Event: London Antique Rug and Textile Art fair (LARTA) 2016

LARTA 2016 - Joss Graham Gallery

Event dates 14–17 April 2016

Now in its sixth year, the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair (LARTA) will once again take place at The Showroom, Penfold St, London NW8. The collectors’ preview and opening reception for invited guests will be on 14 April 2016, from 6pm–10pm. Please contact LARTA for a complimentary invitation.

The fair’s objective remains to present rare and beautiful antique rugs, carpets and textiles to discerning collectors, decorators and a wider general audience interested in the woven arts and design. Visitors to LARTA 2016 will have the opportunity to source items originating from Anatolia, the Caucasus, Persia, Central Asia, India and China, as well as from Europe and Africa, and from all periods up to the early twentieth century.

This year, the exhibitor list will be as strong as ever. As well as regular exhibitors (including OATG member Joss Graham), LARTA are delighted to announce four exciting new exhibitors: Molly Hogg Antique Textiles from London, Heritage Rugs from Bristol, Hakiemie Rugs from London and Tribal Rugs Gallery from Essex. The broad range of specialisms of the dealers ensures that LARTA 2016 will once again be a truly high quality and eclectic event. Expect to see rare collectors’ items alongside beautiful decorative items in a bazaar-like atmosphere.

For more information, visit the LARTA website.

Exhibition: The Carpet and the Connoisseur – The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs

SLAM - The Carpet and the Connoisseur

Exhibition dates: 6 March – 8 May 2016

During the early twentieth century, St Louis businessman James F. Ballard became one of the country’s top collectors of oriental carpets. An unlikely collector, he was celebrated for his approach to collecting Anatolian carpets from provincial centers in Turkey at a time when most other rug connoisseurs were acquiring classical Persian and Indian carpets. In addition to his passion for collecting, Ballard was also a patient teacher, inveterate traveler, and, above all, the first oriental carpet enthusiast to acknowledge the importance of Turkish influence on the history of the pile carpet.

Ballard ultimately divided his collection of carpets between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1922 and the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1929. Another group of carpets were added to the St Louis collection through a later donation by his daughter, Nellie Ballard White, in 1972. As a result of these two gifts, the museum has amassed a collection of oriental rugs recognised as one of the most significant collections in the world.

‘The Carpet and the Connoisseur’ highlights 51 carpets from the Ballard collection, including three Cairene rugs, a Spanish rug, and examples of ‘Lotto’ and small-pattern ‘Holbein’ carpets, all important examples of works from the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ballard also acquired two nineteenth-century Persian pleasure tents that were used for outdoor gatherings. These are also featured in the exhibition.

‘The Carpet and the Connoisseur’ is guest-curated by Walter B. Denny, University of Massachusetts distinguished professor in Islamic Arts in collaboration with Philip Hu, associate curator of Asian art, and textile conservator Zoe Perkins.

For more information, visit the website of the Saint Louis Art Museum, USA.

Event: Scott Redford Talks about Medieval Anatolian Animal Carpets and Seljuk Art for ORTS

ORTS - Medieval Anatolian Animal Carpets

Event date: Wednesday 23 March 2016, 7pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Scott Redford, Nasser D. Khalili Professor of Islamic Art & Archaeology at SOAS, will give a lecture on medieval Anatolian animal carpets and Seljuk art. Scott has published widely on the art, archaeology and architecture of medieval Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean.

The talk will be held at St James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL.

The Conference Room entrance is in the Church Place passageway, which runs between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly.  There is a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’ leading downstairs.  Drinks and snacks will be served.

Piccadilly Circus tube is 5 minutes’ walk, and Green Park Tube is 10 minutes’ walk.  There is free parking in St James Square after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.

Exhibition: Tibet’s Secret Temple – Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism

Wellcome Collection - Tibet's Secret Temple

Exhibition dates: 19 November 2015 – 28 February 2016

There are still two weeks left to see this exhibition, if you’re in or near London!

‘Tibet’s Secret Temple’ explores Tibetan Buddhist yogic and meditational practice and their connections to physical and mental well-being.

