J.R. Azizollahoff, article, “Rug Merchants & Collectors”, written for “Rug News” Magazine, August 2003
The rug merchant or trader has an entirely different perspective on carpets from the rug collector. This perennial conflict results from the fact that the merchant has a different set of presuppositions or assumptions about carpets than the collector. The merchant believes that the carpet is a craft and respects it as such, whereas the collector maintains that the real rug is and should only be a form of art.
According to the merchant, many different types of rugs qualify as objects of a craft, whereas according to the collector only relatively few very old village or tribal rugs qualify as an art. The merchant sees the rug as a floor covering to be walked upon, but the collector sees the rug as essentially a wall hanging.
The collector believes that only carpets which reflect Middle Eastern culture unfettered by Western trade might qualify as art, if they are particularly original and beautiful. He has no real interest in any other carpets as he finds them imitative or inauthentic. He is usually primarily interested in antique Turkoman rugs, but may also search for old Turkish kilims, Caucasian and Turkish rugs and other antique tribal and village weavings. He does not care for old Persian city carpets that were in any way affected by Western commerce, such as Kashans, Kermans, Sarouks, Mahals, and Tabrizes, and has only a mild, lukewarm appreciation for Persian Serapes and Bidjars.
The merchant’s highly coveted decorative antique Persian Hadji Jahlili Tabriz, which dealers on 57th street in New York may sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, does not impress the collector at all. Ian Bennett represents the collector’s view well when he says: “ A Tabriz carpet of the finest quality...is an example of extraordinary craftsmanship, even though its design is wholly derivative.... Modern factory made carpets, whatever the quality of technical craftsmanship, have little to do with either art or instinctive culture; they should be classed as interior decoration and hold little interest for the serious student....
One can admire them, while at the same time, being aware of the mechanical quality and aesthetic sterility.” (Bennett, Ian, Complete Illustrated Rugs & Carpets of the World, 1977, p.223). The merchant might respond by asking, “Where are the rugs that should be of interest to the serious student to be found today”? For the merchant, the collector’s perspective is antiquated and invalidated by the extreme scarcity of great old tribal and village weavings today.
Bennett and other scholars have the collector’s standard of rugs as art only. If one takes the merchant’s position and believes that rugs are a craft rather than an art, the standard for measuring carpet beauty is looser. A merchant might appreciate a beautiful Persian Ziegler Mahal carpet from 1890 just as much as a magnificent antique tribal rug. No one approach is necessarily superior and one perspective is as valid as the other.
The merchant argues that trade with the West was always present in the history of the oriental carpet. He maintains that since commerce between East and West has occurred for hundreds of years there were never many rugs that were pure representations or symbols of society uninfluenced by Western trade. The merchant maintains that trade with the West has not had a derogatory effect upon oriental carpet integrity. To the contrary, the fusion of Eastern and Western influences, the merchant might argue, has led to greater perfection in carpets. The Western merchant who produces new carpets in the East feels that his achievement of creating order in areas where no order was present before is as noble as the most noble weavings that represent Eastern tribal and peasant culture.
The merchant might also argue that copying designs is and has always been the warp and woof of the carpet craft throughout the ages. He believes that there are no original creations unaffected by accident and diffusion. A tribal symbol woven in a prized collector’s rug for centuries may have been derived from a prosaic Chinese vase or a piece of fabric dropped by an explorer hundreds of years ago. All so-called originality, in the merchant’s view, is a subtle form of plagiarism, and we are all on the shoulders of giants, whether or not we admit it. The merchant might contend that while originality should not be scoffed at, it is ultimately merely the extension, accentuation, and expansion of respected predecessors ideas or creations.
