to meet or see Jerry and Kaye periodically outside the rug world – sometimes for dinner in Shepherdstown, sometimes here in Alexandria.  Our conversations were never dominated by rugs.“When Jeff Boucher became ill and unable to continue as president of the International Hajji Baba Society, Jerry persuaded me to take on the task, despite the fact that I felt I needed a break after just serving for several years as the president of the Washington Textile Group.  (The two groups merged within two years.)  Jerry was an eager member.  He especially enjoyed participating in the show and tell events, such as we traditionally had at the summer picnic.  Unfortunately, Jerry’s health was not good in his final decade.  He had trouble walking and moving.  When Diane and I visited them in Shepherdstown one Sunday, Kaye said that when he took me upstairs to look at his collection again, it was the first time in three weeks that he had managed the stairs.“In June of 2011, he had rebounded sufficiently to do an RTAM with two other collector friends from his area.  Although it was tiring, he enjoyed doing it one more time and the audience enjoyed him one more time.  I captured my last image of him showing his favorites: a Caucasian rug and a Persian rug (ed. both of which appear above).

“A friend, and one of the old guard, has left us.”

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Let’s end with some “Jerry” stories.
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Jerry story 1:
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“Jerry was always on the lookout for a “bargain”.  In his eyes a “bargain” was a wonderful piece being sold by someone who had little or no idea of its real worth.  This got his juices flowing and was his idea of real fun.   A flea market or an antique mall would be the location .  In Jerry’s mind, it meant that he could take the rug home, wash it in the driveway and put it up for sale at its “real” retail value.  Jerry’s system for pricing rugs was based on “price per square foot”.  What this system did was eliminate or downplay any subjective factors.  So a 1950’s Hamadan in good shape with no “fire engine red” colors was worth so much a square foot.  He could spot a bargain from a mile away and would yell “teppich sighting” across the room.  Wherever we were on the floor, we’d run over to see what he’s uncovered.”
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Jerry story 2:
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Rug clubs are reflective of the prevailing social prejudices of any  age.  The New York City Hajji Baba Society initially barred women because, as one founder held,  they are not able to appreciate the finer qualities of them.  And the New York Hajjis were sundered, for a time, over a dispute about their restrictive membership policies.  The Washington, D.C. club, The International Hajji Baba Society was founded by members of the New York club and carried on some of these prejudices.  Jerry told of his discovery that this was the case.  He wanted to propose a new member for the DC Hajjis and took the application to the office of McCoy Jones, who was club president, for submission.  McCoy was out of the office and Jerry said to his secretary that he wanted to leave this application.  The secretary replied, matter-of-factually, “that’s fine, if they’re the right kind of person.”  Jerry asked “What is the right kind of person?”  The secretary said “no blacks and no Jews.”  Jerry said that he walked out of the office having discovered something he had not previously known.
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Jerry story 3:

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Jerry was never unkind to audience members.   But he could be acerbic if an audience member was unjustifiably proud of a piece brought in. For example, if someone brought in a visibly young rug and asked how old it was in a way that suggested he clearly expected an older estimate, Jerry would pause…and then look at his watch.
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Jerry story 4:
 Jerry told the story of how he acquired his prized “Eagle Kazak.”
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He said that he had a “picker” who lived a couple hours drive away from him out in the environs of West Virginia.  Jerry said that this picker did not know anything really about oriental rugs, but had a good eye for them.  One evening this picker called him and said he had a rug for Jerry to look at.  Jerry had had a long day, wrestling rugs in DC, as he showed them to customers and didn’t want to make the long drive.  He said he come first thing tomorrow morning.  The picker was doubtful and said “Well, I got some people coming to look at things, and it’s an awful pretty rug.”  Jerry made the drive next morning and sure enough, when he arrived there was a couple looking at what the picker had, and right in the center of things was this jewel of rug.  Jerry said he sweated blood until this couple made their purchases and left and this prize was his.

