OAKLAND, CA.- In Part 1, I told of National Geographic photographers, Jean and Franc Shor who while visiting with the Qashqai in the early 1950s, witnessed a situation that captured the tribes strong sense of community.
They spoke of an unfortunate young shepherd who lost his entire flock of over 100 sheep in a freak snowstorm. At a meeting of the 100-family tribal unit to which he belonged, each family brought a ram or ewe to help. The Qashqais told the Shors, This is our way of life. We all share good and bad fortune. No Qashqai household is ever left destitute.
This supportive interrelatedness is reflected in the Qashqai rug-weaving process. Sitting closely together at their long horizontal looms, a half dozen women often worked simultaneously. As their fingers tied an endless array of tiny knots, they talked, laughed, and sang together. A woman would work on her own rug for a while, move over to the loom of her neighbor, and then to that of yet another friend, before returning to her own weaving.
At the same time, another group of women scoured the nearby countryside, gathering mountain herbs, barks, and berries for their collective dyebath to create a wide range of exquisite jewel tones and perky accent colors. This continual interchange of creative energy, along with the deep spirit of harmony shared by people engaging together in repetitive physical activities, undoubtedly was a key element in Qashqai rug weaving prowess. This milieu resulted in many of the finest rugs of the lowlands and mountains of Southern Persia, an area also populated by Afshar, Khamseh, Luri tribespeople, all of whom were prolific weavers during the 1800s and well into the 1900s. Qashqai wool is often the most lanolin-rich, in great part due to the Qashqai tribes dominance of the migration route. As a result, they possessed rich grassy pastures, while other tribal groups were left to drier areas to graze their flocks.
Their knotting is quite tight, which brings emphasis to their rugs larger motifs and defines every unique, tiny element in the packed fields. In their overall look and ambiance, Qashqai rugs reflected their weavers energetic, even indomitable, approach to life, with one or more large elements often commanding a field densely populated with small figurative designs of flora and fauna. James Opie, a leading scholar on these rugs, observed that there was an ongoing, friendly rivalry among the weavers as to who could fill their fields most densely.
Antique Qashqai rugs differ in a few ways from the other bastion of the tribal carpet-makingthe Caucasian tradition. Whereas the weavers of the towering Caucasus Range were generally limited to the high-altitude meadows and lower pastures in the same fold of one mountain, tens of thousands of Qashqai nomads traveled over 300 miles twice yearly and interacted with villages and towns along the way. The contemplative, symbolic designs of the 85 subgroups of the Caucasian pantheon fit the isolation of their surroundings. On the other hand, the constantly moving, interacting, obstacle-overcoming nature of the Qashqai lifestyle inspired rugs reflecting an observant, celebrative posture toward the physical world.
Nor is the approach to design of the two weaving groups similar. Over hundreds of years, weavers in each fold in the Caucasian mountain range worked with the designs of their regional tradition. The village of Chelaberd created the Eagle Kazak pattern while the weavers of Seichur contributed to the St. Johns Cross design, giving each weaver the freedom and the challenge to reinvent the major pattern for which their area was known. In the case of the Qashqai tribes, whose exposure to other cultural influences was infinitely greater, they produced many more field patterns. Most of which adhered to the aesthetic of using two scales of designs together, one of which is overarching, the other teeming with diminutive human and naturalistic figures.
These larger Qashqai designs are diamond-based, either long or wide in shape, outlined with latch hooks, or niched in a slightly more decorative manner. The fields expansively contain geometrically drawn trees, flowerheads, and shrubs, chickens, peacocks, gazelles, deer, dogs, lions, and birds. (The Qashqai love of animals is well-chronicled, and they often depict them comically, revealing their sense of camaraderie.) Employing these two scales of patterning captures an innate sense of the natural order, giving even the smallest form a place in the cosmos of their rugs, while the medallions, like the sun or suns, evoke protection and nurturance.
A secondary category of Qashqai carpets contains overall field patterns. Some with striped canes, either in vertical columns or in zigzags, others with repeating botehs (a paisley-like motif), the Herati pattern of repeating small diamonds surrounded by curling leaves, and the directional, city-influenced millefleur design. In these rugs, which almost defy comprehension of the artistic commitment needed to create them, the Qashqais extraordinary weaving skill and pinpoint knotting are on display.
As woven diaries of both the artists personal and cultural experience, Qashqai weavings vividly formulate an ability to enthusiastically say yes to the most demanding of circumstances. The Qashqai carpet continues to hold a special place in the world of antique Oriental rugs, as it expresses a superlative level of craftsmanship, creative inspiration, and cultural significance. And it is no wonder, when two elements remain central in Qashqai culture il rah, the tribal road, and their joyous weaving.
As the Qashqai say Where I am is my carpet. Where my carpet and I am is my home.