Monday, 25 February 2008

Next ICOC Conference Site Likely Paris Or Stockholm

NEW YORK, February 25, 2008 -- The International Conference On Oriental Carpets has chosen Paris and Stockholm as the principal candidates for hosting its next conference – ICOC 12.

The dates have yet to be set but will be in either 2010 or 2011.

The chairman of the ICOC’s international committee, Professor Walter B. Denny, has sent a ‘request for proposal’ package to representatives in each city. They are to submit their detailed replies by April this year.

After the proposals are considered, there will be a vote on the final host city and the announcement of the result. Updates are available on the ICOC’s website:

The ICOC’s last conference was in Istanbul on April 19 - 22, 2007.

The official Istanbul ICOC exhibitions catalogue, Weaving Heritage of Anatolia, may be ordered from Dennis Marquand at

The 2-volume boxed set has hundreds of color plates and chronicles the remarkable early carpets in the Turk ve Islam Eserleri Muzesi exhibition, as well as private collections of previously unpublished kilims, rugs and yastiks.




Friday, 22 February 2008

Selling Persian Carpets On Italian TV Is A Passion

ROME, February 22, 2008 -- Germany and the United States are the countries that buy the most Persian rugs, each year taking about 50 percent of Iran’s exports.

But it is Italy, the third biggest consumer, which seems to love them the most.

It is only in Italy that Persian carpets appear night after night on their own television shows, sometimes on two channels at once.

The shows are for telemarketing but, because carpets are beautiful and because Italians are unabashedly public in their adoration of beauty, the shows have become national institutions. On the air for decades, they have their own recognizable stars whose one-man performances attract not only carpet buyers but just-lookers of all sorts.

The king of this commercial theater is Alessandro Orlando, whose full name composed of two first names is enough to be memorable by itself. He appears on the Telemarket Green Elephant satellite channel, which also sells everything from porcelain to paintings to antique furniture. Alessandro sells those, too, but he reserves his most passionate performances for carpets in general and Persian carpets in particular.

As the show begins, he is sitting or standing alone in a cocoon of carpets. They are hung on the walls beside and behind him. They cover the floor beneath him. He is pensive.

“Over the past 100 years, there have been only five names of master Persian carpet makers known the world over,” he begins. “Mohtashem, Hadji Jalili, Habibian …”

“The most famous of them is Usted Fatollah Habibian. So famous that three years ago Iran, recognizing his work as part of its national patrimony, forbid removing any remaining Habibians from the country.”

Now, Alessandro looks directly at the camera and the pace quickens.

“But tonight, we have something extraordinary. No museum, no gallery in Europe has ever assembled the kind of collection of Habibians we have here, on these walls. There are only two Habibians in London’s V&A, a couple in Tehran’s carpet museum …”

Then, just when the camera pulls back and begins showing the carpets on display, Alessandro does what makes his show – and Italian telemarketing – so sui generis. He doesn’t begin selling, but pauses instead to launch into a full 15-minute homage to Habibian, his career, and his art.

That includes: Habibian’s birth around 1900, his early years aspiring to be a musician in Nain, the city’s rich tradition of weaving that shifted his attention to design, and finally his discovery of a new way of wrapping six strands of silk into a single fiber which, Alessandro says triumphantly, makes his carpets “as absolutely indestructible as they are beautiful.”

There are photos of Habibian on screen, sitting in a room of carpets. Alessandro has become his voice. “A true master can only produce 500 carpets in his lifetime because he is a perfectionist," he says. "We live in a world of false artists, false because they imitate the masters. They are good but they are ‘copyists’ … you will never find two Habibians that are the same, any more than two Picassos.”

When the selling finally does begin, the mood becomes much more businesslike. But Alessandro has set the stage so well that the prices of the goods on sale raise doubts only among collectors. For the rest, the tag of just 5,250 Euros for a six-square-meter designer carpet is a dream come true.

Alessandro's superlatives ring out and, in the background, so do the phones.

“A white diamond to put in your salon!”

“An enchanted garden!”

“A palace constructed from a carpet!”

“Mama … a Habibian!”

By the time it is over – a full hour later – Alessandro has sold enough to put noticeable gaps in the wall of carpets behind him. Muscular arms that briefly appear on camera pull the sold pieces down and take them away.

Alessandro himself is exhausted. He has walked the equivalent of several kilometers within his small studio, knelt on carpets, draped ones he likes over one knee, draped ones he likes even more over one shoulder, and generally proven that the church of art in Italy is every bit as impassioned as evangelist churches in America.

What does Alessandro look like? He is simply the man you would find standing beside you at the counter of an espresso bar, with a rumpled suit and no briefcase. His most prominent features are his black hair, which contrasts vividly with his graying temples, and his black eyebrows which rapidly change expression. He is Everyman.

There are lesser stars of Italian telemarketing, which runs 24 hours a day. But no others rise above their on-screen roles. There is a more intellectual type who whispers footnotes of art history, there is a more physical type who comes on strong like a boxer, and there is a hypnotic type who intones over and over: “with this investment you will never lose.”

There is even a man who dresses in a brocaded jacket like a yacht captain, but he sells antique dressers and commodes, not textiles.

The telemarket programs have been on the air so long that thousands of people have circulated through them as off-screen prompters whispering carpet dimensions and prices to the showmen or as delivery boys taking the goods to customers.

Hadi Dadashian, an Iranian-American who lives in San Francisco, worked with a telemarketer while he was a student in Rome decades ago. He still remembers a delivery to Gina Lollobrigida.

“When we got to her apartment it was very late at night,” he says. “She was all alone and she opened the door herself.”

