Monday, April 9, 2012

Stag Spring

This American hooked rug c. 1930 is new to the shop and was recently posted to our 1st dibs page. The stag in the middle of this carpet is unforgettable; rendered in a heavy black outline he is bold and proud yet composed in such wonderfully quiet tonal shades.   

Stag imagery appears occasionally in carpets, and is not limited to the Western folk art expression of the previous hooked rug. This magnificent Persian Sultanabad c. 1880 is a highly desirable example of Near Eastern weaving, and is one of the most sought after types of antique carpets on the market today.

 Pairs of leaping stags punctuate the field of this carpet. They bring life and tremendous originality to an otherwise conservative design. The finite attention to detail that was given to the posture and balance of these magnificent animals belies the great skill and creativity that was active at the Sultanabad looms during the 19th century.   

An Assyrian cylinder seal (13th century BCE) from the Morgan library shows a stag leaping between two trees. Researchers at the Morgan point out that the ancient Assyrian word for Stag was the same word used for “ruler” or “prince.”

A cast lead deer c. 1940 from JF Chen. Originally conceived as a landscape figure, this object has a delicate sensibility that feels deeply personal and is a refreshing counterpoint to the more typically masculine stag imagery.  

Finally, the postmodern representation of the stag preferred by 9-out-of-10 college students everywhere. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Oushak: The All American Rug

Customers are often surprised to learn that being an antique rug dealer does not require traveling to the Near East to search for hidden treasures buried deep within an oriental bazaar. In fact, most of the great antique carpets that we sell today were originally exported to the Western market when they were woven. 

Thomas Eakins, the great American impressionist painter completed his “Portrait of Dr. John Brinton” in 1876. In order to capture his subject’s civility and advanced social standing, Eakins gave the viewer a number of clues in the portrait. The gentlemanly cut of Dr. Brinton’s suit, the unmistakable gold pocket watch chain in the middle of his vest, the massive books that lie open on the easel in front of him and, most impressive of all is the beautiful Oushak carpet adorning the floor of Dr. Brinton’s study. This man commissioned the most fashionable painter for his portrait. He had the most stylish furniture and clothes and he had the most desirable carpet.

A number of examples of Oushaks like the one in Eakins’ painting remain on the market today. This Oushak from the Carol Piper Rugs inventory is strikingly similar to the carpet that appears in the Eakins painting. Although the color placement and the border system is a little different than Dr. Brinton’s Oushak, the design, comprising a series of serrated palmettes set in a repeating pattern, is unmistakable. This design seems to have been of a uniquely Turkish origin and is found frequently in late nineteenth century and earlier Oushak carpets from the 18th century.

John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Jeremiah Lee from 1769 contains just such a carpet. Jeremiah Lee was a fabulously wealthy merchant and ship owner in Massachusetts in the mid-eighteenth century and is positively stylish in this portrait. Like Dr. Brinton, Lee chose to surround himself with the most fashionable accoutrement, leaving no doubt as to the extent of his wealth and impeccable taste. The magnificent Oushak at his feet would have been a rare and exotic luxury indeed, and it even matches the drapes.

Oushak carpets like the one in Copley’s painting are not easily found on the market today, but a few good examples do exist. This Oushak from the shop’s inventory is a compelling analog. The shape of the palmettes and arabesques in this Oushak are similar to Jeremiah’s Lee’s carpet, although the two do not share the same border system. Seeing this earlier example of the serrated palmette design makes an interesting comparison with the previous carpet, as the shape and scale of the design in this older rug seem to feel more natural and less restricted than the nineteenth century version.

George Washington proudly standing on an eighteenth century Oushak carpet, the all-American rug indeed. Gilbert Stuart completed George Washington (The Lansdowne Portrait) in 1796. Like the previous two paintings, Stuart chose to surround Washington with objects of the finest taste; gilt furniture, sumptuous textiles, the imposing Greek columns in the background and the purely exotic Oushak carpet on the floor. Stuart’s depiction of Washington was so popular that it was used to create the one dollar bill; he remains one of the most celebrated American portraitists today.

Carpets like the eighteenth century Oushak in Stuart’s painting are extremely rare on the market; they occasionally turn up at auction or can be found in museums. They are referred to as “Medallion Oushaks” because of the large dominate central medallion, which floats beautifully on a field of small-scale peonies. Medallion Oushaks were first identified in 16th century carpets from Oushak, evidently the design was so popular that they continued weaving it through the eighteenth century (as evidenced by this example) and through the nineteenth.

Great Americans standing on magnificent rugs, it doesn’t get any better than this happy 4th of July.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


by Ryan Reitmeyer on June 19, 2011
This summer we are featuring flat weave rugs from different origins, woven with a variety of techniques. Dhurries, because of their pale color, light weight, and unmistakably soft cotton weave, are the quintessential Houston rug. The dhurries that we have assembled are some of the most remarkable in the inventory.

A classic blue and white stripe dhurrie from the 1930s. The cotton weave in this rug is exceptionally fine, and is probably the reason why this dhurrie has survived in such good condition for so many years. Stripe patterns are the most common among dhurries, perhaps because they were the easiest to weave. (Dhurries are “weft faced pattern weave” rugs, meaning that the weft is used to create the design in the rug; therefore all that a weaver would have to do to make a stripe would be to simply change the weft color.)
The lively repeating design in this dhurrie was inspired by the patterns found in mosaic floor tiles from the period, roughly 1910. Notice the complicated border system that frames the field. Tile patterns like the one in this dhurrie are one of the major design classifications for antique dhurries, as identified by Nada Chaldecott in her book Dhurries: History, Technique, Pattern, Identification.
This is probably the most comprehensive book on dhurries available. The illustrations are beautiful, and it is written with a scientific intent for classification that makes understanding the history of dhurries a logical investigation.

