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John Collins - An Exhibition Review

The grapevine started to buzz before the holidays. From Washington, Omaha, Los Angeles, Houston, and Pittsburgh, I got the word: John Collins is hanging another show. His seventh, this was entitled "Mostly Afshar...

Exhibition Review by Thomas Baker

Original text & photos appeared in Oriental Rug Review, Vol. 13/3








Fig. 1, an Afshar sofreh, 3'10" x 3' 8",has to rank as one of the great 19th century masterpieces from this tribe.



The grapevine started to buzz before the holidays. From Washington, Omaha, Los Angeles, Houston, and Pittsburgh, I got the word: John Collins is hanging another show. His seventh, this was entitled "Mostly Afshar... An Exhibition and Sale of Small South Persian Weavings." As I had not seen John's new gallery in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and since the show dates conveniently coincided with the Skinner auction in Bolton, there was no question that I would attend.

Stopping first at the Skinner preview, I heard nothing but unqualified praise for John's efforts. In truth, this hardly comes as a surprise. Beginning in 1977, Collins was one of the first people to explore in depth this group of tribal rugs, his interest has not waned, and today he is probably one of the most knowledgeable individuals in this field. I could hardly wait to get to Newburyport.

 


Fig. 2 Another Afshar sofreh, No. 25, 2'1"x2'8", was a very forceful presentation of two blue palmettes on a gold field.

 

The next morning I arrived and understood what the excitement was all about. The focus and depth of the show was visually stunning. The weavings were selected from four basic design categories: Herati, Boteh, Ascending Motifs, and Central Medallion. Attractively hung in groups, they provided an opportunity to examine and compare similarities and differences, which was fascinating. All the South Persian tribal groups were represented, and it was intriguing to see variations in design, technique, materials, and rendering amongst the same ethnic groups juxtaposed against other groups.

I found five pieces especially appealing. fig. 1, an Afshar sofreh, 3'10" x 3'8", has to rank as one of the great 19th century masterpieces from this tribe. South Persian sofrehs are by no means common (Collins showed four), but this example was breathtaking. It was presented as derived from the Herati design, which it undoubtedly was, but its weaver explored a vision of her own. Although one may speculate as to the representations within the field, I believe this to be misleading; the iconography is quite simply outside our experience to really understand. Nonetheless, this piece was a masterwork of graphic design.




Figure 3, cataloged Bahktiari. Collins readily admits the attribution is made more by default as the piece mixes a number of Afshar and Bahktiari characteristics of materials and structures.

 

And the materials and execution were stunning, starting with the red dyed warps which, to the best of my knowledge, are unique. The colors were the best I've seen in any Afshar work, and I gave up counting them at 15. The finely spun, lustrous wool was a perfect vehicle for the presentation of these old, mellow colors. End finish was a very atypical braid with fragmentary tassels.

Another Afshar sofreh, Fig. 2, 2'1" x 2'8", was a very forceful presentation of two blue palmettes on a gold field. Flanked on either side with what appeared to be leaf and tendril forms in orange, red and brown, the palmettes were surrounded by the tightly rendered borders and end panels, presenting a study in contrasts.





Figure 4, an Afshar mafrash face, 4' x 1"4", was a fine representative of the boteh group.


Figure 3., an Afshar mafrash face, 4'x1"4", was a fine representative of the boteh group. The most attractive feature of this very long bagface was the alternating cartouche and flower head ivory ground border. This rare border is well-known and highly desirable, and this was possibly the finest version I have encountered.

A nicely drawn example of the central medallion group, fig. 4, a 2'4" x 1'11" Afshar khorjin, offered an unusual combination of unmistakable colors: red, light green, mid-blue, and gold. This piece must be related to a small number pieces which share this distinctive palette which, once seen, is unforgettable. Additional research in this field is needed.




Fig. 5. 2' 4"x 1' 11" Afshar khorjin, offered an unusual combination of unmistakable colors: red, light green, mid-blue, and gold.

 

Number 16, an Afshar mafrash face, 4 'x 1"4", was a fine representative of the boteh group. The most attractive feature of this very long bagface was the alternating cartouche and flower head ivory ground border. This rare border is well-known and highly desirable, and this was possibly the finest version I have encountered.

A nicely drawn example of the central medallion group, Fig. 5, a 2'4" x 1'11" Afshar khorjin, offered an unusual combination of unmistakable colors: red, light green, mid-blue, and gold.

This piece must be related to a small number pieces which share this distinctive palette which, once seen, is unforgettable. Additional research in this field is needed.

The ascending design group contained an unusual example, No. 23, cataloged Bahktiari. Collins readily admits the attribution is made more by default as the piece mixes a number of Afshar and Bahktiari characteristics of materials and structures. Dated 1312 A.H. (1896 A.D.) with an Islamic inscription, this 4'2"x5'9" rug had irresistible boldness and charm. Only a handful of these rugs are presently known, and additional research into this group should prove fruitful.

 

A well written and informative 16-page catalog accompanied the exhibition. Like its predecessors, this document provides not only facts and figures for each textile on display but also a interesting and expressive essay on the art of the woven subject.

The only negative about this show might have been its short life, one week (January 17-24). This was a practical decision which was indicative of a larger consideration. John estimates that his total attendance for the week-long show was about 200, a shocking number when you consider that an exhibition of this quality mounted in Europe would draw thousands of the viewers over the same period of time. As a large number of the 46 weavings had been sold, there was little need to extend the show.

In view of the financial commitment required to mount an exhibition of this quality, and in these times, John J. Collins, Jr. should be heartily congratulated. These focused exhibitions demand an enormous amount of time and capital.

John Collins' seventh exhibition was an excellent and important opportunity to view some significant woven art. If you have an interest in South Persian weavings, this dealer is an important resource.

Original text & photos appeared in Oriental Rug Review, Vol. 13/3
No parts of this text or any photo may be re-produced, transmitted or copied by electronic means or otherwise without permission from the author.
I also wish to thank Rono'Callaghan and Murray Eiland for permission to reproduce this article on the site.

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