He recalls that the actress lived in a fabulous setting but looked sad and was watching all-night TV. She gazed for a long time at the carpet she had ordered and several times ran a red toe nailed foot over it to check its softness. Then she accepted it, like a bouquet of flowers she had bought to cheer herself up.




Related Links

Alessandro Orlando

Alessandro Orlando: “Meravigliosa!”

Alessandro Orlando: Too Busy To Speak

Fatollah Habibian

Barry O’Connell: Habibian Nain Rugs

Monday, 18 February 2008

A Trove Of Turkish Kilims In A Small Prague Museum

PRAGUE, February 18, 2008 -- The pretty baroque capital of the Czech Republic may not seem a likely place to find a museum collection of antique village and prayer rugs from the remotest corners of Turkey.

But the rugs – 1,265 of them – are stored in vaults for the city’s small ethnographic museum, the Naprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures located in the heart of the ‘old town’ district. Bequeathed to the museum in 1994, they are still awaiting a complete cataloguing and a permanent display space.

Dagmar Pospisilova, head of the museum’s Asian Department, says the collection is the largest of its kind outside of Turkey. It ranges from simple and complex kilims to sophisticated pile carpets produced in workshops. The rugs come from villages and towns in both western and eastern Anatolia and offer a rich illustration of Anatolian folk traditions.

Dr. Pospisilova shows as an example a 19th century pile carpet woven by nomads as a sleeping mat in Central or Eastern Anatolia.

How the collection came to Prague is a story almost as fascinating as the pieces themselves.

The owner was the late Rainer Kreissl, an antiques dealer who specialized in many different forms of art, from European to Asia. But he had a special personal attachment to two things in particular: African statuary and Anatolian weavings.

He began his collecting during the 1960’s, at a time when rare finds were still possible in Turkey as well as Africa. And he had the money and contacts to pursue the best.

Born in 1924, in then Czechoslovakia, Kreissl originally was expected to follow his father’s profession as a hops farmer. But an early childhood success selling a mosaic he made of discarded bits of porcelain to an aunt convinced him to follow his artistic instincts instead.

Fate, however, often disrupted his plans. His mixed Czech-German family was spared the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the second world war. But the communist rule that came next was far from favorable for a professional art dealer.

Kreissl’s eye for collectibles attracted members of the foreign diplomatic corps and, with them, the attention of the Czechoslovak intelligence service. The police wanted him to be an informer. Knowing the consequences of refusing, he fled to Germany in 1963.

There, he arrived penniless. But he soon joined a prominent auction house for fine arts, later becoming the head of its Munich branch. Later still, he spent six years as an independent dealer in San Francisco.

His wide travels took him to Turkey at a time when most museums were still interested in acquiring Ottoman carpets and most collectors were looking for West Anatolian prayer rugs from Gordes or Milas. He was among those just beginning to turn instead to village rugs that offered other expressions of traditional Anatolian weaving.

As he told an interviewer once: “I went to workshops, to homes, to mosques, and I began to get a reputation as an eccentric, who would buy any old tattered rag. Later, people began bringing things to me themselves.”

Just how the antique rugs found their way to Kreissl’s home over the succeeding years remains one of the enduring mysteries around his collection. It is generally believed they came with the tide of Turkish guest workers into Germany. The workers smuggled in valuable pieces obtained from mosques -- legally or illegally— to sell for extra income. Kreissl would have been well placed in Munich to buy them.

Murray L. Eiland Jr. and Murray Eiland III, in their textbook ‘Oriental Carpets,’ note this sudden outflow of valuable pieces from Turkey’s mosques.

“By the 1990’s,” they observe, “collectors began to take an interest in early Anatolian pieces that were often fragmentary and had apparently migrated from Turkish mosques and other repositories to Western collections in little over a decade.”

As for Kreissl, he kept his trade secrets secret. But he was always ready to buy to a good piece, whether or not he had the money on hand.

“Once I didn’t have enough cash, so I paid with a new luxury car,” he recalled.

As he became an expert on Anatolian village rugs, and wrote about them, he urged Westerners to stop regarding eastern weavings as ‘oriental,’ that is, outside of their own art history. Instead, he argued, Turkish motifs draw on many pre-Islamic sources, including Western and Christian traditions.

Among the evidence he cited were similarities between some rug motifs and the patterns found in Hellenistic art or in the painted markings on columns in Cappadocia’s underground churches.

Kreissl’s death in 2005 at the age of 81 leaves his argument unresolved. But his donation of his entire collection, intact, to a single Prague museum puts it within the reach of other rug scholars should they want to try to prove, or disprove his thesis.

The collector's gift to the museum was honored by the Czech Republic with a set of two commemorative stamps in 2003. One shows a Turkish prayer rug, the other - shown here -- a Turkish carpet for everyday use. Both images were taken from rugs now in the Naprstek Museum.

Several years before Kreissl died, a journalist asked him to identify the most consistent source of joy in his life.

“When I discover something,” he replied. “I don’t have to actually own it. I am simply happy that I discovered something beautiful that otherwise people would overlook.”




Related Links


Naprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures: Anatolian Carpets


Internetboekhandel:Art As Tradition (by Rainer Kreissl 1995)

Amazon: Gates To Heaven (by Rainer Kreissl 1998)

Amazon: Infinite Variety (by Rainer Kreissl 2000)

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Birds and Qintamani

(Fiction - By Karel Capek, 1929)

Now, you know, once a fellow gets it into his head that he wants something, he can’t get it out again. And when he’s a collector, he won’t even stop short of murder if necessary. That’s what makes collecting a truly epic pursuit.