The merchant maintains that with the exception of certain village and tribal rugs that are very rare today, the oriental carpet is and always has been an intrinsically commercialized, magnificent commodity, and that many rugs that are so highly esteemed by collectors are really not culturally embodied artworks from the East. For the merchant, rugs are not meant to be hung on the walls of a museum of primitive art, but to be walked upon and enjoyed in the households of people who want to beautify their living quarters. Depending upon the viewpoint that the rug lover may have, the exact same rug may be viewed in an entirely different manner.
The old rug merchant never had much respect for the limited taste of the collector who rummaged through his carpet warehouse trying to find that rare early nineteenth century artifact that had been overlooked and undervalued. The collector, on the other hand, perceived that almost all the rugs in the old rug dealer’s showroom were dead items with no vitality at all. But everyone must choose which view he prefers in order to make sense of the art, or craft, of the oriental carpet.
My Rugs for Sale:
I am liquidating my collection of old and new rugs and pictures can be accessed below. These rugs were selected over many years from various sources and are being sold at or below my cost. I guarantee that I cannot be undersold for rugs illustrated herein.
As with my brokerage service, any rug purchased directly from me includes an affidavit with information about the rug selected. I am also always available for consultation and advice about any rug purchased from my collection.
J.R. Azizollahoff, Interview, Translated into Turkish for Halionline.net, October, 2008
1. Short Biography / 2. How Career Started
Third generation oriental carpet dealer. My mother’s father and father’s father, as well as my father were carpet dealers.
Learned old rug trade in 1974. Traded exclusively in antique rugs until 1982. Dealt in antique carpets and vegetal dyed Turkish rugs until present (www.rugconsultant.com).
Wrote “Illustrated Buyer’s Guide to Oriental Carpets” in 1998, “Oriental Rugs from A to Z” in 2004, and “Metaphysical Maxims” in 2008.
Editor, “Rug News” magazine from around 2001 to 2003. Taught course on oriental rugs for about three years at Marymount Manhattan College in New York.
Worked for many rug companies including Central Carpet and ABC Carpet in New York.
Former manager of Nazmiyal Collection in Red Bank, New Jersey.
3. Purpose of second book. In the second book, “Oriental Rugs from A to Z”, I refined my views on rugs further as I increased my rug experiences. I advocated the collector’s view of carpets as involving high definition or color clarity, while paying homage to new antique washed rugs at the same time. I also advanced the theory of inimitable workshop style as a way to judge rug quality. That is, many of the best new carpets have such complex ingredients that no other company can knock them off successfully. As a first, this large book presents 300 new rugs as works of art with many full page 8x9 inch color plates. I also offer more additional practical information for rug buyers that goes beyond the first book.
4. My first book, “The Illustrated Buyer’s Guide to Oriental Carpets”, took two years to write and nine months to assemble transparencies from many old and new dealers. I got eye strain from carefully examining condition of antique rugs from transparencies for captions. I believe this was the first large-sized, copiously illustrated price guide in oriental carpets (almost 400 color plates), and has been quite successful over the years, and is in its third edition. I am pleased that so many new rug dealers sacrificed design confidentiality for the great advertising that this book provided (dealer’s name appears under each photograph). I think this book was quite influential in the trade because I featured antique Heriz and Serape carpets in it. Many new rug dealers were not aware of the significance of these carpets in the old rug trade until after the book was published. Subsequently, many new rug producers began to make new, beautiful antique Heriz reproductions.
5. Buyer education and vendor honesty are absolutely essential to selling carpets and the wealthy, in particular, require product knowledge. The upper class requires knowledge because its members hate to get taken advantage of and know nothing about carpets. Education implies passion for rugs as art, and people do not trust rug dealers who do not know what they are talking about, or are caught in a lie. The capacity to match colors and styles is also essential.
Some dealers criticized me for telling too much in my first book, particularly about imperfections in old rugs, and others thought the book was great for the trade. Many did not like the price estimates for antique rugs, but most appreciated my efforts on their behalf.
