Thursday, 19 March 2009

Books: Three Novels About The Oriental Carpet World (Fun, Epic, Poignant)

PRAGUE, March 20, 2009 -- It's strange so few novels are set in the world of oriental rugs.

After all, it is a place where so many opposites meet.

Things made by the world's poorest people become objects of desire for the richest ...

Sophisticated urbanites are awed by nomadic tribes people ...

Tradition fights for a place in modern life ...

And honest carpet dealers contend with highly unscrupulous rivals.

So, what a pleasure to discover a new novel set entirely in the carpet world that is now appearing -- in chapter-by-chapter installments and free-of-charge -- on the Internet.

The novel, "When A Dragon Winks" is by San Francisco carpet dealer and writer Emmett Eiland and has a lot of attractions. It is funny, rich with insights into the rug business, filled with eccentric characters, and -- perhaps best of all -- has a page-clicking plot.

Here is the link: When A Dragon Winks

New chapters appear every Monday.

Just briefly -- so as not to spoil the fun -- here are some of the main characters.

There is a young carpet store owner trying to get his start in San Francisco.

There is a con man who appears like a good genie in the young man's store and suddenly makes his business take off -- but seems to have ulterior business motives of his own.

And there is a socialite who has climbed as high as she can in the museum world but wants to go much higher.

Plus there is one more highly volatile ingredient: an ancient Chinese dragon rug rumored to exist but never seen -- a rug so valuable that, if it were to appear -- it could make or break anyone's fortune.

What are some of the behind-the-curtain peaks into the rug business this book offers? Here is one description of the young carpet dealer, Holden Carter, as he sits musing in his store:

"He had heard of an African tribe that was said to urinate in rituals on objects to make them powerful. In the West, rather than urine, it was age that imbued objects with power and value.

"Nothing made a piece of furniture more desirable than to uncover it in an attic where it had been stashed away for 200 years. Oriental rugs, he believed, owned their mystique — their fabled reputations as magic carpets and flying carpets — to the fact that often they survived long enough to become quite old. The older a rug, the more valued it was.

"Nevertheless, as Holden’s antique rugs grew six months older and then a year and finally two years older while going unsold in his store, rather than gaining in power and value, they began to lose their magic for him. It was hard to stay in love with rugs that had been passed over by so many shoppers."

It would be unfair to talk of rug novels and speak of only one.

There are least two other novels that are partly set in the rug world which have appeared in recent years and deserve mention.

One is The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins.

Publisher's Weekly says:

"New York City teems with quiet desperation in this lucidly written but languid debut novel. The titular carpet salesman, Ushman Khan, has left his mother and his wife, Farak, in Iran in order to make a new start in America.

"Told from Khan's perspective, the narrative traces his subtle acculturation into Western life while he sets up shop and develops loyal customers like the wealthy socialite Mrs. Roberts. He plans for his wife to join him, but learns that she has divorced him for a Turkish salesman.

"Crushed, Ushman buys plane tickets to Paris he will never use and finds temporary, self-loathing comfort in a prostitute. Only when he meets Stella, a Barnard freshman, does he begin to see a way out of his isolation.

"Like him, Stella is an outsider struggling with loss and looking for connection, but Ushman must first resolve his conflicted feelings about women and sex and American culture.

"Originally developed as a short story that appeared in The Best American Short Stories 2002, this melancholy novel droops under the weight of a sympathetic but tentative, passive protagonist who can find no real solution to his profound alienation."

Another book is The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani.

A review by Publisher's Weekly describes it this way:

"In Iranian-American Amirrezvani's lushly orchestrated debut, a comet signals misfortune to the remote 17th-century Persian village where the nameless narrator lives modestly but happily with her parents, both of whom expect to see the 14-year-old married within the year.

"Her fascination with rug making is a pastime they indulge only for the interim, but her father's untimely death prompts the girl to travel with her mother to the city of Isfahan, where the two live as servants in the opulent home of an uncle — a wealthy rug maker to the Shah. The only marriage proposal now in the offing is a three-month renewable contract with the son of a horse trader.

"Teetering on poverty and shame, the girl weaves fantasies for her temporary husband's pleasure and exchanges tales with her beleaguered mother until, having mastered the art of making and selling carpets under her uncle's tutelage, she undertakes to free her mother and herself.

"With journalistic clarity, Amirrezvani describes how to make a carpet knot by knot, and then sell it negotiation by negotiation, guiding readers through workshops and bazaars."

Altogether, these three novels offer a wonderful library for people who like reading about carpets. And just like carpets themselves, no two of them are the same.