Ehem, said Doctor Vitasek. I know a thing or two about Persian carpets, Mrs. Taussig, and I can tell you, they’re not what they used to be. Today those idlers in the orient aren’t going to put themselves to the trouble of dying wool with insect reds, with blues from indigo plants, or with extracting yellow from saffron, much less to working with camel urine and wood extracts to get any of the other noble organic colors. Not even the wool is what it used to be. And, if I start talking about patterns and motifs, well, that’s enough to make anyone weep. It’s all lost, all that art of the Persian carpet. It is only the old pieces, the ones made before the 1870s, that have any value now, and you can only manage to buy one of them when some old family which has been passing one down, generation by generation, lets it go for what they call “family reasons,” as they like to term their debts. Listen, once I was visiting Rozemberg castle and there I saw a genuine Transylvanian – one of those little prayer carpets the Turks were weaving in the 17th century when they were conquering everything. All over the castle there were tourists stamping around in hobnail boots -- all around that carpet! – and not one of them had the slightest idea of how valuable it was – now, isn’t that enough to make you cry? But do you know the strangest thing of all? One of the world’s most priceless rugs happens to be right here in Prague, and nobody even knows it exists!

It’s true. I know all the carpet merchants in our country, and sometimes I go around to see what they have in stock. You know, sometimes the agents in Anatolia and Persia get hold of an antique piece that’s been stolen from a mosque or somewhere, and they wrap it up inside some cheap material priced by the meter and then they sell the whole bundle, no matter what’s inside, by weight alone to slip it past customs. And I start thinking to myself, what if they’ve wrapped up a Bergama! That’s why, sometimes, I just drop in on carpet seller here or there, sit down on a mountain of carpets, have a smoke, and just watch how he sells his rugs – just like he's selling sacks of coffee – all the Bucharas, Sarouks, Tabrizes. And now and then I’ll just look down and say, so what have you got down here, this gold one? And, what do you know, it’s a Hamadan! And that was how I once dropped in on a certain Madame Severynova, who keeps a little courtyard shop in Old Town and who sometimes has some fine Karamans and kilims. She’s a round, jolly lady, very talkative, and she has a poodle so fat it makes you ill. You know, one of those pudgy mutts which are so testy and asthmatic and bark so crossly – I can’t say I like them much. Listen, have you ever in your life seen a young poodle? I haven’t and I’d even argue that every poodle, like every police inspector, accountant, and tax collector, is born old, it’s like they don’t even belong to the dog species! Still, I wanted to keep good relations with Mrs. Severynova, so I always sat in the same corner where Amina the fat poodle was wheezing and snoring on a big, folded-up carpet and I would scratch her back – that, at least, was something Amina liked. And one time I said, Mrs. Severynova, these must be bad goods that I’m sitting on, they haven’t sold for three years. And she said, that’s nothing. That carpet over there has been lying in the corner a good ten years, and it’s not even my carpet. Oh, I said, you mean it’s Amina’s now? And she smiled and said, not at all, it belongs to a certain lady who has no room for it in her home and so she keeps it here. It’s in my way but at least it’s something Amina can sleep on. Isn’t that right Amina, dear?

It was at that moment that I reached out my hand and lifted up the edge of what Amina was lying on, even though she immediately started snarling. So what kind of old carpet is it, I asked, can’t I have a look? Why not, Madame Severynova said, and she grabbed up Amina in her arms. Come on, Amina, sweetie, he’s only looking. But Amina growled again. Stop it Amina, she ordered. Quiet down, you silly thing.

All that time, I was staring at the carpet and my heart almost stopped beating. It was a white Anatolian, from around the 17th century, and worn through in places. But it was one of those antique bird carpets, one of those white Anatolians that are decorated either with a field of birds or with a field of Qintamani , but never both together. That's the rule, to keep separate the sacred from the profane -- because they say the Qintamani, that triangle of three dots floating on two wavy lines, is a religious symbol that goes right back to the Buddhist times of Central Asia. But on this carpet, I know it sounds impossible, there were BOTH birds and Qintamani at the same time! The whole thing gave off a feeling of something powerful, of a miracle or, at the very least, of something utterly forbidden ... whatever it was, I can tell you, this piece was an extraordinary rarity! And it was at least five by six meters in size, a beautiful white shade, with turquoise blue, cherry red ... I went to stand by the window so Madame Severynova would not see the expression on my face. And then I said, as casually as I could: what an old rag, Madame Severynova, it must really be in your way. You know, I could take it off your hands, since you don’t really have space for it here.

That’s going to be difficult, Madame Severynova replied. This carpet is not for sale, and the lady who owns it is always traveling, she’s in Meran or Nice, and I don’t even know when she is home. But I'll try to ask her. Oh, would you be so kind, I said as disinterestedly as I could, and I went home. Just so you know, it’s a point of honor for a collector to get something rare and valuable for just a song. I know one very esteemed and wealthy man who collects books, for example. He can pay several thousand dollars for a collectible without the slightest show of emotion. But whenever he is able to wrangle a first edition copy of the works of the poet Joseph Krasoslav Chmelensky from some rag picker for a just a few cents, he jumps for joy. That’s the kind of sport it is -- like hunting that most elusive of deer, the alpine chamois. And all that is how I got it into my head that I had to have that carpet very cheaply and that afterward I would bequeath it to a museum, because something so rare really doesn’t belong to anyone. Only I did want one thing out of it: a little memorial plaque with the inscription ‘the gift of Doctor Vitasek.' After all, doesn’t everyone have some ambition?

But I’ll admit, my head was spinning. It took all my efforts to keep myself in check and not run back to that shop the very next day to ask again about the Qintamani with birds. I couldn’t think of anything else. But every day I told myself, just hang on for one more day. I was putting myself through hell, but sometimes people love to torture themselves. And then suddenly – even worse – after about two weeks a horrible thought hit me, what if someone else discovered that bird carpet? And then I flew over to Madame Severynova. I literally burst through her door.