Inspired by an exquisite series of seventeenth-century murals from a private meditation chamber for Tibet’s Dalai Lamas in Lhasa’s Lukhang Temple, the exhibition features over 120 objects including textiles (such as the rug illustrated above), scroll paintings, statues, manuscripts, archival and contemporary film, together with a wide range of ethnographic and ritual artefacts. Three of the murals from the temple have been recreated, by photographer Thomas Laird, as life-sized digital artworks that form the centrepiece of the exhibition.

By bringing the mural images together with a unique set of objects, ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple’ uncovers until now unseen stories behind the ancient, esoteric and once secret practices illustrated in the Lukhang murals and shows their relevance to the expanding and wide-ranging contemporary interest in meditative well-being.

For more information, visit the website of the Wellcome Collection, London.

Event: Roberta Marin Talks about the Kaleidoscopic World of Mamluk Carpets for ORTS

ORTS - Mamluk Carpets

Event date: Wednesday 24 February 2016, 7pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Roberta will focus on the carpet production of the Mamluk Empire (1250–1517). Special attention will be dedicated to the patterns, the carpet trade between Egypt and Italy and the representation of Mamluk carpets in Italian Renaissance paintings.

Roberta Marin collaborates with the Khalili Collection and has previously taught Islamic Art and Architecture at Birkbeck College, London College of Communication, SOAS and the University of York. She completed her BA in Fine Arts in Italy and holds an MA in Islamic Art & Archaeology from SOAS. Her research interests include Mamluk art, Islamic carpets and modern and contemporary art from the Middle East and Iran.

The talk will be held at St James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL.

The Conference Room entrance is in the Church Place passageway, which runs between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly.  There is a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’ leading downstairs.  Drinks and snacks will be served.

Piccadilly Circus tube is 5 minutes’ walk, and Green Park Tube is 10 minutes’ walk.  There is free parking in St James Square after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.

Event: A Life in Boxes – Discovering the May Beattie Carpet Archive

Kathy Clough - Beattie Archive talk

Event date: Saturday 21 November 2015, 12 pm and 2 pm

Kathy Clough was the Beattie Archive Assistant at the Ashmolean Museum from April to October 2015. Her task was to rehouse and foliate some 30,000 documents, and along the way she came to know and love May Beattie. Kathy’s posts about her discoveries here on the OATG blog and published in the OATG’s magazine Asian Textiles show how diverse the material is, sometimes incomprehensibly technical and at other times revealing May’s quirky sense of humour. Kathy will be talking about the Beattie Archive, and there will be a range of objects on view, which help tell May’s story.

The event will be held at the Eastern Art Study Room, Floor 1, Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2PH.

OATG members free, non-members £3.

For more information, please visit the OATG website.

Event: Dr Elena Tsareva Talks about Treasures from the Neville Kingston Collection of Piled and Flatwoven Rugs of Central Asian Nomads

ORTS Talk - Elena Tsareva - Neville Kingston Collection

Event date: Wednesday 18 November 2015, 7pm

Dr Elena Tsareva, from the Russian Federation Kunstkamera Museum, St Petersburg, will talk about treasures from the Neville Kingston collection of piled and flatwoven rugs of Central Asian nomads.

Previously a curator at the Ethnographic Museum, St Petersburg, Elena has published over one hundred works on archaeological and ethnographic textiles of Northern Eurasia and conducted field expeditions to Central Asia. Since 1978 she has been a committee member of the International Conference of Oriental Carpets and more recently a member of the academic committee to the St Petersburg ICOC conference in 2011.

The talk will take place at St. James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, W1J 9LL, London. The conference room entrance is at the corner of Church Place and Piccadilly at a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’, leading down iron stairs below street level. Doors will be open from 6pm. Drinks and snacks will be served.

Both Green Park and Piccadilly tube stations are a short walk away. Free parking in St James Square and Jermyn Street after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

We recommend coming early as there will be high demand for seats.

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.

