Baluchtreffen 2013: Prayer Rugs
Frank Martin Diehr reports: On the second weekend in June, the tiny village of Taura, near Chemnitz in Saxony became the hub of the Baluch collecting world, with participants in annual German-speaking Baluch collectors’ meeting coming from as far afield as the USA and Sweden.
This annual meeting has certainly grown from its modest beginnings into a truly international event, while retaining its atmosphere of friendly intimacy. This year the meeting was kindly hosted by local collector Falko Doerfler and his family in their antiques centre. Widespread flooding was just one of the obstacles the twenty-five or so participants had to overcome in order to attend – another was the lack of public transport.
The topic of this year’s meeting was ‘prayer rugs in the Baluch tradition’. Veteran collector Karl-Heinz Breuss gave a concise yet comprehensive account of the typology of what we collect as Baluch prayer rugs. One specific group of camel-ground tree of life prayer rugs with distinct Turkmen iconography prompted an animated discussion. Fewer than ten published examples are known, and the entire group is generally agreed to be relatively early: one specimen was first published by von Oettingen in 1910, when it was thought to be about fifty years old, and again by Grote-Hasenbalg in 1922.
Few Baluch rugs are documented to have been made much before the turn of the 20th century. A rare picture of a young Baluch boy kneeling on a prayer rug was taken in around 1900. It depicts a young Baluch story-teller or bard, complete with the signs of his trade, bowl and ceremonial axe. The rug he is using is of the same type as shown in the following image, from the Hans Ritter collection in Munich.
Another item for discussion was the double niche miniature prayer (?) rug in the author’s collection, which was much admired despite its fragmentary condition.
Jörg Affentranger continued his discussion from a previous meeting about his visits to Djan-Beghi villages in 2010 and 2011, where he went in search of flatweaves and to collect information about their motifs in situ. He talked to elderly weavers, in the hope of collecting what little information there might be about the older pieces.
Blue-ground Timuri prayer rugs with their stunning blue hues are eagerly sought after by Baluch aficionados. A piece from a Swedish collection showed off its magnificent colours in the ‘show and tell’ session, held on the sunny veranda that Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday morning, the meeting’s final session was a visit to Dresden’s Ethnographic Museum. Simone Jansen gave a guided tour of the stunning Damascus Room (Damaskuszimmer), the reception room from a luxurious home in Damascus originally used for welcoming guests. The exhibit, which is just one of the many treasures among the museum’s vast holdings, is richly decorated with wooden panels in the Turkish Rococo style and exquisite soft furnishings. The museum visit provided an enjoyable and stimulating conclusion to a successful meeting.