What on earth’s going on? the surprised lady asked me. But I replied, as casually as I could, that I just happened to be in the area and remembered about that old white carpet. Would the owner sell it? Madame Severynova shook her head. What do I know, she said, she’s is in Biarritz now and no-one knows when she will return. Meanwhile, I was trying to steal a look, is the carpet still there, and sure enough it was, with Amina lying on it, fatter and more scabious than ever, waiting for me to come scratch her back.

Sometime later, I had to make a trip to London, and as soon as I arrived I dropped in on Mr. Keith, you know, the Sir Douglas Keith who is today one of the greatest experts on oriental carpets. My good sir, I said to him, what value would you assign a white Anatolian with a Qintamani and bird design, with a size that exceeds a full five by six meters square? And Sir Douglas just stared at me though his thick glasses and then, almost in a fit of anger, blurted out, "Why nothing, my man!" "What do you mean? I asked dumbfounded. Why on earth would it be worth nothing?" And Sir Douglas was almost shrieking now: "Because the carpet you describe cannot possibly exist in that size! Dear fellow, you must know that the largest Qintamani and bird carpet that I have ever seen barely measures three by five meters!" I admit, I had to blush with joy. And now it was my turn: My dear man," I said, "let’s just imagine such a piece of that size did exist, what would be its price?" "But, I’ve already told you, nothing," Mr. Keith cried out again, "because that piece you describe would be absolutely unique and how can you put a value on something that’s unique? It could as well be worth 1,000 pounds as 10,000, how would one know? In any case, such a carpet does not exist, Good day, Sir!"

You can imagine in what a mood I returned home. Good God, I had to have this rug with the Qintamani now! What a catch it would be for any museum! And now, just imagine my situation. I couldn’t just go and beg for it, because that would not be sporting for a collector. And Madame Severynova had no particular interest in selling this old rag when it was so dear to her Amina. And that cursed woman who owned the carpet was always in motion, from one health spa to another, from Meran to Ostend, from Baden to Vichy – that woman must have had a whole medical catalogue of symptoms at home to inspire her and keep her in perpetual movement.

By this time, I was going about once every fortnight to Madame Severynova’s shop just to peek in and make sure that carpet with all its birds was still in its corner, as well as to rub down that odious Amina until she whimpered with joy. And just so that all this didn’t become too noticeable, each time I went I also purchased a little carpet. Certainly, I already had at home more than enough Shirazes, Shirvans, Mosuls, Kabristans, and all kinds of other by-the-meter stuff – and I even had a classic Derbent that you wouldn’t exactly find every day plus one beautiful antique blue Khorosan. But what I experienced for two years trying to get this Qintamani, well only a collector would understand. You know, the agony of love is nothing compared to the agony of collecting, and the only thing that is really strange is that, as far as I know, no collector yet has taken his own life. Instead, most live to ripe old ages. So, at least it must be a healthy passion.

One day Madame Severynova suddenly said to me: you know, Mrs. Zanelli, who owns that carpet, she was here. And I told her I might have a buyer for her white elephant that’s been cluttering things up so long. And she said, she wouldn’t think of it, it’s a family heirloom, and I should just leave it right where it is.

That is when I decided to run over to see that Mrs. Zanelli myself. But if I thought she was going to be a lady of the haut monde, well, in fact she was one of those nasty grannies with a purple nose, a wig, and some kind of strange tick, so that her mouth was constantly twitching up her left cheek all the way up to her ear. Your Grace, I said -- and all the time I couldn’t stop looking at how her mouth was dancing up her cheek -- I would be prepared to purchase that white carpet of yours; even though it is a poor specimen, it would go nicely in my ... my foyer, you know. And as I paused for her reply, I had the strange sensation that my own mouth was beginning to jerk and jump up on the left side. Whether her tick was infectious, or whether it was from excitement, I don’t know, but I couldn’t stop mine either.

How dare you! That dreadful woman squealed. Go! Go this instant! That carpet is a family heirloom ... from Grand Papa. If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police. I don’t sell carpets, here. I am a Zanelli! Hail Mary, let this man be gone! Listen, I ran down the stairwell from her apartment like a little boy, my eyes burning with sorrow and rage, what else could I do? For another whole year, I went by Madame Severynova’s and during that time Amina learned to grunt, she was already as fat as a sow and almost completely bald. Then, finally, after a year had passed, Mrs. Zanelli returned to town once more. This time I surrendered and did something of which, as a collector, I shall be ashamed of to the day I die. I sent my friend to see her, the lawyer Mr. Bimbal – he’s one of those kindly, whiskered fellows who inspires unbounded confidence among the ladies. My thought was that this sensitive soul could persuade Madame to part with her bird carpet for some reasonable amount of money. In the meantime, I waited downstairs, as excited as a fiancé waiting for an answer from his beloved. Three hours later, out came Bimbal, wiping the perspiration off his cheeks. You scoundrel, he hissed at me, I’ll throttle you! How did I ever agree to suffer three hours of listening to the entire family history of the Zanellis? And just so you know, he shouted, you’re never going to get that carpet! Seventeen Zanellis, all buried in Olsansky cemetery, would spin in their graves if their family relic went to a museum. Jesus and Mary, you owe me! And with that he left me.