Exhibition: Losing the Compass

White Cube - Losing the Compass

Exhibition dates: 8 October 2015 – 9 January 2016

The White Cube is pleased to present ‘Losing the Compass’, a group exhibition curated by Scott Cameron Weaver and Mathieu Paris at Mason’s Yard. This exhibition focuses on the rich symbolism of textiles and their political, social and aesthetic significance through art and craft practice. Beginning with the metaphorically charged conceptual work of Alighiero e Boetti, ‘Losing the Compass’ traces the poetic and subversive use of the textile medium through works by Mona Hatoum, Mike Kelley, Sergej Jensen, Sterling Ruby, Rudolf Stingel, Danh Vo and Franz West, wallpaper by nineteenth-century English designer, craftsman and socialist William Morris and a series of quilts made collectively by the Amish and Gee’s Bend communities in the USA during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Contesting traditional notions of authorship, Alighiero e Boetti’s work points to hidden boundaries, whether aesthetic, geographic, economic or political, between the so-called ‘East’ and ‘West’. Working collaboratively with diverse groups from across the globe, and particularly with communities of Afghan women embroiderers, Boetti’s sculptures conflate notions of art and craft and individual expression with that of anonymous production. A selection of canvas embroideries mounted on board from the late 1970s and embroideries from both the 1980s and 1990s spell out phrases such as ‘Il Silenzio è D’oro’, ‘A braccia conserte’ or ‘Perdere la Bussola’, from which the exhibition takes its name, across a grid of colourful squares, combining the political, democratic and rigorous elements of Arte Povera with a dichotomy of order and disorder central to Boetti’s oeuvre.

For more information, visit the website of the White Cube Gallery, London.

Feature: Summer Travels with May Beattie, Fifty Years On

Now that the summer holidays have definitely drawn to a close, I’m happy to publish the third installment in our Beattie Archive mini-series from Katherine Clough, all about May Beattie’s summer adventures hunting carpets through Europe and Turkey. Through photographs and excerpts from her diary entries, we can experience some of May’s summer holidays vicariously, and get an insight into how the Beattie Archive was compiled.

For many the summer months are a time for adventures, relaxation and travelling abroad, with September signalling a return to working life. This blog post considers one of May Hamilton Beattie’s own summer excursions – in pursuit of carpets – in the summer of 1965, fifty years ago. Beattie travelled extensively in Europe, Central Asia and North America, visiting and recording carpets she encountered photographically, with analysis sheets and by recording her thoughts in detailed diary entries. In 1965 May and Colin Beattie left their Sheffield home by car to travel on a circuit through Europe to western Turkey and back again, driving through many countries, and stopping to visit rugs en route.

Map roughly showing the Beatties’ route by car in Summer 1965, as deducted from her diary notes in MBA Ref 63.

Map roughly showing the Beatties’ route by car in Summer 1965, as deducted from her diary notes in MBA Ref 63.

The opening paragraph of May’s diary shows how their journey did not always go to plan, but once at their destination she launched straight into intensive work on a rug collection:

July 1965

We left Sheffield on Sunday the 18th, crossed as usual to Ostende, after suffering two punctures and discovering a weak-walled tyre on the way down and non-acting brake lights. Hardly a cheerful beginning! We were off the boat by 4.20 a.m. and in Düsseldorf by 10.30. There were more rugs there than I was aware of and some interesting fragments. I worked at top speed and still did not finish everything by 4.30 when we had arranged to meet outside. Col. had missed his way back to the car so I foraged in the lunch basket and sat in the sun outside the Museum and ate brown bread and butter and bananas, having had no lunch.

Car problems would hit several times that summer, with May writing about how she veered the car into a ditch on 26th August, on the road out from Konya in Turkey. Fortunately, neither Colin nor May were hurt and ‘there was not much apparent damage to the car apart from the fact that the gear lever came away in the hand’ on impact (MBA Ref 63, f.669). After a couple of days’ delay waiting for the repair work, they were soon travelling again.