6. I have dealt almost exclusively in vegetal dyed new Turkish rugs since my visit to Istanbul in 1981. I could no longer earn a living at antique rugs, and these rugs were powerful and beautiful with great wool. I think that my visit to Turkey with George Jevremovic (Woven Legends) in 1981 was a turning point in our careers. We both concluded that Turkish rugs with vegetal dyes and hand-spun yarn were the way to go, and that the antique rug business was essentially over, unfortunately.
1. Buy the rug you love and hope that it is beautiful.
2. For investment, consider a light, soft-colored rug with sophisticated, complex, traditional design groups, such as trellis or lattice, lotus, arabesque, cartouche, serrated leaf, etc. which are eternal verities. Designers of the future will always look for these to finish the room puzzle. If it fits the puzzle, it is irreplaceable and valuable.
2. Examine rug carefully—if something does not look right, it is probably and imperfection. A little dirt does not matter.
3. Read a little about rugs for foundational knowledge. The importance of high knot count and good wool and dyes is essential. Study antique rugs with more authenticity and less commercialization that are emblems of society. Try to find a new rug that may be commercialized, but still contains the old emblems within it.
4. Do not be afraid of buying a carpet as it is still the least expensive and most beautiful universal art form. They will go up in value if hand-knotting is reduced worldwide. If people knew how much work went into them, they would be less reluctant to buy. Try to find a rug which has inimitable workshop pedigree and a complex recipe that cannot be copied in another workshop.
5. Take care of rugs as most new, more commercialized carpets must remain in mint condition to retain value today. Rugs sheared to the foundation are an exception and may retain value, even with little pile, if they are particularly beautiful.
I have always viewed rugs as an object of meditation, like a garden or mandala. For years, as a youth in college, I spent hours sitting on a huge, high-backed chair in the living room, enjoying a complex center medallion of our Tabriz carpet. I always found it peaceful and relaxing at the end of the day.
I also enjoy looking for antique rugs, the joy of the chase, and the pleasure of finally finding a great rug after going to many dealers and antique stores.
Unlike some dealers, I did not mind selling even the great irreplaceable rugs that I once possessed for only a few days. It was enough that I had them just for a little while.
9. I am very keen on contemporary and modern rugs because they too can be very beautiful for their colors alone. If the colors are magnificent, and the wool, dyes, and workmanship are excellent, designs are not required. The function is the same as traditional carpets: a peaceful repose in the home, and the pleasure of the experience of color. All two dimensional art is essentially about color alone, and rugs are about color, even when grouped into rounded or geometrical blocks called designs. The colors of contemporary rugs are easier to harmonize, and it is thus probably less likely that one will be buying a dissonant rug with crudely drawn designs. Turkey, with its wonderful wool and dyes, and tremendous rug history, should specialize in modern carpets.
10. The rug market is weak and the main buyers appear to be the upper classes at this time. It is probably best to manufacture high end decorative rugs where price is not that important to the buyer. The simple Peshawar is still good, but the better, more subtle vegetal dyed carpet with higher knottage and detail is more marketable.
Many rug dealers have failed for the same reason as the American car manufacturers: they produce the wrong merchandise. Just as the car maker should have known that there was a gasoline shortage, and produced smaller cars, rug dealers should have moved away from saturated colors and busy designs to soft, understated carpets a long time ago. It is still not too late for retooling.
The most important discovery I have made in recent years is that the pale rug is neither a passing fancy of fashion, nor simply an easy way for a designer to finish a room. Most of my clients actually begin their room with a pale rug when I thought there should have been no justification for it. This is a new development and the American housewife, whom we have always followed, rightly prefers more quiescence on the floor. We are dealing with a primeval archetype here in that the nest in the animal world, as well as the ground beneath our feet, is usually earth- toned or brown.