Now you know once a fellow gets it into his head that he wants something, he can’t get it out again. And when he’s a collector, he won’t even stop short of murder if necessary. That’s what makes collecting a truly epic pursuit. And that is how I decided that I would simply have to steal that carpet with the Qintamani and birds. First, I staked out the surroundings, and I learned that the entranceway to the courtyard that housed Madame Severynova’s shop did not get locked up at until nine at night. And that was good, because I didn’t want to use a crowbar when I didn’t even know how to. From the entranceway, you could slip into a cellar where a fellow could hide until they closed up the whole place. Inside the courtyard, there was also a little overhang, and if you could get up onto the roof of that you could climb over to the neighboring courtyard, which belonged to a pub, and from there you could easily make your getaway to the street again unnoticed. It all looked quite easy, the only problem was how to actually break into the shop. For this, I bought a diamond, and at home I started practicing how to carve through glass windows.

Now please, don’t think that stealing is some simpleton’s business. I can tell you firsthand that it’s harder than operating on someone’s prostate or pulling out his kidney. The first thing is that nobody must see what you are doing. And the second thing, which is tied to that, is that there is plenty of waiting and other inconvenience. And the third thing is lots of uncertainty, you never know what might happen. I can tell you, this is a tough and underpaid profession. If I ever catch a burglar in my own apartment, I will take him by the hand and tell him gently, my man, why are you going to all this trouble? There are plenty of other, much easier ways to part people from their money.

I really don’t know how other people steal, but my own experiences aren’t very favorable. On the critical evening, as they say, I slipped into the courtyard in question and hid myself midway down the stairs leading to the cellar. At least that’s how you might describe it in a police report; in reality, it looked more like this: for a half-an-hour I loafed about in the rain near the entranceway, probably very conspicuously. Finally, I decided in desperation, a bit like someone decides to go and have a tooth pulled, to come out of my hiding place and then, straightaway, I nearly ran into a servant girl who was going out to the pub next door to fetch some beer. To calm her down, I muttered something endearing, like ‘you little rosebud,’ or ‘nice kitten,’ or something like that, and this had the unfortunate effect of startling her so badly that she took to her heels. I ran back down into the stairwell to hide, but those slovenly people in the building had put a trashcan full of ashes or some other rubbish where it was right in the way; so that the main event of my stakeout was the huge racket the trashcan made as it crashed over. At that moment, the servant girl returned with her order of beer and began shouting almost hysterically to the doorkeeper that some stranger had crept into the building. Fortunately, this stalwart fellow didn’t let himself be disturbed and announced loudly that it must be some drunk who had gotten lost going out of the pub. A quarter-of-an hour after that, spitting and yawning, the fellow locked up the courtyard door and all was quiet except for, somewhere up above, loud and lonely, the servant girl hiccupping. It’s strange how loudly some of these girls can hiccup; maybe it’s out of homesickness, who knows? I was starting to get cold and, besides that, the stairwell smelled sour and moldy; I groped around and found everything I touched was slimy. Then, oh my God!, I realized that our respected Dr. Vitasek, the specialist in diseases of the kidney and urinary tract, had just put his esteemed fingerprints all over the place. By the time I thought it must surely be midnight, it still was just barely 10 o’clock. I had firmly resolved that I wouldn’t begin my cat-burglary until midnight but by 11 o’clock I couldn’t hold out any longer and I set off to steal. You wouldn’t believe how much noise a man can make when he starts creeping around in the dark but, somehow, the whole house remained blessedly asleep. Finally, I got to the window I was aiming for and with a horribly loud scraping sound I began to cut the glass.

Suddenly, there was an explosion of barking. Jesus and Mary, Amina was in there!

Amina, I whispered, you monster, keep quiet, I’m only coming to scratch your back. But you can’t conceive how hard it is, in pitch blackness, to manipulate a tiny diamond so that it cuts twice in the same groove. Instead, mine was slipping all over the pane and it seemed to be making no progress until, all at once, I pressed a little harder and the whole glass shattered. Now everybody’s going to come running, I thought, and I looked around desperately for somewhere to hide. But, amazingly, nothing happened. Then I began to grow a lot calmer, to the point finally that I simply smashed in the next glass pane and opened the window. Inside, Amina was still letting out a half-hearted bark every now and then, but it was clear that she was only pretending to fulfill her duty. I crawled through the window and rushed over to that abominable creature. Amina, I half cooed, half hissed, where’s that damn back of yours? My love, it’s your dear friend! You monster, you like this, don’t you?

Amina squirmed with delight, that is if an overstuffed sack can be said to squirm. So, I whispered to her in a very friendly way, alright, you wretch give to me. And I tried to pull that priceless carpet out from under her. But now Amina must have suddenly understood I was talking about HER property. She started growling; it wasn’t barking it was really growling. Jesus and Mary, Amina, I said to her quickly, be quiet you beast. Just wait a second, I’ll make you a bed of something much better. And rip! I pulled down a dreadful, shiny Kirman which Madame Severynova kept hanging on the wall and which she considered the rarest piece in her shop. Look, Amina, I whispered, now here’s something to really sleep on. Amina looked at me with interest but just as soon as I stretched out my hand for her carpet there was another growl so loud it could be heard clear across town. There was nothing to do but start scratching that monster again, this time with a special, luxurious rubdown that put her into ecstasy. Then I grabbed her up in my arms. But as soon as I reached for that white, one-of-a-kind Qintamini and Birds, she gave off an asthmatic wheeze and then, I swear, began cursing me. By God, you monster, I said, almost beside myself, I’m going to have to murder you!

