Art — The Art of the Qashquai

Exotic art, all over the floor


Chapel Art Center unveils Iranian rug exhibit


By Michelle Saturley


If you think rugs are nothing but functional floor coverings, the new exhibit at Saint Anselm College’s Chapel Art Center will change your mind. “The Art of the Qashquai” features hand woven Oriental style rugs by members of the Qashquai tribe in Iran.

Father Iain MacLellan, director at the Chapel Art Center, had been thinking about putting together a Middle Eastern-themed exhibit at the college for a while.

“I wanted to do a cultural Middle Eastern show, but I also wanted it to have some strains of contemporary life in the Middle East,” MacLellan said. “I liked the idea of using textiles as opposed to a two-dimensional painting. These pieces are artwork, but they are also functional.”

The Qashqai (pronounced “kash-kye”) are a Turkish-speaking tribe of pastoral nomads in southern Iran. They migrate between winter pastures near the Persian Gulf and summer pastures on the Iranian Plateau. The Qashqai are more organized and have shown greater cohesion than most Iranian tribes, with an estimated population of about 790,000.

When Father MacLellan decided to put together a textile show featuring Oriental rugs, he knew just who to call.

“All of the rugs in the show are from First Oriental Rugs of Danvers, Mass. They are a commercial rug dealer, but they specialize in unique items like these,” MacLellan said. All of the rugs in the exhibit will be for sale.

What makes the rugs art, according to MacLellan, is the specific weaving method used by the Qashquai that makes distinct patterns. Called “Jahim,” this style of weaving is rather simple in execution, but creates complex, colorful designs. The designs are a visual record of the Qashquai’s aesthetic evolution as a tribe, as well as a re-introduction of the Oriental rug to Western society.

“The Oriental area rug was very popular in the 19th and early 20th century, but wall-to-wall carpeting changed that,” MacLellan said. “Function won out over aesthetics back then. But these rugs remind people of the beauty and craftsmanship that’s unique to Oriental rugs. And the fact that people can come in and see and touch them, and even take one home if they want to purchase one, is exciting to me. I’ve learned a lot about Middle Eastern culture putting this exhibit together. It will be fun to pass that along.”

The Chapel Art Center at Saint Anselm College  will present “The Art of the Qashquai Tribal Rugs” from Southern Iran from Nov. 12 through Dec. 11, with an opening reception on Thursday, Nov. 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. Cornelia Montgomery, a noted expert on rugs of the Qashquai, will present an exhibit lecture entitled, “The Art of the Qashquai: A Firsthand Account,” Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call Saint Anselm College at 641-7241.

—Michelle Saturley

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