A modest exhibition of Persian tribal weaving acquired over the past 50 years by this gallery's proprietor. Nothing for sale... but you might fall in love.

I have been an oriental rug enthusiast for longer than any other type of material culture. In 1969 I was walking to class at the University of Kansas and found an old Baluch rug rolled up in somebody’s trash can. (My favorite price point!) I rescued it, learned about it, and was hooked. I wanted more, but of course had no money. Later I shared a house with a gay couple who had quite the antique collection and there was a spot in the living room where the overlapping rugs were Five deep. I was in heaven. Long story short... this drive to have stuff led to my pre-art dealer days as an antiques picker. I would hunt rugs with some success but I was a terrible rug dealer. Any time I found a decent piece I could make some money on… I wanted to Keep it. Not a recipe for financial stability and certainly not within the “Picker’s Code of Conduct”.

In 1973 I was in graduate school and still “picking” on the side. One day in Dixon, Illinois — the hometown of Ronald Regan — I found a small, wondrous weaving in an antique shop, (shown above). It was a “rug” but only about two feet square, and unbelievably fine in design and feel. I’d never seen anything like it and was transfixed. The lady wanted $75 for it… a month’s rent (remember: 1973)… and I just had to pass. Later that night, in my apartment in Bloomington, I could not stop thinking about it. So, I called her the next day and told her I’d take it, and with sweaty palms, I drove back to Dixon to claim my prize. (Rent would have to wait.)

Thus began my education and deep dive into the tribal weavings of the Fars district of southwest Persia. My little treasure was half of a saddlebag, a Khorjin, woven by the Qashqa’i tribal group. Of course, I still have it and have owned many similar weavings but never one so finely made. If there is a larger lesson here, it’s that falling in love does not require a PhD in knowing all about something. I did not love my little bag face anymore once I learned all about What it was. That gotta-have-it-thing… the itchy, tumbly feeling in your stomach… exists, no matter how irrational, and you can do nothing about it but scratch.

James Opie has written that by 1974, weaving as a fine art among the tribes of southern Iran was nearly dead. Opie, a dealer, collector, and author is one of the most recognized scholars on tribal weaving of southern Persia and well positioned to make this observation. Interestingly, this date corresponds with my awakening to those very textiles.

Carpet weaving is one of the great ancient arts of Asia Minor and the Middle East, much of it associated with nomadic tribes of sheepherders who passed the skills and traditions from generation to generation. The Fars district of southwestern Persia (modern Iran) is the traditional home of several tribal groups, or confederations, that include the Qashqa’i, Khamseh, Lurs, Bakhtyari, and Afshar. The principal city is Shiraz which was long used by the trade as a catch-all name for any of the weavings produced in and around the region. Scholarship has advanced considerably in the 50 years I’ve been interested and today weavings are generally ascribed to a particular tribal name, although not necessarily with accuracy.

Most of the rugs I’ve been attracted to are products of the Qashqa’i and Khamseh Confederacies. Qashga’i weavings have, over time, become favored by collectors and the rug trade, to the extent that almost any fine weaving from the region often gets tagged as a Qashga’i rug. Generally, construction technique is a far better way to identify where a rug was made, but that gets a bit into the weeds for this little article. For this modest exhibition, we'll leave the arguing to the enthusiasts — I don’t see any reason to expound further on who likely made what, as even my attributions are at best a guess, and open to disagreement (of which there is plenty!).

So here, my friends, mostly for my own enjoyment, is a small exhibition of wonderful weavings I have collected over the past 50 years. Most of this work is late 19th or early 20th century… Mistakes in attribution are mine alone but don't detract from the raw enjoyment of these beautiful objects.