Now listen, I don’t understand this myself. I looked down at that vile, fat, repulsive thing with the wildest hatred I have ever felt, but I couldn’t bring myself to act. I had a good knife, I had a belt around my waist, I could have cut that monster’s throat or I could have strangled it, but ... instead I just sat down next to her on that divine carpet and scratched behind her ears. You coward, I muttered to myself, with just one motion, maybe two, she would be out of the way; you’ve operated on so many people and seen so many of them off, in agony and in pain, why can’t you dispatch a poor, simple dog? I gnashed my teeth, trying to work myself up to it but in the end I just broke down in tears, maybe out of shame. And Amina just whimpered happily and licked my face.

You miserable, swinish, good for nothing carcass! I patted her mangy back and then I crawled back out the window. You could call it a strategic retreat, or a complete rout. My escape plan had been to hop up on the roof of the shed and use that to get over to the adjoining yard and then out through the pub, but I didn’t have an ounce of strength left, or maybe the roof was just higher than I’d originally thought. So, I slipped back down that stairwell leading to the cellar and stayed there till dawn, half-dead with exhaustion. What I fool I am! I could have slept comfortably in the shop on top of all those carpets, but it didn’t occur to me. At daybreak I heard the portiere opening up the gate. I waited a moment and then I headed out. The doorkeeper was still there, lingering in the entryway, and when he saw a stranger slipping out past him he was so surprised he forgot even to make a fuss.

A couple of days later I visited Madame Severynova. Bars had been put on the windows of her shop but otherwise everything was as before. That dreadful toad of a dog was wallowing all over the holy Qintamini and when she spotted me she started wagging that fat sausage that is politely called her tail. My dear Sir, Madame Severynova beamed at me, just look at our priceless Amina, she’s worth every bit of her weight in gold. A treasure! Do you know that the other night some thief crept through the window and Amina chased him off? I wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world. But she likes you, doesn’t she, Sir? You know an honest gentleman when you see one, don’t you Amina?

And that is all there is to it. That one-of-a-kind carpet is still lying there today. It is, I’m certain, one of the rarest carpets in the world. And right to this day, that hideous, mangy, stinking Amina is on it, grunting with bliss. I’m sure one day she will finally suffocate under the weight of all her fat and then I'll try again. But first I’ll have to learn to file through iron bars.

(Karel Capek, the well-known Czech journalist and novelist, published ‘Birds and Qintamani’ in his collection of short stories “Tales From Two Pockets” in 1929.)




As Costs Rise, Iran's Carpet Producers Look Abroad

HANNOVER, Germany; January 22, 2008 --

Rising production costs are causing some Iranian producers to move operations to India and Pakistan, where labor is less expensive.

Particularly feeling the squeeze are companies which try to weave the highly ornate styles that traditonally have made Persian carpets so famous.

Those styles include Hadji Jalili -- a highly complex design originally produced in Iran from 1880 to 1925 by a renowned Tabriz workshop of the same name.

Today, producers say, recreating that level of detail using highly skilled weavers in Iran is prohibitively costly. A Hadji Jalili is woven with dozens of colors, making its production an extremely time-consuming and painstaking process.

One company that set out to recreate the Hadji Jalili carpets in sizes suitable for mansion rooms -- where they traditionally go -- soon found itself looking to the subcontinent instead.

"If we wanted to produce this quality in Iran, it would cost four to five times as much," says Kambiz Jalili, an owner of the U.S.-based firm Hadji Jalili Revivals who attended this month's Domotex carpet fair in Hannover, Germany.

He adds, "The majority of weavers even in an area of India accustomed to making very fine and very intricae designs refused to weave these because in every rug we have anywhere from 16 to 30 colors and there may be eight colors which are so similar that it is extremely difficult for the weaver to distinguish between the yarn colors and it is very easy to make mistakes."

The complexity of the rugs puts them at the high end of carpet prices -- about $ 1,750 per square meter retail. By the time they are woven large enough to fit a palace ballroom, the retail price becomes about all the market will bear.

Asked if his customers truly are palace owners, Jalali says "they better be, to be able to afford them!"

Producing a quintessentially Persian carpet outside of Iran may seem like an extraordinary example of global outsourcing.

But as Iran's economy grows with high oil prices -- which today are around $ 100 a barrel -- Iranian producers say they increasingly find themselves struggling at home.

Sadegh Miri is one of the owners of Tehran-based Miri Iranian Knots. He says that over the past 10 years, the cost for weavers in Iran has gone up "300 to 400 percent."

Miri has remained successful by focusing on antique collectors. That is another wealthy clientele which will buy new rugs of classical quality if antique ones cannot be found in the dimensions and colors they seek.

It is high-end business like Hadji Jalili Revivals but, due to the labor costs, one restricted to much smaller carpet sizes. Miri's retail prices, which reflect the differences in the Iranian and Indian production markets, range from $ 2,500 to $ 7,500 dollars per square meter.

Does the multi-generational company fear that one day it will have to relocate?

Miri brushes off the suggestion with a laugh. "If that day comes, I will stop working," he says. "I will stay in Iran and continue until the market decides."

But Miri does predict that much of Iran's lower-end carpet production will eventually follow the global migration to lower-cost lands.

"In the future, only the high-end carpets will survive and the commercial end will go to India and China because we can't compete with them regarding the prices," he says. "Even now, many Iranian producers have gone and they are in India or Pakistan and they are producing there."

Not just labor costs are rising, so are the costs of materials.

Hossein Attaran of Tehran-based Carpet Heritage says that particularly affects producers who use natural dyes and handspun wool. Those are the materials an increasing number of carpet makers bank upon to revive flagging customer interest in their industry.

Attaran says decades of mass carpet production using synthetic dyes and machine-spun wool have flooded the market with low-quality pieces from every carpet-weaving country. That has left buyers jaded and looking for less artificial products.