Oriental rugs must evolve into a paler art form to survive, and there is nothing lamentable about this development. Rugs will no longer represent color in all its glory, but peace, tranquility, or happiness, which is actually more important. The carpet is now an oasis meant to reduce the excessive stimulation that abounds in our busy lives. We do not have to make way for the powerful colors of the carpet as before, but we can know dive right into the earth, sea, sky, and clouds beneath us. It is easier to transcend through translucence and thus easier to meditate upon the pale carpet. I have tried it, and I know that it is the next best thing to the vistas and panoramas found in the great outdoors for resting the mind and renewing the spirit.
11. “Metaphysical Maxims”
My second love after rugs was always philosophy, religion, and spirituality. “Metaphysical Maxims” is an attempt to help people progress in virtue and spirit at the same time. It is written in the form of numbered maxims to be more accessible and easier to understand. I tried to clarify in a short book of about 100 pages the major aspects of wisdom that philosophers throughout history have tried to explain in an unreadable manner, and religions have tried to distill in a somewhat confusing manner. It can be summarized by the maxims, “In Virtu, Verita”, “In Virtue, Truth”, or “Be still and Be good”.
I took all of the many close- up photographs that appear in my second rug book, “Oriental Rugs from A to Z”, and I think that they help to encourage the rug novice to enjoy texture and design from up close as well as from a distance. I also took the black and white pictures that are found in “Metaphysical Maxims”, and I hope they are soothing and restful for the reader. I took many pictures of clouds, the royal road to enlightenment, in “Metaphysical Maxims”, and I encourage everyone to look up at their magnificent structures for as long as possible, whenever time permits. There is no more beautiful sight on planet earth upon which to meditate than the deep, rich, and magnificent cloud banks that continually form above us. They are the next best things to spirit itself.
R. Azizollahoff, article, “The Metaphysical Carpet as a Symbol of Peace, written for “Rug News” magazine, September, 2009
It is not an accident that the East has given the world the art of the carpet and meditation. There is a relationship between oriental carpets and concentration in that the rug, in the tribal, village, or city format, has always been an object of prolonged examination. As a youth, I used to meditate upon the center medallion of a large Tabriz carpet in our home. In the 1970’s, I had customers who were collectors of antique Caucasian kazak and Turkish village rugs. They would spend all day in my showroom pondering these colorful carpets, mesmerized by their beauty. This experience may have been facilitated and enhanced by drugs, and there has always been an historic aesthetic and financial connection between drugs and rugs.
One might argue that the increased interest in decorative carpets, devoid of color and design, might have diminished the contemplative potency of the oriental rug. After all, the classical city carpet, rich in color and design, exemplified by the Persian Kashan, Kerman, Ferahan, Bidjar, and Tabriz, is similar to the complex and richly colored mandala, the Eastern meditative symbol for centuries.
While it is true that early, colorful rugs are wonderful objects of meditation, they are actually hard to concentrate upon for prolonged periods. Even if one is an advanced meditator, with a mind that is not blocked by too many buffers, or defense mechanisms, one might find it difficult to ponder highly colored carpets for extended periods. Of course, ruminating over a beautiful rug, for any length of time, is always a pleasurable experience.
The antique washed new rug, and the pale old decorative carpet offer a wonderful, peaceful space in the home, and this may account, in large part, for their popularity. The mystic, who strives for higher levels of Peace, knows the value of the more open, outdoor environment, and would recognize that the translucent carpet adds desirable openness and tranquility to the home.
Denuded of more objectified color, the transparent carpet can actually be looked through or into in a manner that is deeper and more far reaching than was possible in the classical tribal, village, or city carpet. Whereas in prior times the meaning of the oriental carpet was predominantly to be found in its color and texture, today it can be found in its nebulosity.
While color and texture are concrete or materialist objects of sense perception, that are still relevant to rug appreciation, they are primarily meant to negate themselves, and hint at Being or Truth, rather than be appreciated in and of themselves. In the manner of abstract art, the elliptical or nebulous rug suggests the Being that resides above and around it. The pale rug exudes Being or Spirit because its ineffable nature is in essence quite non-materialistic.