A photograph from another journey to Konya, Turkey, in 1973 captures Beattie’s recording of carpets en route with the carpet photographed while held out in front of a car (MBA Imag 24, f.46).

A photograph from another journey to Konya, Turkey, in 1973 captures Beattie’s recording of carpets en route with the carpet photographed while held out in front of a car (MBA Imag 24, f.46).

At the front of her 1965 diary May filed correspondence with museums and collectors that she hoped to visit, sent in advance of their journey. Her diary notes list her encounters with museums, religious buildings and members of the community as well as detailed descriptions of rugs inspected, offering insight into particular carpets, but also into her life as a researcher in the 1960s. For example, a local doctor is very helpful following a visit to a bishop’s house in Romania in early August (MBA Ref 63, f.609):

Pure gold was forthcoming – an official list of the numbers of rugs and fragments at present in the Evangelical churches. This was more than I hoped for, and luckily the typewriter was in the car so that I got to work in the office and copied the list and such correspondence as was relevant.

The thoughtful doctor also provided ‘a letter to look at church rugs, which will allay the fears of the good ladies with the keys, who naturally think it odd that anyone should want to spend a day making notes on rugs’ and the nearby museum allowed her ‘to take small pieces of rug’ (MBA Ref 63, f.609). Textile fragments from another part of the archive are labelled with the same town names as on her 1965 trip – these notes could potentially provide provenance and further contextualization to the material. Beattie built up an extensive collection of such carpet samples, creating a useful resource for today’s researchers, especially as non-destructive methods of analysis are preferred these days for museum artefacts with restrictions on destructive sampling.

This box holds over seven hundred individually-labelled envelopes containing tufts and threads of carpets collected by May Beattie from carpets in museums and field sites on her travels across Europe. A similar box contains a further four hundred samples from rugs in Central Asia, the United States and the Middle East. Both are in the process of being rehoused.

This box holds over seven hundred individually-labelled envelopes containing tufts and threads of carpets collected by May Beattie from carpets in museums and field sites on her travels across Europe. A similar box contains a further four hundred samples from rugs in Central Asia, the United States and the Middle East. Both are in the process of being rehoused.

In another research stop-off, Beattie found a Dr Ditroi ‘quite charming’ in facilitating her research: ‘I spent an hour on the floor of his office looking at rugs – a perfectly good but coarse Lotto, kileem style, and a ‘Tintoretto’ type – very odd’ (MBA Ref 63, f. 598). She also recorded her frustrations and the effects of her perseverance in attempting to access some museum stores: one custodian ‘klinked his keys’ and ‘bristled with indignation’ at her persistent determination to visit Turcoman rugs (MBA Ref 63, f. 596). Walking round museums Beattie also noted paintings depicting carpets – an ongoing activity that would build up into her ‘Rugs in Pictures’ image index that makes up seven out of the seventy-five boxes of the total IMAG archive material and over 1,300 folios.

All of May’s diary entries were typed out on the move after long days of viewing carpets, with accommodation often little more than a tent, making the detail included even more remarkable. May did take a short break from research, over two-thirds of the way into their trip – it seems mainly at Colin’s request – to enjoy the scenery of Kuşadası Bird Island, near Ephesus, for a couple of days. They then set off again driving north round to Greece, and on to museum visits in Florence and Milan in Italy. Finally, the last sentence of her travel diary on 9th September 1965, writing from Milan, records her hunting for a different kind of textile: ‘To-morrow we must search out woollen clothes for we are back to northern Europe and its rain and cold’ (MBA Ref 63, f.703).

Katherine Clough
Beattie Archive Assistant
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

All images taken by author © Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Feature: Floating Carpets, Rugs with Feet and Cultural Context – Some Reflections on the Challenges of Capturing Carpets with Cameras, as Seen in the Beattie Archive

I’m pleased to present the second installment of our Beattie Archive mini-series from Katherine Clough, at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, all about the difficulties (and the interesting advantages) of photographing rugs. If  you’ve never encountered rugs with feet before, read on!

