can also have an accent effect. Historically, abrash has had such
effects either accidentally (weaving with wool produced in small dye
lots in which “same” color in fact varies) or deliberately. The
abrash in the Bidjar kilim below seems to have an accent effect.
Some colors themselves can produce
. Light colors “pop out” or tend to
move forward. Darker colors tend to recede. Middling colors
occupy a similar spatial distance. A classic example of this use
of color is seen in Talish long rugs such as the one below.
Color theory suggests that the deep blue field should be experienced as
receding in perspective. The minor red borders should occupy a
middling distance and the white ground border should appear closest to
us. Do these colors produce these effects for you?
An interesting elaboration of this phenomenon is that since the
medallion devices on the white ground border are darker than it is,
they should in theory be seen to “punch holes” in it and to move to
more distant levels. What do you think?
Here is a Caucasian piece with a white ground and darker borders. Does
the white ground of the field seem closer?
This piece also lets us compare how the same colors look against
lighter and darker grounds.
Here is a more complex instance of colors effect on
dimensionality. The piece below is a Senneh kilim with a niche
Color theory posits that we should experience the dark ground of the
field under the mirhab as furthest from us and the white ground of the
field above the niche form as closest to us, with the red of the
borders in a middling distance. Does this happen for you?
Looking closer, such effects should even be visible in the color
effects used for the boteh devices.
First, the botehs in the dark part of the field should appear to float
on it, while the devices in the white ground areas should be
experienced as being at levels beneath that ground. And looking
at the botehs in the area under the niche form, the white edges should
look closest, while the green and red areas at a middling distance and
the dark ground (within the botehs) furthest. Looking at the edge
of the niche form in the close-up, one should experience the green-red
border as moving above the dark field but beneath the adjoining white
field with the dark outlining on this border serving as a kind of
etching of it. Do all of these theoretical effects of color use
in this piece produce the predicted visual experiences as you look at
One more instance of the way that weavers attempt to suggest
dimensionality with color. The Moguls are famous for having used
close colors next to one another without intervening outlining, what is
called the “ton-sur-ton” usage. Here is a glorious Mogul rug.
The Moguls seem to have used colors in
this way to achieve either more rounded-looking devices or to produce
shadow effects. Look at the close-up below of the immediately
preceding piece and see if you can spot the “ton-sur-ton” usages.
Then evaluate their success in achieving these two objectives.
Tom pointed out that “corrosion," which is a species of “dimensionality,” can also function
to produce accent effects. Although this is true, and can be seen
readily in many Jaf Kurd bag faces (Tom had the Kurdish rug below with
deep and surprising corrosion in its blues), it seems to me that
corrosion leaves the world of color effect, since the receding, even if
it works as an accent effect, is not just apparent, but real.
Now I’ve gone on a bit here about color theory and color as we
experience it in rugs and it’s clear that this is a subject that is
nearly inexhaustible, although some readers may long since have become
exhausted by my rather discursive treatment of it here.
So what should we do in this salon?
Well, we can offer examples of rugs and weavings that illustrate
various aspects and uses of color.
We can debate whether color theory is, in fact, always borne out in our
We can offer examples of color usage that seem to us to be less
We can also talk about a number of aspects of the use of color that I
have not really dealt with above. Here are a few possibilities
(some of which Tom Xenakis dealt with in his talk):
Use of color to affect graphics
– how color affects how we experience the graphic elements in a piece
We could explore our views of “saturation
” of color.
We tend to respond positively to pure, intense color.
” is another term
for characterizing “intensity” of color. In weavings this can be
enhanced as “patina
(a sheen that can develop as colored wool is polished with age and
use). We could ask ourselves why patina is seen to be attractive
on an oriental rug, but not on a pair of blue serge dress slacks.
It’s just a “shiny-ness” after all.
We could also ask whether we are not sometimes inconsistent in admiring
deeply saturated colors and then moving quickly to also compliment
softer ones that have been “nicely modulated” by age.
There are symbolic
color – Color means different things in different cultures. Some
of these symbolic meanings of color are interesting.
Colors have temperatures
Yellow, red are warm
Green, blue are cool
Are there things to notice about this dimension?
Collectors often refer to color
, usually in the context of making attributions.
Rugs from particular areas are often seen to have colors that comprise
a typical palette. It is often argued that rugs not having this
palette of colors are not likely to have been woven there. Do we
know what we’re talking about when we make such assertions?
Tom pointed out that there is an “economics
of color. That is, some colors
are more expensive to make
. This is especially true of
colors that require “double-dyeing.” “Double-dyed” colors include:
Aubergine or purple
Orange (at least some)
These colors have traditionally been both difficult and expensive to
make soundly. That likely accounts, in part, for some of their
appeal to scholars and collectors.
Cochineal reds, while not double-dyed, have also been expensive to
produce, as are the colors produced by the direct use of gold and
silver in weavings.
And, of course, there’s lots of discussion in our world of colors and dyes
Tom said that the “natural” dyes vs “synthetic dyes debate with regard
to weavings is analogous to the “natural” paints vs acrylics in
painting. Acrylics have some desirable features (e.g. fast
drying) but we don’t know yet what pieces painted with acrylics will
look like several hundred years hence. We do know that some
natural paints have retained bright, strong colors for over 2,000 years.
