Oriental Carpets and the Women Who Weave Them

By | March 8, 2016

In honor of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the female weavers who designed and created most of the works in The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs. To better understand these artists, we asked for an expert’s opinion. Walter B. Denny, the exhibition’s guest curator and the distinguished professor in Islamic Arts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, offered insight into the history and tradition of the women who wove the Oriental carpets on view:

Walter-Denny-Interview-2Carpets are, in a broad sense, a quintessentially female art form. The creators of the great majority of these carpets [in The Carpet and the Connoisseur] were women. The woman is not only the weaver of the carpet, but in almost all cases in the Ballard collection, she is the artist of the carpet as well. So we’re seeing in these carpets, the work of women who were never formally trained as artist, but had a wealth of artistic imagination and a fantastic ability in their hands to create these beautiful artifacts. The result is something extremely special for any art historian, or for any person who loves art, to look at.

The art was passed down from mother to daughter over generations. And each generation offered something new on the traditional themes, brought some new ideas, some new vibrancy, perhaps some new colors or a different motif to the mix. Over time, we see this tradition of woman generated art producing layer after layer of richness and beauty in the medium of the Oriental carpet.

Click through the photo slideshow below to see part of the process that contemporary women working in Turkey use to create hand-woven carpets. Visit The Carpet and the Connoisseur in our main exhibition galleries, East Building, and marvel at the artistry female weavers from the past created in the stunning Oriental carpets on view.