In addition to dhurries, we are featuring flat weaves from across cultures, and so this rug was a must have for our current installation. It is a new Persian production, woven in Shiraz from wool, but the design was inspired by Swedish weavings from the early 20th century. (There is an interesting article on Scandinavian rugs of the 20th century in the June 2011 Issue of Elle Décor.) This rug feels like it came right out of a classic Northern European modern interior.

Something completely different: a contemporary Nepalese flat weave rug, woven using very heavy gauge Himalayan wool. The wefts in the rug were Ikat-dyed, giving the pattern a "melted" feeling that flows beautifully across the blue, green and yellow tones. Given that so many Ikat rugs and fabrics on the market struggle to recreate the original Uzbek patterning, it is refreshing to see a weaver do something fresh and beautiful with this ancient dying technique.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dragon v. Phoenix

by Ryan Reitmeyer on April 4, 2011
We just acquired this amazing antique Chinese Tibetan rug, woven in the 1920s. This rug exudes style; the deeply exaggerated twisting dragons are almost sculptural in their movement, and are complimented perfectly by the ornate plumage on the circling phoenixes. Although the pattern repeat suggests that the dragons are confronting each other, the design is actually meant to represent two sets of dragons and phoenixes locked in swirling combat with one another. The dragon and phoenix design has mysterious connotations and an ancient history.

This bronze mirror from the Metropolitan Museum of Art was made during the Warring States period in China and dates to the 4th century BC. Dragons and phoenixes are painted in red lacquer on the back of the mirror; this is one of the earliest known examples of the motif. During the Han dynasty, when Taoism was adopted as the official religion of the court, the dragon and phoenix became the emblem of the royal family. It was a representation of balance between two conflicting forces and symbolized the belief in a Yin and a Yang.

Famous among carpet aficionados, the Von Bode Dragon and Phoenix carpet is believed to have been woven in the late 14th century in Anatolia (Turkey) and now resides in the Bode Museum in Berlin. This is the earliest known example of a rug with a dragon and phoenix pattern. The relatively coarse weave of the rug results in a beautifully stylized depiction of the dragon and phoenix; rendered on a bright yellow background which recalls the imperial Chinese history of this design.

Carini Lang rugs are some of the most inspired and beautifully crafted carpets woven today. Joseph Carini breathes new life into the phoenix design in this carpet, using a classic Tibetan weave, knotted in the finest grade Chinese silk colored with dyestuffs that were created from plants. His signature color palette feels so authentic and at home in this antique design because many of the colors that Joe uses are developed from ancient dye recipes that he has spent years perfecting. Even though the phoenix has historical origins in Chinese textile history, Joe gives the phoenix a new identity by weaving it in this massive 6x9 rug.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moroccan Modernism

by Ryan Reitmeyer on February 20, 2011
North African vernacular architecture was a tremendous source of inspiration for modernist architects at the beginning of the 20th century. Many design historians credit the white stucco dwellings of Mediteranian and North African villages as the source for the classic Corbusian white box aesthetic, which encapsulated the modernist movement. Le Corbusier worked extensively in Algeria and Morocco throughout the early 20th century, changing the landscape with his “modern” style of architecture all the while being inspired by the local material culture.
Le Courbusier model of Algeria, date unknown
The freeform designs of Moroccan rugs synthesize beautifully with modern architecture. Wild colors combined with the abstract asymmetrical patterns found in these rugs are the perfect foil to a clean unadorned interior. These rugs are striking and highly expressive, no two are ever really alike.

The Moroccan rugs from the upper Atlas Mountains are made without the use of dye stuffs, which were not readily available at such altitudes. Demonstrating a tremendous degree of resourcefulness, the nomads that wove these rugs chose to render their designs using dark wool contrasting with the light ivory-colored background. This honest, unadorned use of materials was a concept championed by modernists.

The most stylish use of a Moroccan rug was in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, starring Kerry Grant. In the climactic scene at the end of the movie a Moroccan rug graces the floor of the villian's lair. Midcentury architecture and interiors with nomadic weaving -- this is where it all comes together.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Map Rug

by Ryan Reitmeyer on January 10, 2011

There is nothing quite as satisfying in this business as spending days sifting through rug after rug—and be rewarded with a truly unique find. This rug was discovered on our last buying trip and it has captured the attention of everyone in the shop. It’s a map of the world, plotted out knot-by-knot across the field of this 9x12 rug, woven in Meshad sometime in the 1950s.
Walking across this rug is such a personal experience; it almost encourages one to visit places familiar as well as dare to explore the unknown just under foot. Originally created for the lobby of a travel agency in New York, this rug has tremendous style, charm and a great history. The land masses were woven with a thicker pile so that they are raised slightly above the blue of the oceans. There is even a legend woven into the lower left corner to guide the viewer along mountain chains, rivers and desert plains. Geography itself becomes the design, resulting in a carpet that is both beautiful and inquisitive.

Thinking about how this rug would function in a room recalls this interior by Ruhlmann for the office of the crown prince of India, c. 1929. The map in the background is almost too large to serve any functional purpose, yet it dominates the interior, decoratively as well as psychologically.