While the preponderance of antique Oriental rugs were woven from sheep’s hair, there were villages and encampments of Northwest Persian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan during the 19th and turn-of-the 20th-century rugs where undyed camelhair was employed to create distinctive and highly desirable works of art.
Over the years, since founding Claremont Rug Company in 1980, we have had an enthusiastic and knowledgeable following among our clients, who find myriad uses for them in their residences. In this first installment of a two-part series, I will discuss some of the more interesting facets of this collecting niche and point out the many nuances that make them so attractive, despite their relative rarity.
Many clients place their camelhair pieces in gallery halls or great rooms, as their neutral hues and often more sparse patterns provide an effective counterbalance to the large-scale designs and multi-colored palette of many contemporary paintings. Also, camelhair’s color spectrum, a surprisingly wide range of earth-tones from blonde to tan, wheat, walnut, and even chocolate brown, effectively lightens and adds distinction to smaller areas or hallways.
Remarkably little can be found about camelhair rugs in the rug literature. For this article, I am relying primarily on the many interviews with tribal elders I spoke to decades ago and my experience of working with the rugs themselves over the past almost half-century. I find the best of these rugs extraordinarily intriguing artistically, as the use of this undyed natural fiber amplifies the weavers’ folk-art expression.
Camelhair rugs stem mainly from the villages of Bakshaish, Serab, and Malayer and the weavers of the immense Kurdistan province, including the rugs from the town of Bijar. Weavers from many other Persian and Caucasian styles also occasionally created rugs with precious, undyed camelhair. Here are some of the distinctive attributes of the major camelhair weaving groups:
Top-level (Levels 2 and 3 on our Antique Rug Pyramid ©) 19th-century Bakshaish camelhair carpets are incredibly inventive, and as with their all-wool counterparts, are quite difficult to find and widely sought after. The oldest ones offer the most spontaneous and elemental rug designs and the softest color palettes.
From this group, those woven before 1870 most often evoke a decidedly tribal context with shield, dragon, and unusual tree patterns. In the fourth quarter of the 19th century, designs became somewhat more stylized and botanical, with more saturated palettes of color. One of the most memorable Bakshaish formats presents a grand, intentionally asymmetrical central medallion and broad, startling mid-tone blue-toned corner pieces that often contain dragon motifs. Spellbinding camelhair fields with “Tree of Life” or “Garden of Paradise” allover designs are highly desirable to collectors.
Natural light to rich browns of camelhair combined with Bakshaish’s renowned spontaneously drawn artistry convey an emotional stratum that is innately familiar. At the same time, they have a “never seen before” quality. Camelhair has this effect in general but seems especially suited to the Bakshaish tradition. At Claremont, we have a small but exceptional collection of Bakshaish camelhair rugs in area sizes, corridor or runner shapes, room size, or even oversize (in quite limited numbers).
VR Sunil Gohil