One Woman, One Weft: rugs from the villages of Hamadân, by Tad Runge, technical analysis of the rugs by Holly Smith; A.E. Runge, Jr Oriental Rugs, Yarmouth, Maine, 2002; ISBN 0-615-12038-5, hard cover, cloth bound, 152 pages, color illustrations, black and white historic photos; $90 includes priority mail shipping from A.E. Runge, Jr. Oriental Rugs, 207-846-9000 by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also available at The Textile Museum.
You will probably never say, "It's only a Hamadân" after reading Tad Runge's book on the subject. The author makes a good case for this overlooked and undervalued area of Persian weaving. In the mid-Nineteenth Century when the West craved imported Persian carpets local dealers traveled from village to village buying Hamadâns for export. As Runge points out, the City of Hamadân was a trading center not a weaving center, and Hamadân rugs originated in the many surrounding villages. Just as we have come to value the artistry, design and craftsmanship of fraktur or quilts or folk art painting, it should be easy for antiquarians to appreciate quality Hamadâns for their authenticity and individual expressions of beauty. Whereas production carpets followed strict cartoons and were (and are) produced in multiples, village carpets were typically woven by one woman according to her own designs. One Woman, One Weft refers to the fact that unlike most Persian rugs, Hamadâns used a single weft (horizontal thread) between knots. As time brought in outside influences, the unique village weavings were eventually supplanted by what carpet dealers thought would be more marketable and commercially profitable, and the lovely individual designs and homemade inconsistencies petered out.
Runge Started collecting quality Hamadâns about eight years ago. The 75 rugs illustrated in the book comprised his June 2002 exhibition "Challenging Assumptions," and are reproduced in full color, one carpet per page. He was planning on publishing a catalog for the
exhibition, but with serendipity and enthusiasm the project took on a larger scope. "What started out being 40 rugs and a catalog ended up being 75 rugs and a book," recounted Runge. The book is beautifully designed and illustrated.
One of his customers helped him by doing a search in the Library of Congress and through that search Runge discovered that at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia there were boxes of letters from Clara Case Edwards, wife of A. Cecil Edwards, author The Persian Carpet. The letters were written during the dozen years that she lived in Persia and add primary source immediacy to Runge's chapter on the influences on village weavers in the Hamadân region. "Clara was an incredibly observant woman. She grew up in a fashionable New York family. When she wrote home her letters were full of detailed information about the countryside, the villages. She didn't complain one minute; she even learned the Persian language farsi," said Runge.
To use the letters Runge needed permission from Arthur Edwards, the Edwards' son. He not only gave his permission, he also provided access to historic photographs housed in the V&A Museum in London. Runge even throws in a couple of brown fuzzy wool knots, which if you look at under a magnifying glass you could see the symmetrical knot used in the Hamadâns. It's a nice touch.
The technical analysis of each rug is written by Holly Smith, a carpet restorer. Textile experts will really appreciate this section, which appears in the back of the book. She goes into warp and weft composition, including which way the fiber was hand spun, vertical and horizontal density of the knots and how many knots per square inch, selvage, ends, colors. The rugs are identified by village or area, measured and dated as closely as possible. Runge gives us a decent glossary too.
Lay people will enjoy reading the book because it is user friendly. Textile buffs will appreciate its thoroughness.