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Jerry story 5:

Hobby clubs are prone to dispute and division.  This happened too for a time with the DC “Hajjis.”  A groups of “young Turks,” so to speak, left and formed The Washington Textile Group.  After a few years, the clubs decided to merge, again, and the question of what its name should be now arose.  Some felt that the “Hajji” name was ethnocentric (it was taken from James Moirer’s 1824 novel, which made what some thought was discriminatory fun of Persians).

Jerry, who was prominent in the club, then, was asked to do the research on the name, preparatory to a club vote.  Jerry did a yeoman’s piece of research [I was able to contribute by giving him a copy of a book on the history of the NY Hajji club ( ironically, given what I’ve reported above) written by a woman, Olive Olmsted Foster.]  Jerry’s report was submitted to club members and a vote was taken.  It was close, but the International Hajji Baba Society name was retained, to the embarrassment of some of us who still see it as clearly ethnocentric.

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Jerry story 6:

Like all of us, Jerry sometimes made mistakes.  He once acquired an Ersari rug with which he was enthralled.  Sharply drawn “gul-i-guls” and lot of a wonderful clean green.  As you know, all of us are taken with good purples, strong yellows and greens since these are seen as more difficult to produce with natural dyes.  Jerry brought this rug to a TM program he was giving.  He treated it as his concluding piece and it was hanging on the front border as people moved to the front.  Someone, I think maybe Colin England, was looking closely at this piece and found that the green colored knots were white at their base.  Horrors!  The green areas has been painted.  I don’t have pictures of this piece and Jerry is glad.  He never wants to see it again.

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Jerry story 7:

I think I only ever bought one piece from Jerry.  It was constructed.  He had a large, damaged, Afghan, “Ersari” main carpet.  It was a dark rose with Taghan guls and lots of borders.  He cut a strip out of it 8 feet long and a little more than 2 feet wide.  Made a runner.  He told me he also got several pillows out of it.

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He bragged, as he was selling it to me, that he had this lady who had put nice, tight selvedges on its sides.  He wasn’t claiming that they were a traditional Ersari usage, but he was proud of these selvedges.  They were necessary, in this case, and were of the sort he liked.  His concern for the character and condition of selvedges was general.  This “runner” has been on the floor here in a high traffic hall for 20 years and these selvedges are in pretty good shape.  He would still be proud of them.

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Jerry story 8:

Jerry Thompson came from Iowa and often visited there.  He scavenged for rugs DC, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, and did very well, but he repeatedly complained that there were no oriental rugs in Iowa. 🙂

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Obituary

Gerald (Jerry) W. Thompson, of  Shepherdstown, W.Va.,  was the son of Henry and Grace Thompson of Waterloo, Ia.

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After graduating from college, he was drafted in the Army. He spent two years in the Counter  Intelligence Corps in Washington, D.C

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Following his military service, he earned a Masters degree from the former State College of Iowa, now University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

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Between 1962 to 1976 he taught high school in Illinois and held an administrative position in the Jefferson County School District.

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He then established the Gerald W. Thompson Oriental Rugs business.

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He joined the Textile Museum in 1973, where he was a frequent lecturer.  He also established a personal rug collection. He was an officer in the Washington, D.C. Rug Society, now the Hajji Baba Rug Society.

 

Survivors include a son, Steven Thompson of Manassas, Va., Kaye Pritchard of Buckingham, Ia., whom he married in 1986, three stepsons, Nathan, Seth and Kurt Jesse, and seven grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by a daughter, Sarah Thompson, a brother, Richard Thompson, and his parents.

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Memorial donations may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center at donate.splcenter.org

 

Services will be private.

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Last thought:
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Good work, Jerry.  It was good to know you.  A lot of us are going to miss you.
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John Howe and Tom Leonhardt
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Sources
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Turkotek.com
http://www.turkotek.com/mini_salon_00017/salon.html
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http://www.turkotek.com/mini_salon_00015/salon.html
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http://www.turkotek.com/mini_salon_00010/salon.html
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 Textiles and Text
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https://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/favorite-caucasian-rugs-from-three-collectors/

 

 

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