Russian Socks, From Tent Band to Bokhara

emmett eiland logo poster
The tent band poster with our old address

In about January of 1982, a rug dealer from Kabul, Afghanistan, whom I shall call Abdul, walked into my shop in Berkeley, unannounced and very welcome. Like many of my fellow American travelers to Afghanistan I have bought rugs from Abdul for resale here in the States.

Since he is a decent (and nearly English-speaking) man, the trick has always been to remember to be tough with him about prices. He, goodness knows, is not guided by sentiment. In 1974 Abdul and I and two others took a taxi from Kabul to the north, into Mazar and Tashkargan and Aqsha and Shibergan. Later I sent 8 by 10 color photos of the trip to him, and I believe I made a friend for life.

When he showed up in my rug shop in Berkeley in 1982 I noticed his socks which struck me as being particularly unattractive and quite likely Russian made. I asked about them, praising there color, as I recall. Yes, they were Russian. Later I learned that he had given them to a relative in Los Angeles to be washed and presented to me as a gift, since I had admired them. I am still disappointed that somehow they never got to me.

As Abdul left Berkeley I gave him a poster of what had become a kind of logo for my shop. The name of the shop and address have been superimposed on a fragment of a very old knotted tent band. The poster itself looks great. An artist from Berkeley, Jan Thorpe, drafted it in silk screen, about 1.5 by 2.5 feet, with true color. Abdul studied the poster and said, “I make.”

logo silk rug from poster
The silk rug patterned after the poster.

He did. About four months later a friend from Berkeley brought in a 3.5 by 5 foot Turkmen rug made in silk, sent to him by Abdul and intended for me: a perfect rendition of the poster, which was in turn a perfect rendition of the Tekke tent band fragment. The rug included my name, address, zip and telephone number. It is a gorgeous rug!

My euphoria was shattered though when I heard that six more of the same were on the loom in Kabul, including a 6 x 9, all with my name etc. I shot off a letter which I am sure reached Kabul within a matter of months saying Wait! I can’t sell rugs with my name and zip! I often wonder what happened to those rugs. I am convinced that they went to the Germans and that 50 years from now they will be part of the history and mystery of oriental rugs.

There’s more to the story. I eventually gave the same poster to a friend of mine, a Pakistani gentleman whose family makes rugs on a number of looms in Karachi and Lahore. This time I aimed at the commercial market, and I was curious. What would the Pakistanis do with the design, carefully instructed as they were to leave off the name and area code and all? I held my breath until the rugs came in. Not one, as I requested, but five. Each was different from the poster and from each other.

The weavers had done there own thing. Instead of the deep maroon red of the tent band and of the poster, a mauve bordering on purple. The tan had become a bright gold. Minor borders had been added. Miraculously the tent band had become a Pakistani Bokhara! But strangely enough the rugs are successful. They look good. And what a circle these rugs have turned, from Tekke tent band to poster to a silk Turkmen rug and to a Pakistani Bokhara.

They are a tiny bit of the history of oriental rugs. Anyhow, I like to think about scholars fifty years from now puzzling over the survivors, maybe even trying the phone number, wondering why some were found in Germany and only one in California.


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    Fritz August 27, 2009

    Cute story.

  2. generic user icon
    Franz Glantschnig November 25, 2009

    a very nice story – but where is the real tentband or fragment ?