`Traditions' Meld in Flat-Woven Rugs

By Shaw-Eagle, Joanna | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 2, 2000 | Go to article overview

`Traditions' Meld in Flat-Woven Rugs


Shaw-Eagle, Joanna, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Nomadic tribes roamed the plains of Anatolia for centuries. Populating land that is now mostly in Turkey, they brought unusual weaving and design traditions from the nearby Caucasus, Syria, Persia and Armenia.

They made these traditions into their own stunning styles, as visitors can see in the Textile Museum exhibit "Tribal Traditions: Village and Nomadic Weaving of Anatolia."

This exhibit of 35 kilims (flat-woven rugs), bands and bags is meant as a guide to mostly 19th-century and early-20th-century weavings of the four major Anatolian cities of Bergama, Konya, Malatya and Erzurum.

The exhibit is much more, however. It displays outstanding artwork characterized by brilliant colors and bold designs. Consider an enormous, 15-foot-high kilim made in Malatya that descends from the wall of the museum's 19-foot-high central gallery. Its strongly geometric design of crosses and diamonds is a bold aesthetic statement that would be arresting at any time or place.

Scholars identify Malatya rugs through their cochineal, a pink-red dye. The dye's beauty lies in its shading from a pink that verges on orange to a red that can be both rose and rust. Craftsmen make the dye by drying and pulverizing insects that feed on cactuses in the region.

The rug is a tour de force in its display and craftsmanship. So also is a group of five "Niche Kilims" from the Erzurum area in northeastern Turkey. The small, narrow carpets seem to float as they are hung at different distances away from the wall. These prayer rugs show the jewellike teal-green color and mixed Anatolian-Armenian motifs typical of the region.

The exhibit aims to show that specific designs on nomad kilims served to identify groups of herdsmen. It was a nonverbal form of communication in which the designs were large. The designs had to be clearly readable from a distance so family members could spot their relatives from far away and see where they were going.

Although many of the patterns came from realistic forms such as stars and flowers, they became more geometric and simplified - the menacing-looking hook was a favorite motif - as time went on.

The Ottoman rulers in the 16th century changed this symbolism and usage. They insisted that the nomads settle in villages so that taxes could be collected. This forced settlement of many diverse groups merged different design traditions. The designs lost their former identity and communication uses but continued to be valued as aesthetic statements.

The show traces the curatorial journey through Anatolia of Sara J. Wolf, head of conservation at the museum and the exhibit's curator. She became interested in Turkey when she led a Textile Museum-sponsored tour there in 1993.

"I have a real passion for textiles. My mother's a weaver, and my father a painter. I grew up with artists around me," she says.

Miss Wolf returned to Istanbul to teach a museum studies course at the University of Marmara the next year. She decided to study restoration techniques on her own and found she could learn most from the restorers in the bazaars.

"I started learning from the older pieces and wanted to study how to identify them. I found the only way to do this was to see a lot of rugs from each area," she says.

The museum approved her idea for an exhibit of kilims from the four major areas, although she says there were more than 1,000 villages from which to choose. …

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