But as interest in organic carpets -- those colored with plant-based dyes -- grows, so do the prices of the materials themselves. Madder root, a source for red dyes, has shot up from 70 cents a kilo a few years ago to $ 4 a kilo today. Handspun wool today costs $ 10 dollars a kilo, or five times more than machine-spun wool.

That creates pressure to convince the public the difference is worth it. And in Iran it only adds to the difficulties of persuading buyers to buy expensive Persian carpets from their homeland rather than lower-priced look-alikes from elsewhere.

Carpet Heritage this year presented a new line to emphasize the long history of art and culture unique to Persian carpets. Its limited edition of "Persian Poem Carpets" has a quatrain from Omar Khayyam subtly and elegantly woven into the border of each piece.

"Bringing the two forms, poetry and carpets, together shows a very traditional way of Persian thinking about how we should appreciate life," Attaran says.

Iran’s hand-woven carpets are one of its biggest export commodites after oil. The country exported some $400 million of hand-woven carpets in 2006, the latest figures available, with the United States and Germany as the biggest destinations. The carpet industry directly or indirectly employs some 1.4 million people.




Related Links:


Reuters: Iran carpet traders hope quality will trump rivals

Reuters: Five facts about Persian carpets

RugArt: Annual Rug Production At 6m Square Meters

Zawya: Persian Rugs Still On Top

Haji Jalilis:

Barry O’Connell: PersianCarpetGuide: Guide to Haji Jalili Tabriz Rugs and Carpets

Omar Khayyam:

Wikipedia: Omar Khayyamám


Hadji Jalili Revivals

Miri Iranian Knots

Carpet Heritage Company


How to Buy an Oriental Rug and not Get Taken on a Carpet Ride

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

How Traditional Are Iran’s Modern Gabbehs?

HANNOVER, Germany; January 17, 2008 --

Is it true that as life gets more complicated, designs get simpler?

There is one enduring example. It is Iran’s gabbeh carpet – today very simple, and very popular.

Gabbehs were not always the minimally decorated, sometimes single-color canvases they are now.

Originally, gabbehs had boldly colored, complex designs. Until the mid-1900s, they still looked more like tribal kilims than like modern abstract paintings.

Nejatollah Hakakian is a Hamburg dealer with many years in the rug business. He dates the change in the gabbeh’s design – and its rise to popularity in the West -- to just a few decades ago.

“Twenty years ago they started in Iran to do gabbehs with less and less designs and with tone-on-tone colors. So they changed from highly decorated carpets to more or less nothing in the field, with just a border around it, and sometimes not even a border,” he says.

“The rule today is three to four colors only, no more, when a normal Iranian carpet has seven to 17 colors. Now the Pakistans and Indians do the same, making carpets with almost no design. Mainly you just see the tone-on-tone colors.”

That simplification has had the effect of making gabbeh patterns, which have a centuries-old history among Iranian nomads, easy to mistake for Western contemporary designs. And it has made the carpet almost a household fixture throughout Europe and, increasingly in the United States.

Hakakian says he once asked a venerable German carpet dealer why European buyers did not prefer the many more complex workshop and tribal carpets Iranian producers could offer him instead.

The reply was one of the best insights Hakakian says he ever received to selling in the West.

“You Iranians are hungry to see grass that is green, but we are full of it in Europe,” the dealer told him. “We need calm and quiet, so the less design you have, the more of your carpets we can sell.”

But if the gabbeh has a heritage of rich, complex designs itself, how much of its contemporary look is still faithful to its past?

A great deal, according to Mahsa Heidarian, whose family company of the same name just won an award for Best Traditional Nomadic Carpet at the Domotex 2008 trade show in Hannover, Germany.

The winning gabbeh’s design very much resembles geometric abstract art.

The Heidarians, based in the west-central Iranian town of Shahr-e-Kord, say they won by letting their nomadic weaver add her own personal touches to a design inspired by a nomadic masterpiece from the past.

"In nomadic carpets, we don't tell the weavers anything, because it is like abstract art, it has to come out of herself to be artistic," says Mahsa Heidarian. "We just try to choose the right person to do it, who knows the tradition of making nomadic carpets."

She adds that finding the right person is not always easy. "A problem is that there are increasingly fewer nomads in Iran who have a traditional weaving knowledge base," she says. "People are increasingly settling down."

The Heidarians say the simplified patterns of modern gabbehs are obtained by magnifying just one or more of the small parts found in a traditional gabbeh. Thus, just a medallion can be expanded, or just part of a field, into a whole carpet design.

"This simplification responds to the Western market's preferences for abstract art but it is also true to tradition, because the simple element is there already," says Mahsa's husband, Arash.

He draws parallels with African art, whose spare lines so interested Europe’s abstract artists at the beginning of the last century. "There is the same immediate rapport between abstract art and nomadic art," he says.

One might argue that the rapport for modern buyers -- not all of them artists -- must go deeper than just recognizing familiar abstract patterns in a nomad's work.

Perhaps there is a longing in all modern societies for simpler things, and the art of tribal peoples -- which is the product of more elemental lifestyles -- helps to satisfy it.

True or false, gabbehs have done well exploring that possibility.

In the early 1990’s, gabbeh producers gained still more interest in the West by turning their backs on synthetic dyes in favor of natural dyes made from local plants, instead – the nomads’ traditional way of coloring the carpets. The return to nature was so successful that the carpet was one of the main attractions at the 1992 Grand Exhibition in Iran.

Authors Murray L. Eiland and Murray Eiland III note in their book ‘Oriental Rugs’ that “the next year there was such a boom in new gabbehs that it had created a wool shortage throughout the country.