The art of capturing carpets in pictorial records has a long history, with artworks depicting carpets, such as Persian miniatures and European paintings, offering invaluable clues to long-lost textiles.1 Carpets occur as decorative domestic floor and furniture coverings, as backdrops demarcating sacred spaces and as prestige items in portraiture, within a range of painted arts across cultures. However, the advent of photography in the late nineteenth century provided a new method of visualising woven textiles, and, with the camera’s ‘scientific eye’, carpets soon began to be photographed as subjects in themselves, for promotion in sales catalogues, museum publications and in the interests of research in carpet studies. A certain type of carpet photography has become a ubiquitous standard in publications: a high quality image, with the carpet flat, evenly lit and floating in negative space, isolated from its context to emphasise its visual qualities. However, photographs taken ‘in the field’, or those that happen to feature carpets, also provide additional contextual information, such as clues to location, suggestions of how carpets were used, and the inclusion of people and further material culture, which can be just as important for carpet research.

May Beattie valued the potential of photography in carpet research, taking photographs of carpets she visited and requesting and collecting images of carpets from museums, sales catalogues and other reproductions such as postcards, publications and newspapers. It is this type of material that makes up roughly one-third of the May Beattie Archive held at the Ashmolean Museum, constituting a formidable collection of carpet imagery, organised and filed into defined categories.

Two postcards collected by Beattie (MBA Imag 33 Fols 61, 63), show the different domestic uses of rugs in a reconstructed eighteenth-century Turkish Ottoman setting (left) and a European stately home (right).

Two postcards collected by Beattie (MBA Imag 33 Fols 61, 63), show the different domestic uses of rugs in a reconstructed eighteenth-century Turkish Ottoman setting (left) and a European stately home (right).

However, carpets are not necessarily easy to capture on camera. The image that featured in a previous blog post on the Armenian orphan rug is a great example of a photograph that shows the challenges of photographing large rugs in situ, and the potential benefit of added context: here the holders drape the carpet from the roof of a building in order to display it for the camera, with the whole scene providing an immediate sense of scale, a specific location, and their potentially recognisable faces, all of which add visual significance to the story of this particular rug. The difficulty of representing carpets photographically for use in research, both in the studio and in the field, is two-fold: firstly, the physical problems of photographing flexible, flat surfaces, especially with larger carpets, and secondly, limitations in capturing material detail to reveal production techniques rather than just visual design.

The challenges surrounding capturing carpets on camera are well represented in the Beattie Archive. Many of May Beattie’s own photographs held in the archive are ‘field’ images – carpets photographed in situ on her travels, held up by stretched arms, with glimpses of the holders and surrounding location framing the edges of the carpet. In many images fingers are barely visible, limited to the tips at the borders. Often what results is a series of almost surreal images with rugs shown as if autonomously standing, with feet and legs poking out underneath.

Rugs with feet: many of the photographs in the archive show Beattie’s attempt to capture clear images of the rugs with the holders’ bodies hidden except for their feet. Other photographs reveal the photographer’s own feet, such as the central image of a carpet detail taken from above  (L–R: MBA Imag 11 Fols 140, 141; MBA Imag 24 Fol. 27).

Rugs with feet: many of the photographs in the archive show Beattie’s attempt to capture clear images of the rugs with the holders’ bodies hidden except for their feet. Other photographs reveal the photographer’s own feet, such as the central image of a carpet detail taken from above. (L–R: MBA Imag 11 Fols 140, 141; MBA Imag 24 Fol. 27)

Edited versions of her photographs show how she later used correction fluid and cropping to alter some of these images to isolate the carpet and achieve the publication-quality standard image of a flat, floating carpet instead.

Beattie annotated some of her photographs for editing to use in publications,  like this one (MBA Imag 33 Fols 155–156), which includes instructions for the removal of traces  of the carpet holder and background.

Beattie annotated some of her photographs for editing to use in publications, like this one (MBA Imag 33 Fols 155–156), which includes instructions for the removal of traces of the carpet holder and background.

