Talking Turkey about a Vanishing Weaving Form

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Talking Turkey about a Vanishing Weaving Form


Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

On Keith Achepohl's first trip to Turkey, during his honeymoon more than four decades ago, he happened to buy a traditional woven bag of the kind made by women from the region's nomadic tribes.

As Achepohl puts it today, the little bag "wasn't very good, because we didn't know very much about them then."

Nevertheless, he was entranced by the bag's woven geometric patterns, its arcane symbolism and the fact that it seemed to have been fashioned by an anonymous woman with no notion that she might have created a work of art.

That first purchase ignited a fire. Achepohl, a professor of printmaking who would go on to head his department at the University of Iowa, returned to Turkey on a Fulbright fellowship in 1984.

Over the course of regular trips to Turkey every year or two, Achepohl, accompanied by University of Minnesota historian Ron Marchese, became a skilled collector of flat weaves, developing a network of contacts in rural markets and learning more about the simple prayer rugs, everyday rugs, storage bags and saddlebags used in the nomads' day-to-day lives.

And he had an inspiration.

"Maybe the third time I was there, I realized that I maybe could do something that hasn't been done: I wanted to make a collection to show the beauty of this weaving in Turkey, as it was on the wane."

The result of Achepohl's collecting fervor is on exhibit through Dec. 23 at the Hallie Ford Museum at Willamette University in Salem, where museum director John Olbrantz calls the collection one of the most significant in the country.

Forty-six rugs and bags from Achepohl's collection fill the museum's main exhibition gallery. Pieces range from small bags like one that might once have held a rolling pin to long narrow rugs and covers that might have been used in a nomadic family's tent.

One of the things that spurred Achepohl to buy weavings and bring them home was the fact that they represented a dying art form.

"We traveled there about 15 times in search of weavings, but we realized they were getting to be pretty rare," he says. …

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