Designs on Rugs Chapter One


   It would be an imposibble task to trace the origin of desing back to its source. It is as old as the imagination of man. All primitive peoples have had their Picture writing, their own tribal and religious symbols. One an easily fancy how upon the approach of cold weather the early inhabitants of the earth sought refuge in protected caves and that some sort of skin was used to close the entrance to keep out the wind. It is also easy to fancy that in the long shut-in days before the return of warm weather these cave dwellers might have ornamented the curtains with various rude designs, possibly of plan tor leaf forms with which they were familiar, or scenes from the chase.

    In Turkey the courtyard upon which the house opens is frequently paved with small Stones laid in a pattern, using black pebbles to work out a design. In the interior of the Island of Rhodes the one large room of the house is paved in this way and a regular rug design is worked out with the black and white pebbles. These stone carpets last from generation to generation and are of very ancient origin. I saw one that was over three hundred years old. Rugs are stories written in all the dialects of the world of imagination and tradition, but there is no Rosetta stone by which to decipher them, and even the weavers who make them cannot read their story. It is only by comparison and patient study that we are able to trace a few of these signs and symbols to the lands from which they came and discover some of the traditions and associations connected with them. One might almost say that in early times the weavers used as a main design what to them stood for religious or tribal traditions, colour and from each having its own significance. This accomplishhed, free rein was given to the fancy in filling in the vacant spaces. The Persians usually employed for this purpose a tracery of flower or could and star forms. The nomad tribes used less graceful and more angular designs. Through wars, pilgrimages, and conquest the symbols of different tribes, religions, and countries have become mingled and commingled in a most curious way. The origin of some of the figurs is easily discovered as that of the lily of the Nile which has travelled so far and been so frequently copied in stone and textiles. We find many Mongolian designs in Oriental rugs. These are largely due to the missionary zeal of an early successor of the Prophet who sent out four Moslem missionaries to China to preach the true faith in that the Chinese manufactured paper and upon their return to Arabia brought back with them Chinese artizans to introduce this industry into their own country. The Chinese naturally employed the designs with which they were familiar, and these designs were carried by the Mohammedan conquest into Persia. The name of Alexander the Great is usually associated with wars and conquest, yet in the transmission of design he was a veritable honeybee carrying the pollen of ideas and patterns from one land to another ; for example, what inspirationand new material for the textile weavers must have been the spoils from the treasures of Darius that Alexander and his soldiers brought away with them. The art of weaving came to its culmination in Persia in the sixteeenth century during the reign of Shah Abbas, and favourite floral design of that period bears his name. In may of the rugs woven at that time and copied extensively since is a figure which has been commonly credited as being a reproduction of the leaf of the lotus plant ; according to an Eastern legend the origin of this design is an interesting story.

   The eldest son of Shah Abbas, impatient to occupy the throne, plotted aganist his father’s life. His evil designs being discovered, the took refuge in the royal stable beside his father’s favourite horse. Fearing he would harm the valuable animal if attempt were made to capture him, Shah Abbas immediately granted his pardon. In memory of this deliverance, the horseshoe was woven into all the rugs made for him. The resemblance between this horseshoe and a lily pad may not be evident to those who have not lived in the East, but it is no mystery to those who have seen the flat metal plate used there to protect the feet of the horses. They are the size and shape of the bottom of a horse’s hoof, covering the entire surface with only a tiny hole in the centre for ventilation. Draw the outline of the bottom of a horse’s hoof and you have a form closely resembling the leaf of the lotus lily. This story is also an example of the high regard in which the Oriental holds his horses. Colour also had a language of its own symbolized a definite thing to the ancients, as blue represented immortality to the Egyptians. It is related that when Athena woven into the sky the enchanting picture of flowers and gardens, mountain heights and the mighty beings who dwelt in the clouds with Jupiter she took for her materials and colours the golden sunbeams that gilded the mountain top, the snowy fleece of the summer clouds, the blur ether of the summer sky, the bright green of the summer fields, and the royal purple of the autumn woods. The early weavers in the East, the land of the Arabian nights so full of imagery, may have had some such poetic vision which enabled them to combine the varying shades of a few colours in so marvellous a manner as to make exquisite pictures out of the common forms of life about them.


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