Heriz Rugs

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    The Heriz rugs, which for reasons already explained were for a long time classed as a coarse grade of Hamadan fabrics, have triumphed by sheer merit over the lack of favor, which such an introduction would naturally invoke. It has, in fact, been customary to class the weavings of all the villages in the Heriz neighborhood as belonging to the Hamadan districts, not alone those, which were plainly, enough superior to the Hamadan proper but those held of less worth. It was very difficult to see clearly how the Heriz pieces and the extraordinarily fine, well-woven medallion rugs known as Serapi and Gorevan could come from the same looms or vicinity as the Hamadans, most of which can be distinguished anywhere by their fretted grounds and their broad outside bands of what is made to look like camel's-hair. A very brief inquiry into the matter, near at hand, made the error plain.

    The Heriz rugs district, so called, lies in Azerbaijan, a little journey to the eastward of Tabriz, on the road which leads by Ardebil to Astara, the Russian outpost, and other ports on the Caspian sea. It is wholly dissociate from Hamadan and all its works, for between the two lies a long stretch of Kurdish country, where rugs of an altogether different sort are made. Its relation with Tabriz is scarcely greater, although it has taken some notions from the Tabrizli weavers and the product of the district, perforce, goes to the capital to be sold.

    The story of the Heriz rugs weaving industry is interesting, and the different localities are so related to one another in it that it is hard to make the customary division, but as now produced, the rugs of the district may be set down as Heriz proper, Gorevan, Serapi and Bakshaish. It will be necessary to begin with the inferior variety.

    Bakshaish. — The first day's stage on the route eastward from Tabriz brings the traveler to the mud-walled village of Bakshaish.

    The name of this settlement, where the weaving is quite in evidence as an occupation, has strangely enough never become prominent among the rug-sellers of America, though its rugs long ago acquired a standing among the Persian dealers, and its patterns were recognized among weavers throughout Iran. This attracted the notice of the Sultanabad firm, which was first to promote in an extensive way the weaving industry of the town. That was almost twenty years ago. An Armenian had been the leading spirit in the management of the business there, and made advances to the weavers in the usual way, securing the rugs as soon as they were finished. Famine, which is too often recurrent in Persia, brought about complications, for in their distress the weavers spent the money entrusted to them for food instead of wool. Another manager took up the task, and for a time the rugs of Bakshaish were among the best of the Persian whole-rug output. A dealer began selling them in Constantinople under the name of Heriz. Then when they fell off in quality it became necessary to find some other title for the native products of Heriz, which retained their sterling character. The name of a neighboring village was chosen, and from that time Bakshaish was lost sight of in the Western market. The deteriorated rugs continued to be known as Heriz, and it was thus that they obtained classification as a coarser grade of Hamadan, especially as at that time Hamadan was the point of shipment. The Bakshaish of today, which no dealer will call Bakshaish, is loose, full of colors, which besides being of inferior quality are ill-combined. The designs, while of the standard sort, such as Herati, Sardar, Shah Abbas and the like, are wrought with such haste that they are far from perfect. The medallions, when used, are apt not to be in the center of the rugs, the borders are clumsily woven and without corner pieces. The whole thing is eloquent of hurry.

    Gorevan — When it became necessary for trade's sake to change the name of the Heriz rugs, they were entered upon invoices of shippers in Tabriz as Gorevan, the name of a small village in the Heriz district — a village which had no status at all as a producer of rugs. The name quickly took root and was utilized to the full by dealers in Constantinople and Tiflis, for at that time, as has been said, European and American buyers had scarcely found the way to the market in Tabriz.

    At first the rugs sold under this name were the old-fashioned Heriz products, which follow a type in design and color almost as closely as do the Tekke and Bokhara products of Turkestan. The Heriz idea, which has lately regained all the favor it lost by reason of the Bakshaish rugs masquerading under its name, has for its essential the medallion, but this medallion, as well as the boundaries defining the corner spaces, is in rectilinears and not with the curves which figure in the designs of Tabriz. The corners are set off by serrate lines, somewhat like the arches in the Kulah prayer rugs. The smaller figure in the center is plain, solid and unpretentious. The color scheme is almost unvarying, and the dyes are all of a peculiar tone, which distinguishes the genuine Heriz at once from other fabrics. The ground-color, outside the small central figure and enclosed by the serrated lines across the corners, is an extraordinary blue, which while bright is soft and of a peculiarly pleasing quality. The corner areas are of a reddish brown, sometimes with small figures to break the expanse. The borders in the better examples are in entire harmony with the rest of the design. The main stripe is very broad, buff-gray in the ground color, and with pattern large and clearly defined. The Heriz rugs have somewhat of the Sarakhs in design, but the colors are softer and the weave not so heavy. At first sight they impress one as being too pronounced, but they are remarkably wholesome, and in dining-rooms, libraries, or any apartment where the woodwork and decoration are plain, and the furniture substantial, are among the most desirable of the large rugs. They are made chiefly by women weavers, who work only in their leisure. This, without doubt, explains the thoroughness of the workmanship.

