The need for basic floor coverings has been a fundamental consideration among societies since before nomadic peoples settled into agrarian communities and planted the roots of modern civilization. The Qash’qai tribes of the Zagros Mountains in Southern Iran may be the first to exemplify this need. As they moved their sheep herds from the highlands to the valleys with the changing seasons, their most basic necessities moved with them.
^ THE NOMADIC LIFE
Among those necessities was a simple carpet known as the “gabbeh.” The gabbeh, which translates to “bedding,” was constructed from the thick wool that their sheep produced to provide warmth and comfort from the harsh mountain climate and the bare rocky ground. These “sleeping rugs” were woven to be durable in a utilitarian sense but over time they also took on a higher concept—that of human creative expression. The “colors of life” were introduced into the weaving process as dyes were developed using the available natural resources such as madder root (red), indigo (blue), along with saffron, milkweed and walnut to complete the palette. In addition to adding color, the weavers knotted in figures to represent family and fauna as well as interpretations of their surrounding landscape. It is easy to imagine the colorful and cozy atmosphere inside these nomadic homes and the conversations and stories that took place. In a practical sense, this extra time and effort to create the dyes, dye the wool, and then, through trial and error, develop techniques in the weaving process to convey creative expression wasn’t necessary. However, among the most basic human needs —food, shelter, community—there is something else that tugs on the human conscience, the need to seek beauty.
^ GABBEH RUG DETAIL
From these simple beginnings, the concept of creative expression in a carpet has expanded into an idea that rivals anything in the commercial art world. A handful of artists have moved away from the canvas and onto the loom. Through this creative vision, the carpet is no longer confined by its historical and regional context but has blossomed into a new medium that utilizes a mix of materials, color and texture that play with light in such a way that the art piece breathes and vibrates throughout the day. The floor has become the “fifth wall,” so to speak, and now provides a space where beauty and expression can be on full display. The creators of these rugs draw from the same inspirations as any fine art painter or sculptor, whether it’s love, loss, politics, or the natural world. Abstract patterns convey mood and architectural lines provide form, while nods to natural history may leave us feeling a sense of nostalgia or longing.
However, it is not just design and color or lines and pattern that elevate these rugs to the level of fine art. It is their handcrafted quality. Like brushstrokes in an oil painting, the individual knots in a hand-woven carpet create the beautiful variances that throw light and create texture within the piece. It is an essential characteristic that draws us in so that we witness more than just the image or design. We witness the subtleties. We witness the humanness.
^ WORKS BY RUG ARTISTS JUERGEN DAHLMANNS, JAN KATH, AND ERBIL TEZCAN
Because these handmade works of art are created using the same materials and techniques as their nomadic cousin, the gabbeh, the “rug as art” becomes more than a conversation piece. It is where conversations take place. It defines space and creates intimacy. It invites us to contemplate ideas and interact with one another. The rug fulfills our need to seek beauty while elevating our experience and atmosphere in the home through color, pattern, texture and comfort, all underfoot.
– Jonathan Drews
^ ART ON THE FLOOR