We know that some early synthetic dyes faded and changed dramatically
in relatively short time. We do not yet know what “chrome” dyes
or even contemporary “natural” dyes with look like several hundred
years from now, but we do know that the natural dyes in some 15th and
16th century Turkish and Persian rugs can exhibit colors with wonderful
purity and saturation today.
Early synthetic dyes were often garish, lacked harmony and as they
changed lost balance and affected the unity of the entire weaving.
The quality of wool seems important to intensity of color and the color
of the structural materials may sometimes have some effects on the
visible aspects of a weaving.
At the most obvious level, the warps of Senneh pieces with multicolor
silk ones are used in part to enhance the visual experience with the
rug. These warps are meant to be seen. It is also possible
that the choice of foundation colors may sometimes be made by weavers
either to avoid or to achieve certain other effects on the surface of
the weaving itself. (It may be useful for a rug with a lot of
white ground not to have warps or wefts with more definite
colors.) Eiland reports that in some places the color of the
wefts are varied to make it less likely as a rug wears that the
structure will “show through.”
And there is also the chemical alteration of color after dyeing and
weaving. Weavings can be both “bleached” and “painted” to produce
particular color effects. (e.g., painted Sarouks). In
general, bleached and painted rugs are not seen by collectors to have
Nowadays, since rug and textile repair has become more economic, color
can also be altered during repair and restoration. This can lead
to debates about the morality of some uses of color in such repair work.
So you can see the possibilities here are very broad indeed. This
could be a salon that is accessible to most everyone, and that could be
useful, as well as, enjoyable.
Let the “colorful” discussion begin. (My God! I just
thought: I’m going to have to summarize this thing.
R. John Howe
(Number sequence has gaps; no rugs used are missing from this listing)
(You can discover the number of a given image in this essay by
putting you cursor on the image, left click, then right click and
choose properties from the drop-down menu.)
Color 1 Jon
“Oriental Carpets,” 1988, p. 101.
Color 1a Detail of image in Color 1 above.
Color 2 Jon Thompson, “Oriental Carpets,”
Color 3 Alastair Hull and Jose Luczyc-Wyhowska,
“Kilim,” 1991, p. 193, Plate 148.
Color 4 Parviz Tanavoli, “Lion Rugs from Fars,”
p. 49, Plate 23.
Color 5 Hallvard Kare Kuloy, “Tibetan Rugs,”
132, Plate 99.
Color 6 Ian Bennett and Aziz Bassoul, “Rugs of
Caucasus, 2003, Plate 79.
Color 7 Ulrich Schurmann, “Caucasian Rugs,”
137, Plate 40.
Color 8 Ulrich Schurmann, “Caucasian Rugs,”
75, Plate 10.
Color 9 Ulrich Schurmann, “Caucasian Rugs,”
241, Plate 87.
Color 10 John T. Wertime, “Sumak Bags of
Persia, p. 151, Plate 87.
Color 11 Louise Mackie and Jon Thompson,
1980, p. 70, Plate 6.
Color 12 Elena Tzareva, “Rugs and Carpets from
Central Asia,” 1984, p. 135, Plate 89.
Color 13 Parviz Tanavoli, “Persian Flatweaves,”
p. 97, Plate 46.
Color 13a Detail of piece in Color 13 image above.
Color 14 Raoul Tschebull, “Kazak,” 1971, p. 41,
Color 15 Raoul Tschebull, “Kazak,” 1971, p. 85,
Color 16 Raoul Tschebull, “Kazak,” 1971, p. 99,
Color 17 Photo of a Flatwoven mafrash that Tom
Xenakis showed in his TM rug morning.
Color 18 Photo of a Bakhtiari soufre that Tom
showed in his TM rug morning.
Color 18a Detail of image 18 above.
Color 18b Detail of image 18 above.
Color 22 Yanni Petsopoulos, “Kilims,” 1991,
Color 22a Detail of image 22 above.
Color 24 Yanni Petsopoulos, “Kilims,” 1991,
Color 26 Ralph Kaffel, “Caucasian Prayer Rugs,”
page 113, Plate 60.
Color 26a Detail of rug in image Color 26 above.
Color 27 Parviz Tanavoli, “Persian Flatweaves,”
p. 132, Plate 106.
Color 27a Detail of image 27 above.
Color 28 Parviz Tanavoli, “Persian Flatweaves,”
p. 171, Plate 127.
Color 29 James Opie, “Tribal Rugs,” 1992, page
Color 30 Parviz Tanavoli, “Persian Flatweaves,” 2002,
p. 110, Plate 60.
Color 31 Ulrich Schurmann, “Caucasian Rugs,”
167, Plate 53.
Color 32 Daniel Walker, “Flowers Underfoot,
60, Fig. 54.
Color 32a Detail of image 32 above.
Color 33 Photo of a Kurdish rug with deep
in blue areas that Tom Xenakis showed
during his TM rug morning.