    Rugs of this type had become scarce at the time of my journey into the Orient and commanded a very high price, whether singly or in quantity.

    This was mainly due, of course, to the sudden accession of popularity, and beyond that to the state of practical famine that existed throughout the Shah's dominion, for the Heriz weavers who have escaped from the control of the big contracting firms lacked money to carry on their work. That by sterling quality these rugs have regained good standing in spite of all disadvantages is an encouraging sign of the survival of native ability. It goes far to establish, too, the main point for which I am bound to contend, that a just and adequate price and ready sale can be found for honest rugs, honestly dyed and in native design.

    After the institution of the name Gorevan, Tabriz dealers began sending designs into the Heriz district to be woven by the women there. This resulted in a new type of rugs, bearing the name, which had now come to be associated with the Heriz. It was a medallion, but of the Tabriz and Kirman drawing — reminiscent of the sixteenth and seventeenth century art rugs. The ground about it, however, was in solid cream color or ivory white, and the border of a heavy but very ornate character. The thing aimed at was perfection in weaving, solidity and pronunciation. The result proved the experiment a wise one. The rugs, while for the most part not of rug size, had all the Heriz and Bijar firmness coupled with the Tabriz fineness. In thickness they were something between the two. In workmanship they left nothing to be desired. Their quality and finish commanded a high price and their brilliancy made them impossible in plain rooms. Gradually, after their introduction, the name of Gorevan came to be applied almost exclusively to these rugs, and Here?: resumed its rightful place in the catalogue.

    Serapi — Encouraged by the success of the new Gorevans the Heriz weavers went a step further and took from the Tabrizlis some designs which, while preserving the medallion forms added floral elements in the ground. These partook in a small measure of the ornamentation found in the Tabriz rugs, but in color scheme and general device followed the tereh Lemsa of the Sultanabad factories — known in market as the " Extra Modern Persian". In quality they were almost if not quite as admirable as the high-class Gorevans. These rugs were named for the village of Sirab, and American dealers have converted the Persian form into Serapi.

    The graceful medallion shape in the Serapi field, commonly in old ivory or a camel's-hair shade, is usually denned in some other light color or combined with some other area of pale tint, to further the general purpose, which is to make the whole fabric light and bright and afford clear ground for the display of the elaborate vine and floral designs, drawn in a half impressionistic fashion and in colors strong but dull. All this light in the central part of the rug is balanced by generous use of similar values in the borders. The Serapi is in nearly all respects a praiseworthy and desirable thing. Despite some points of resemblance the elaborate details which strike one in the Tabriz rugs are lacking here, and in the color scheme there is no similarity. In the borders and sometimes even in the field of Serapi, inscriptions are found, either inclosed in Arabic medallions or on the plain ground. The method of weaving employed in all the varieties is practically the same. The warp is cotton, as in most Persian rugs, but the knot is Turkish. All three varieties are apt to be broad in proportion to their length, instead of following the long Persian shapes. In this section at the present time few runners are found.

    Kara Dagk. — Among the mountains in the northern part of Azerbaijan province, and to the east of the highroad leading south from Julfa, are shepherd tribes of the most bigoted Shiah sect, who weave rugs somewhat similar to those made by their neighbors in Karabagh on the north side of the Aras. The designs, which are bold, have more of Persian character than the Karabagh, and resemble in some points those of the Kurdish rugs. The colors are rather more diversified than those of the Karabagh and differently distributed. The flowers, which are employed in imitation of the old Persian designs, are put in broadcast, which, it may be well to repeat, is the mark of the nomad. It seems to be a cardinal principle with the weavers of the Kara Dagh (Black Mountains), as it is with the Tchetchens, never to leave an expanse of ground-color vacant.

    It is noteworthy that the Kara Dagh weavings are not often seen in market, but that they have maintained their quality well. The reason is not far to seek. The Karabagh weavers are within two days of the Russian railroad. They have the great market of Tiflis at their doors, and with that incentive, as shown in the Caucasian countries, sacrificed everything to a rage for increased production. The Kara Dagh people, on the other hand, took their rugs to Tabriz, where they were brought into competition with the Kurd fabrics and other excellent products of the western uplands. The comparison discouraged them and they practically withdrew from the field and continued to make rugs in the old way, merely for home use. Even among these mountaineers the aniline colors have gained a substantial foothold, though not to the extent noticeable in some other localities.

    Weft and warp of the Kara Daghs are wool. The weft, if not dyed, is usually in the natural brown color, and is woven into a selvage at the sides. At one end the foundations are made into a selvage and turned over, at the other is a selvage and fringe.

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