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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

The Wagireh

by R. John Howe and Filiberto Boncompagni

Dear folks-

In February, 2005, Harold Keshishian gave a rug morning program at The Textile Museum on “wagireh” (sampler) format. Harold has collected wagirehs for a long time and presented over 20 examples from his collection. 

The front board of the Myers Room was covered with layers of wagirehs as Carly Ofsthun introduced Harold.

Eiland and Eiland, distinguish at least three kinds of wagirehs or samplers.  First, there is a wagireh that contains all the design elements for at least one complete rug and following which such a rug could be woven.  Here is the Bijar example they  provide.

A second sort of wagireh, they say, is one that might or might not include all of the design elements needed to weave a complete rug, but whose primary purpose was to demonstrate the “colors and texture of the rug to be ordered.”  Here is their example of this second type.

They acknowledge that this particular example of this second type might be one from which a complete rug could be woven. 

The third type of wagireh they specify is one composed of color blocks that the producer can use in rugs being ordered.  This sort of wagireh is, of course, simply to help a buyer see and select the colors desired in a rug being ordered.


There is a possible fourth type of wagireh, named initially by Tracy Davis on one of our previous discussions.  This type is called a “strike-off” and is a smaller version using the precise designs and colors to be used on a larger rug.  Such a wagireh lets the customer see in smaller scale what the larger rug will look like before the expensive of producing it was undertaken. 

Eiland and Eiland provide a fourth example of a wagireh that might be a strike-off.

Notice that this seems a smaller version of a larger piece in a particular color scheme in which the open questions still are what sort of border treatments are to be employed and what type of anchors should be used on the medallion.
Strike-off wagirehs can be difficult to recognize. 

Jerry Thompson, a local dealer and collector here, has a piece that he says he looked at for several years before deciding that it must be a sampler.  The piece is complete but has toward the top a band of minor border that does not appear elsewhere on it.  Jerry’s theory is that the weaver was letting the customer see concretely what this alternative border treatment would look like.  I will try to find or take a photo of this piece while our salon is on-going.

Strike-offs can be sources of dispute as well.  John Collins has suggested that the Bijar piece below, shown by Joe Fell in a TM rug morning may be a vagireh of the strike-off sort.

Michael Wendorf has acknowledged that Collins may be right but was skeptical in the previous discussion of this piece.

Harold began by indicating that the wagireh format became frequent when European companies established rug weaving operations in Iran and Turkey.

He questioned whether wagirehs were made and used in earlier rug weaving times.  It turns out that this point is the subject of debate in the literature, with some saying that wagirehs are artifacts of the European rug operations in the Middle East and other claiming that older wagirehs exist and that wagirehs were woven and used even by tribal weavers for their own private purposes.
One of the early more extended treatments of wagirehs in the literature occurs in Kurt Erdmann’s “Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets.”  Erdmann provides a short chapter on wagirehs and begins, humorously, by admitting that by 1950 he had written some about oriental rugs but “still did not know what a wagireh was.” 
Erdmann quotes several authors who talked about the wagireh format before he did.  

First, there’s Griffin Lewis in his “Practical Book of Oriental Rugs,” originally published in 1911:

“Sample corners are mats about two feet square and are woven for the purpose of showing the variation of border, colour and design for some wealthy ruler who wishes a carpet woven.  They are afterwards used in the weaver’s family and seldom reach the market.”

RIPPON BOSWELL & CO. Auction 59 16th November 2002

Lot Nr. 48: A BIDJAR WAGIREH Origin: Northwest Persia, Kurdistan, ca. 1900 Size: approx. 87 x 86 cm

Second is a quote from W. Grote-Hasenbalg, (several O’Bannon bibliography entries, which source is not clear):
Wagirehs, which occasionally reach Europe, serve as models for the manufacture of large carpets in those districts of the Orient which work for the European market.  Our illustration shows the design for the medallion and corner, the filling between these, the main border stripe and the guards.”

Next he quotes Dilley, the NYC dealer who helped assemble the McMullan collection:

“Among the most interesting and delightful small rugs is the Bijar Vagireh or Orinak (ed. this latter term may be an Armenian one for “model” or “example”) which displays sections of numerous patterns artistically combined.  The purpose of the weaving was to produce models of craftsmanship and color combinations for use in creation of carpets.  Some varigehs contain as many as five incipient carpet designs.  An ulterior purpose undoubtedly was the preservation of pattern and color, generation after generation.  These records should not be neglected; genuine art treasure is found among them.”

In 1949 Jacoby has a “Wagireh” section in his “ABC des echten Teppichs.”  He says: 

“In Persia before a new design is woven a small sample piece, a wagireh, is made from which the final appearance of the field and border can be judged. It is sufficient if such wagirehs show a piece of the border and a section of the design without producing the whole.” 

And a long quote from Henri Hildebrand in his “The Persian Carpet and its Homeland, (ed. a book not listed in O’Bannon’s bibliography):

Continued on Page 2 Discussion