The gabbeh’s marketing also got a boost from Iran’s film industry when prominent director Mohsen Makhmalbaf agreed to do a movie centered on the carpets and the Qashqai nomads who weave them. The drama, simply titled “Gabbeh,” was commissioned by an organization dedicated to the export of handicrafts, but it won prizes both at the 1996 Cannes and New York film festivals.

Gabbehs are hardly the only weavings to grow simpler over the decades and become more popular with Western buyers in the process.

Hamburg dealer Hakakian points to carpets woven by Tibetan refugees in Nepal as another example.

"The Tibetan carpet was the first with no design, just one or two colors, no flowers, no medallion. There was a high demand for that until about two years ago. The Tibetan was almost only white or off-white. Gabbeh went with darker tone-on-tones, terra cotta, blue, black, red."

Hakakian says that the Tibetan and gabbeh producers are keenly aware of each other and learn from each other's successes. The main difference between them may be in how rooted they remain in their own traditions.

The Tibetan refugees were encouraged to weave by Swiss aid agencies which helped them resettle in Nepal in the 1960’s. Today, joined by many Nepalese, the refugees are a major weaving pool for Western interior designers.

The gabbeh weavers have never had to leave home. And while some are amenable to design suggestions, the best still stick closely to their own interpretations.




Related Links:


Barry O’Connell (JBOC): Guide To Gabbeh Rugs

JBOC's Gabbeh Rugs

JBOC’s Notes: Notes on Lori Gabbeh Persian Rugs

Jozan: Persian Gabbeh Rugs Gabbeh Carpet Properties

Tibetan Carpets:

Jacobsen: Tibetan and Nepalese Weaving in Nepal


Hakakian Brothers

Heidarian Carpet


A Magic Carpet Ride Purchasing a Handmade Tibetan rug -- Without Getting Rolled

Nomadic Felt Carpets Seek A Place In Western Homes

HANNOVER, Germany; January 16, 2008 – Almost all the space for exhibiting handcrafted carpets at the annual Domotex trade show in Hannover (January 12 – 15) is devoted to woven rugs.

But at one stand, an Italian textile design house is displaying something one rarely sees at carpet shows. It is a roughly-textured felt mat as big as a sheet and its surface is brightly painted with an abstract design. The look is similar to a painting in a modern art gallery.

Even the Italian textile house 'Weave,' which produced the felt is not sure whether it is a wall-hanging or a carpet. But the Turin-based group is confident it can find a place in the market for home furnishings.

The inspiration for the product came during a trip to Nepal. While visiting a cooperative development project, one of the company’s owners was struck by some small felt purses being made for tourists.

But when the Italians asked the felt workers to try making a large felt carpet using local designs the results were unsatisfactory. So, instead of trying to recreate traditional motifs from Nepal, the Italian company asked the local producers to just make 60 large white felt carpets instead.

“We decided to make plain felt, plain white, and then bring them over to Italy and get an artist to paint on them. And from there we have had a very good feedback,” says Amanda Smythe, who is one of Weave’s representatives.

The positive feedback includes a nomination at Domotex for the carpet with the best modern design – an astonishing feat considering the low-esteem in which felt is held by most carpet connoisseurs. In the end, the felt creation did not win the prize but the company plans to go ahead with preparing more felt pieces.

In most of the world, felt is still used for inexpensive cushioning in packing cases, or for inexpensive – but itchy -- blankets and jackets, or simply as floor pads to protect more expensive woven carpets.

But where felt is still used as artwork, it has a long tradition.

In Central Asia, felt carpets are still placed on the floor of a yurt, where the thick wool helps insulate the tent from the cold ground beneath.

In Iran, too, felt was once the preserve of originally nomadic Central Asian groups like the Turkmen. Over time it also moved into homes, where room-sized pieces were used as floor covering to fill the gaps between more cherished woven carpets. But today, felt making is almost a lost skill and Iranian carpet shops barely stock it.

Still, pieces of new Iranian felt occasionally show up at Western carpet shows. That is thanks to periodic efforts by dealers to rescue what is almost a dying art.

Abolfazi Ramezani, who is based in London, displays several felt carpets that he has commissioned with contemporary patterns that resemble colorful, abstract paintings. But unlike the Italian-designed felts, the colorful designs are not painted on. Instead, they are applied in the traditional, back-breaking way, which is by kneading pieces of colored felt into a larger felt background.

Ramezani describes what the traditional process entails: “It is very hard work to get the wool to this density. They heat up the wool with very hot water and then, with their elbows, they go on and on and on to make them harder, and harder, and harder, and then they lay the design on top of that and they put hot water on it and they carry on rolling them, over and over again until the design actually gets stuck under the plain wool.”

Ramezani says dealers from Japan and Spain seem to particularly like the felt pieces, because “they are different than any other oriental carpet you see.”

One reason the felt-made carpets are striking is that they usually have different designs applied to the front and back. And the prices are affordable. At wholesale, they range from 70 to 130 euros per square meter – which is at the low end of handmade carpet prices.

Can the market for felt carpets grow larger?

The answer lies in part with Western retailers who, for now, seem barely acquainted with the art form. But it also depends on whether felt producers will continue to make such a labor-intensive product once the standard of living in their home countries rises.

And, says Ramizani, there is still one more player to consider, one that is neither a producer nor a buyer – though it certainly is a consumer.

That player is the humble moth.

“I have been told the moth has a special interest in this quality and they immediately start eating up the wool,” says Ramezani.

He notes that old felt pieces from Iran show considerable moth damage – attesting to their attraction for one of mankind’s most faithful house companions. Making felt less tasty could be one of the first challenges for anyone seriously trying to broaden the market.




Related Links:

Central Asian Felt Carpets: Kyrgyz Shirdaks

Alibaba: Kyrgyz Felt Rugs