Reflections on the Gary Muse Essay “Early Turkish Rugs” that was published in the book Orient Stars, A Carpet Collection
I occasionally browse through rug books and auction catalogues. As I began thumbing through my now battered Orient Stars, A Review of the Kircheim Collection book, I began reading the Gary Muse essay “Early Turkish Rugs”. I was immediately enthralled by Mr. Muse’s passionate conviction concerning the mystery of ancient rugs and his sense of wonder that these weavings continue to create for him. His writing conveys honest insights into the nature, and the gestalt of ancient weavings. He addresses the questions whose answers have always been elusive to me, what is the essence of an oriental rug”, where did they evolve from, and what is their significance?
Below I have quoted passages from Mr. Muse’s essay that I think contain important insights into what is profound about early weavings. His very first paragraph addressing how one sees and processes their encounters with antique rugs immediately provoked my interest.
He writes: “There are many ways of appreciating a work of art: we can approach with our minds alert, seeking references that will enable us to place the work in its historical, sociological, or psychological context. We can approach with our eyes, seeking beauty and visual harmony. Or we can take a third way, which uses the level of instinct, intuition, of inner awareness and understanding, a kind of absorption ; it is this approach which has bought me the richest experience of these weavings.”
Mr. Muse expresses his moving thoughts on the archetypal nature of early weavings in the Kirchheim collection. He writes in section V:” I can only point the reader to the features that most clearly indicate that we are looking at a rug that captures not just the imagery – that is rare enough- but a palpable sense of what it has been to be human over thousands of years. It is not just a case of observing these rugs visually; we must be alert to that core in ourselves which exists beyond time and space and perceive these rug fragments of our ancestry with our whole being.“
He continues: “I believe this ancient language of images may have been created to express those hidden things that have always belonged to the arcane province of priestess, shaman, and seer: a vision of the interrelationship of the realms of existence: plant, animal, human, divine; a profound grasp of the mysteries of the life cycle. No direct narrative can effectively convey the significance of this immense and subtle cosmology.”
He returns referring to ancient archetypal themes in early rugs:” I am awed by the understanding these rugs convey to me of an ancient perception that was, I believe, deliberately encoded and passed down for hundreds of generations, literally through millennia. This understanding goes beyond mere beauty, beyond art historical importance; it derives from the ancient common experience of the human spirit…”
“It has taken me years of seeking, finding, looking, meditating on these rugs to identify some of the features which allow us to discriminate between a merely old and beautiful rug and one which is profoundly expressive of our inner history.”
In closing, allow me to react to several of Mr. Muse’s ideas. As one surveys the entire so called antique rug market, two categories of rugs immediately stand out. Successful decorative carpets present a formalistic approach to the art object. Weavers are intent in creating a beautiful object, a carpet whose purpose is to enhance a living space and coordinate with other decorative elements in that room. These rugs usually work within a carpet tradition and often use themes from earlier rugs or make variations of them to suit their purposes.
The second category of weavings reaches beyond the decorative to create content. These rugs seen through the prism of earlier times deal with the eternal themes and mysteries of existence. They convey spirituality. This does not mean these rugs are not beautiful. Their makers strived to use the best materials and sources of color in an attempt to create a significant object. But aside from craft, great rugs express the fundamental experiences of human life and the cultures in which mankind existed.
As I look at the current antique rug market, I still encounter 19th century rugs that attempt to express the eternal. Their makers go beyond the stylization of ideas and forms that appear in later rugs and enter that rarified world of authentic belief to create the contemplative object. I believe one doesn’t need to view only archaic rugs to glimpse the mysteries certain rugs explore just as one does not need to view only Renaissance art to be swept away intellectually, emotionally, and fundamentally by a painting painted 500 years later. There are rugs out there woven during the last 150 years that project the weaver’s truth. One only needs to find them.