But, like the Armenian rug example mentioned above, unedited versions and wider location shots can also offer carpet researchers further information about the carpet, its context, and even the photographer. Friends and associates often appear incidentally in the archive: Colin Beattie, May’s husband, features in many of the photographs, assisting in the holding of rugs and standing in the background. Additionally, there is always the potential for taking copies of photographs to the depicted locations to see if faces and specific sites can be identified. Returning photographs in anthropological research (my own academic background) has proved a fruitful method for adding layers of knowledge to existing photographs, but also potentially for benefitting the communities featured in the images by gifting copies, supporting interest in local heritage and family histories, themes significantly associated with making carpets in many societies.2

Family portrait? Several generations of women appear with the rug in this photograph  (MBA Imag 3 Fol. 46) found in the Beattie Archive.

Family portrait? Several generations of women appear with the rug in this photograph
(MBA Imag 3 Fol. 46) found in the Beattie Archive.

Beattie’s correspondence also details the challenges of using photography in carpet research and the importance of good-quality images. In response to a letter from a collector in autumn 1976, who had written to ask for Beattie’s opinion on a rug (MBA Ref 18. Fols. 55–62), she affirms the importance of examining carpets in person, writing:

‘I cannot of course express any opinion on your carpet without seeing it.’

‘The difficulty about trying to assess a carpet from photos is that one does not know the technique and there are so many forgeries about that one is always reluctant to say much.’

Through the chain of correspondence she finally receives an ‘excellent photo’ of the said carpet via the Metropolitan Museum, and expresses her wish to use the image in her own lectures. The collector even describes the complications the Met had in achieving this image with the carpet described as being ‘too large to be photographed in its entirety in their studio’, instead being ‘done from the wall’, causing a delay in the provision of the image.

Similar complications in photographing textiles continue to face museums today. Current methods of photographing large textiles, such as carpets, at the Ashmolean require the participation of textile conservators and the photography studio. Prepared lengths of fuzzy Velcro, stitched to wide cotton tape, are temporarily fixed to the short end of a carpet, which is then carefully attached to a wooden baton prepared with hooked Velcro. The baton can then be suspended from the rigging in the photographic studio, with the weight of the carpet more evenly supported than using fingers, and where it can be evenly lit and photographed at the correct angle. Textile conservator, Sue Stanton, further confirmed it as a time-consuming process, only undertaken with planning and preparation. Photographs are increasingly being seen as important records of museum objects, entered onto museum databases and used on digital display platforms, in addition to printed publications.

Screenshot of the digital online record of a Baluchi prayer rug (EA1998.101) bequeathed by May Beattie on the Ashmolean’s Eastern Art Online website.

Screenshot of the digital online record of a Baluchi prayer rug (EA1998.101) bequeathed by May Beattie on the Ashmolean’s Eastern Art Online website.

The vast range and amount of photographic and other visual material in the Beattie Archive constitutes a fantastic resource for a variety of subjects within, and related to, the field of carpet studies. The current work on recording and providing support for the material demands of these images continues.

Katherine Clough
Beattie Archive Assistant
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

All images © Ashmolean Museum and original copyright holders of the two postcards featured above.

Notes
1. For early examples of texts exploring pictorial records of carpets, see: John Mill’s National Gallery text Carpets in Pictures (1975), revised as Carpets in Paintings (1983) or his Hali articles (1978, 1/3 pp. 234–243; 1978, 1/4 pp. 326–334; 1981, 4/1, pp. 53–55; 1981, 3/4 pp. 278–289); and the first section of Kurt Erdmann’s Seven Hundred Years of Carpets, of which May Beattie co-edited the 1970 English translation.

2. For examples of returning photographs in visual anthropological research, see: Joshua Bell’s chapter in Laura Peers and Alison Brown’s Museums and Source Communities: A Routledge Reader (2003, London: Routledge Press, pp. 111–121); and J. Dudding’s ‘Visual Repatriation and Photo-elicitation: Recommendations on Principles and Practices for the Museum Worker’ in Journal of Museum Ethnography (2005, 17, pp. 218–231).