This tree-of-life patterned, knotted-pile prayer rug is a lovely example of the superb weaving skills of Baluchi women from around 1900. The rug is pile woven in wool and camel hair with bright silk highlights on a wool warp. It reflects the complex ethnicity and nomadic history of the Baluchi people, the relationship of the Baluchi and their weavings to the neighbouring Turkmen people, and also the difficulty of identifying definitively the specific tribal group that created some of these items.
The prayer rug is woven from fine wool and camel hair using the asymmetrical knot characteristic of Baluchi pile weaving, and demonstrates the dyer's skill in its combination of rich dark reds and blues in association with the natural camel and small white accents typical of the Baluch. The use of a stylised tree-of-life design, in various forms, is characteristic of Baluchi weavings while the gul (motif) repeated in the main border is an 18th century Turkmen form.
Additionally, the prayer rug is significant with regard to its quality, its unusually large size and the rare use of brilliantly coloured silk accents in the 'trunks' of the three tree forms in the field, in the corner spandrels or hand panels and occasionally in the field. Usually, the field of a Baluchi prayer rug features one tree motif only. The use of synthetically dyed silks in the tree trunks is visually striking as well as rare; silk is only occasionally found in Baluchi rugs as it was extremely expensive and its use would have represented a financial sacrifice for the weaver. The connecting bar across the top of the rug between the spandrels is also an infrequent and therefore significant feature.
Consideration of these special features suggests that this particular prayer rug was probably made by the Timuri, a group related to the Baluchi (although this topic is debated). Certainly its unusually large size, quality and special characteristics indicate that it was made for someone important - perhaps from Herat, the local socio-political power base.
Bennett, Ian (ed.). Rugs & carpets of the world, London, New Burlington Books, 1977.
Craycraft, Michael, Belouch prayer rugs from the exhibition at Adraskand Gallery, Point Keyes Station, California, Summer 1982. San Francisco, Adraskand Gallery, 1982.
Christina Sumner (with thanks to the late Cito Cessna)
Principal Curator, Design & Society and
Research Assistant, Design & Society