Related Links:

When A Dragon Winks: official website

The Blood of Flowers: official website

The Rug Merchant: Synopses and Reviews

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Great Gatsby! What Are Oriental Carpet Patterns Doing On Jazz Age Beaded Purses?

INDIANAPOLIS, USA; March 6, 2009 -- The "It" girls of the 1920s -- the Flappers -- did a lot to usher in the modern age.

They were the first to stop wearing the waist-constricting corsets that gave so many women before them the look of walking -- and fainting -- hourglasses.

They danced wild dances -- the Charleston and the Bunny Hug -- to ragtime and jazz taken from the previously ignored culture of Black America.

And they cut their hair short and smoked and drank like men, presaging the days when women would join the workforce and become financially as well as socially independent.

All this revolutionary behavior might seem whimsical until you think of what directly preceded it: World War I. The previous world order had ended in what -- politics aside -- was collective suicide. Many people believed it was absolutely necessary to try something new.

But what does this have to do with carpets?

One of the less well-known ways the Flappers anticipated modern times was also by being interested in "ethno" styles.

Their early ethno-look did not just include feathered headbands to liven up a party outfit -- already a step too far for many people today. It also featured beaded purses in a variety of designs inspired by oriental carpets and textiles.

The beaded carpet purses came in a huge variety of patterns. They ranged from Turkish prayer carpets, to Caucasian rugs, to Persian medallion carpets, to Turkmen tribal designs, to Indian textile motifs. But unlike most ethno products today, they were not made in the East as one might expect, but in the United States and Europe, particularly in France.

The story of these beaded oriental carpets was told recently by an exhibit of 70 such purses at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) in Indiana. The exhibit, entitled Shared Beauty: Eastern Rugs & Western Beaded Purses began May 31, 2008 and ends April 5 this year.

Niloo Paydar, curator of textiles and fashion arts at the IMA, says oriental carpet designs were not something originally associated with beaded purses, which have a long history of their own from the late 19th century through the early 20th.

Much more typical designs for beaded purses were chinoiserie, landscapes, flowers and occasionally people, and mostly these designs were taken from paintings and other arts of the period. Here is one such landscape purse (right).

In the 1920s, the demand for beaded purses reached its height. One reason may be that they were a perfect accessory for beaded evening dresses, which were an integral part of flapper-era costumes. This apparently created a desire for still more designs, and oriental carpet patterns suddenly joined the menu.

Paydar says the use of carpet designs was surprising because their patterns did not go particularly well with the patterns of the Jazz Age dresses, which were mainly art deco.

Still, their popularity may reflect the fact that during this same period Orientalism was still in vogue and eastern carpets were commonplace in western homes. The best-traveled could take package tours on the Nile or steamers to Istanbul or go on around the world from one European colonial possession to the next. Eastern motifs and the exotic associations that went with them were part of the times.

But precisely when the oriental beaded purses first appeared is hard to know.

Paydar says most beaded purses, which can be of glass or metal, offer very few clues to the date they were made. There are some trends, such as drawstrings being used earlier, and clasps later, for closing the purses, and some lining materials were used before others. But putting together a precise history of the purses is difficult indeed.

The 70 purses exhibited by the IMA come from a single private collection in California compiled by Stella and Frederick Krieger. The Museum juxtaposed the purses with rugs from its own holdings plus some more loaned by local rug collectors.

"I personally have an interest in exhibiting eastern and western designs alongside each other and talking about how they influence each other and how influence is not always west to east," Paydar says. "Who would have thought carpet patterns would have become a fashion accessory?"

She also says that the museum has found that exhibiting beaded purses, which are familiar to many Americans, is a good way to teach visitors about something that today is less familiar: oriental carpet designs.

That may seem ironic, given how popular both once were together. But over the decades things have changed. Oriental carpets are no longer a staple of American household furnishings but beaded purses -- in a whole variety of designs -- remain a very popular arts and craft item.

In the United States there is a huge community of bead purse collectors and almost every city has a bead society, Paydar says. Many enthusiasts make their own bead purses, so the tradition is very much alive today.

(Photos from top to bottom: Carpet Purse from Collection of Fred and Stella Krieger; actress Norma Talmadge; landscape purse courtesy Purse Treasures; carpet purse from Collection of Fred and Stella Krieger; Shared Beauty exhibit IMA.)




Related Links

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Shared Beauty -- Eastern Rugs & Western Beaded Purses

Purse Treasures: Geometric and Carpet Beaded Purses

The Jazz Age: Flappers, Music and Dancing