Classical colorful oriental rugs of the past, as well as today, are majestic and mysterious because of their unfathomable complexity and magnificent colors. The pale rug of today is also mysterious, and its cryptic message is in the Spirit that is suggested in a most direct way, by its less material, or more ineffable nature.
The pale, decorative carpet has parallels in the arts with dreamy watercolor landscapes, minimalist impressionist paintings, and misty oriental scroll paintings. The increased importance of light that is reflected off the light colors of the decorative carpet has decreased the importance of color and texture. Even the beloved and highly sensual earthy brown colors, as well as the stimulating texture of wool are meant to be over come rather than indulged as the decorative carpet assumes its final mission to raise the viewer above the material world into the Spirit. While we look down at the carpet, its ultimate purpose is to help us to look up and live, above the plain and pain of human existence. It is not an accident that the pale rug is chiefly about light, for the source of all oriental carpets is to be found in the light of God.
R. Azizollahoff, article, “A Binary Rug Classification"
Rugs today can be classified in two essential ways. The first may be called “distinct design”, and the second, “convergent design”. This nomenclature applies to all rugs, including modern abstract carpets, as well as tapestries and kelims. The principal difference in types is based upon the degree of design definition. The prior classification of “traditional” versus “decorative” rugs, roughly, but not entirely, corresponds to this new codification of “distinct” versus “convergent” rugs. This new categorization may make it easier for the public to distinguish the two generic types of carpets.
The “distinct design” rug has clear and crisp designs, often, but not necessarily, with black outlining around different colored ornaments. The purpose of the black outlining found in the designs of so many of the finest Persian carpets clearly demonstrates the importance of design definition or “distinction” in classical formal floral carpets. Even when found in antique rugs, the design, or distinction between blocks of different colors in the “distinct design“ rug remains intact. It would be considered a flaw if designs merged excessively, or blocks of color were converged, or not delineated fully and completely. Weakly defined designs would not be considered a “distinct design“. The “distinct design” in a tapestry would have clear blocks of color, even when old and patinated, that can be plainly and precisely distinguished from one another. Design integrity is maintained, even with quite severe color loss, or patina, over the years. An aubusson or kelim in this category may not have any outlining around a block of color, but nonetheless designs are clear and crisp, even when antique. These textiles tend to be quite enjoyable to look at, as the mind is set at ease in the knowledge that colors flow beautifully together, without coalescing into one another excessively, while maintaining their full individual integrity at all times.
The second rug type is the “convergent design“. In this case, the distinction between colors is present but not as severely delineated as in the case of the “distinct design”. Many more decorative rugs fall into this realm such as old Turkish Oushaks and contemporary Pakistan Peshawar carpets. The inspiration for the “convergent design” rug was the antique Turkish Oushak carpet. Many Tibetan and Moroccan rugs, with flowing integrated designs, might also fall into this category. Many antique washed rugs would be of the “convergent design” category if designs are not clearly distinguished from one another fully and completely. Some “convergent design” rugs may have patterns that are softer than similar, more defined ornaments in other areas of the carpet, or designs with a lesser or greater degree of definition, in the same rug. This may occur as a consequence of the finishing process. Nonetheless, “convergent design” carpets are predominantly soft or pale colored. Americans have come to like “convergent design” rugs and are not concerned about the softer, more integrated, nature of the designs. Modern abstract rugs that are so popular today may be classified as either “distinct” or ”convergent” depending upon the degree of design definition or delineation. Many modern abstract rugs that have severely distinguished adjacent colors would be classified as “distinct design” carpets, others as ‘convergent design“ carpets. Rugs with close shades of adjacent colors, without black outlining, would generally be classified as “convergent design” carpets. Pale rugs are usually “convergent design“, but many antique Persian rugs that are quite pale would remain in the “distinct design” category, as design definition is usually still rigorously maintained. Rug manufacturers with old carpet backgrounds, more seeped in the classical Persian rug tradition, tend to produce new rugs of the “distinct design” type, even when their rugs have been antique washed, and are quite pale when finished. They are reluctant to produce new rugs in which designs merge into one another too closely, rather than remain more distinguishable, so that designs will still remain differentiated as they become antique and more color is lost.
