What is the criterion used in evaluating an oriental rug? Certainly the old nostrum about a rug’s value being based singularly on a high knot count is inadequate to explain the expressive power and beauty of the best of knotted carpets. Surely a valid standard for Oriental rug beauty goes far beyond the counting of how many hours, days, months it took to make it. Any understanding of the legitimate aesthetics of the hand knotted is centered on the concept of the weaver as artist. The weaver and her decisions about the aesthetic of their rug and the materials and techniques needed to fulfill her vision serves as the foundation for the success or failure of her carpet. The weavers’ conception of what her rug is going to say and how to express that, coupled with her understanding of what materials and techniques are needed to execute the vision she is trying to express determines the outcome of her work.
In her attempts to create a meaningful rug, the weaver functions first as an artist and then secondly as a skilled craft person. There is no guarantee that the rug she completes will be significant as a visual object or simply be regarded as a floor covering. However, if she is committed to her work, the result of her discipline and talents will be evident.
What are her intentions? Sometimes she brings excellent skills as a craft person but lacks creativity. Her rug is slavishly mired within a conventional design formula, fine but hollow. At other times the weaver is simply disinterested in her final result. She takes short cuts to hasten completing her rug, uses cheap wools and synthetic colors in her haste to finish her work and sell it. In this instance the weaver functions as a laborer, detached from any aspiration for excellence, doing her job, intent only on finishing her work and selling it.
What should are our expectations be in evaluating the weavers’ results? I look for honesty in her work. Working within the borders of her historical past and native ethnic traditions she weaves a rug that goes beyond conventional design and color formulas and explores new ideas within the traditional boundaries of her weaving culture. I look for the best examples of any rug type, tribal, village, urban. I like old rugs, their condition is mostly a secondary consideration. I try to find rugs that I can look at in the future and still find them interesting.
Featured above is an example of a 19th century South Persian Afshar bag front. Perhaps modest, the piece is still extremely charming. Woven as the front of a carrying bag it invites both visual and tactile attention. Glossy wool, natural colors, interesting borders both in terms of colors and design, a detailed abstract drawing of a field of flowers on an indigo background, this is a weaving one could live with for many years both to handle and look at without becoming bored.
Structurally this mat uses a wool foundation and a firm depressed weave. The young woman who wove this made something of substance and beauty. To me this bag front expresses honesty of intention, material, and creativity.