Admittedly there is a gray area in this typology and it may be debated as to whether a particular rug is of the “distinct” or “convergent” type. Some might believe that adjacent differing colors of a particular piece are quite well delineated, yielding a “distinct design” carpet, while others might define the patterns as soft enough to result in a “convergent design” carpet, but the typology may be of assistance in describing carpets in a new and interesting manner.
J.R. Azizollahoff, article, “The Evolution of the Oriental Carpet”, written for Rug News magazine, June, 2008
The oriental rug has evolved to a point that directly contradicts its original nature. Historically, a carpet was always meant to be an object of color and design, manifested either in a simple way in the collector's rug, or a complicated manner in the rugs of the court. Collectors desired vivid colors, and museums stored the great historical court rug in the dark to maintain the clarity of colors over time. The rug contained all manner of things, including animals, medallions, flowers, leaves, and vivid geometric designs in saturated colors. The carpet was alive, and a feast for the senses. Today it is neither an object of color nor design, but of translucency realized in subtle shades of beige and brown. How did we get to this point?
The commercial antique rug business, beginning in the 1970's in Europe and certain cosmopolitan areas of the United States, and ending, for all intents and purposes, like a shooting star, in the 1980's, when supplies of antiques diminished, had a profound affect upon the "Beige Revolution" of today. While the antique rug trade is only a shell of what it was thirty years ago, and relies almost entirely upon wholesale commerce with little retail support, it still exerts a profound influence on new rug production today.
Supported by a few path breaking scholars and connoisseurs, who broke with their predecessors and advanced the theory that the beauty of rugs was based upon age or color loss, dealers in the 1970's, with great trepidation, began to pay more for rugs that were not merely thirty or forty years old and assuredly still in good condition, but eighty or more years old, pale, and worn. For a brief, but not insignificant period of a mere ten years, many people in the West developed a taste for soft colored rugs that superseded their fear of buying an old, damaged carpet. Good word of mouth for commercial antique rugs, around eighty years old, began to develop.
Certain new rug importers and designers were not unmindful of this interesting development. Some old rug dealers who could no longer find antique carpets also started to import and manufacture new rugs that resembled the old. Consequently, the oriental carpet became paler and softer over the past twenty years as the craft developed into a new, subtle, harmonious, and sophisticated art form that is invalidated by even a hint of top color. In a strange self-contradiction, the oriental rug now fails where it once succeeded. It fails if it has any of the attributes by which it was originally defined, namely, vivid color or design.
Ironically, through its translucency and less tangible nature, the pale rug of today may have become a less materialist or more spiritual object of contemplation or meditation than ever before in its history. Being devoid of powerful design colors, its earth tones allow the viewer to transcend the material world in a way that the more colorful, or objective carpet, was unable to achieve. Deep color increases sensation and blocks the quest for spirit, whereas transparency may actually enhance it.
This pale accessory is now an oasis in the midst of the more materialist and over stimulating room appointments that surround it. Thus the soft and gentle rug of today is still a portal to eternity, even as it contradicts itself. Rather than greet one in a strong and powerful manner that reduces transcendence or self awareness, the gentle oriental gives one greater peace than ever before. Rather than bring the garden into the home as before, the carpet of today brings only the simplicity and peace that accompanies the experience of the earth, sky, and clouds. Since peace is happiness, the oriental carpet still remains the world’s greatest universal art form, and nothing to be found in the home can surpass its beauty and psychological usefulness.
J.R. Azizollahoff, Interview, "Smart Money" magazine, February, 2007