Small Buddhist Statues and Japanese Tansu.

 


A new border, but according to one expert, he dates this to the 15th C.


A very old fragmented Thangka, over 30 small deities in excellent condition.

 




 


4-5m.Nambu Tigma Monastery Aisle Runner

 


19th C. Entrance Tiger Pillar Rug

 


Older Married Woman's Tigma Apron. Common throughout Tibet, this is hand woven.

 


Older Aprons we can use as a cover or pillows, etc..


Large Silk Patch Work Altar Cover or Canopy

 


Rare Snow Lion/Flag motif Blanket. This is pressed wool, likely Mongolian 18-19th C.

 


Geometric with Swastikas designed Wangden- long, maybe cut Aisle Runner (I have a similar half on the other side of the text)

 


This is very cool- painted yak head. I bought 5 from the man who paints them. I haven't seen anything so detailed!


A little longer and wider than usual, this has 4 panels. A tsutruk is a nomad rug, woven on a potable loom.

 


Lama Protectorate, fragment of a much longer piece. This has very cool disemboweled bodies.

 


Thokchas, many, many 40 or more! These were originally made of meteorite.

 

2 sided ink wood block. Often used for text script or for flags. Nice deep carvings.


more small items

 


Contrasting colors look great! Tibetans use insect larvae to make purple.

 


Hand Wrought Horse shoes, a Ceremonial Silver Skeleton Head. Well carved Tibetan Book Cover.

 


2 experts say the silk inside dates it to 17th C. This is a tsa-tsa mold, hand painted with incense.

 


One of 3 large Ningxia Tiger rugs, Would have hung from the ceiling.

 


The Tibetan Plateau...

Tibetan rugs and antiques cannot be properly introduced without a brief discussion of the Tibetan plateau, the highest plateau in Asia. There is a fundamental uniqueness that cannot be duplicated.  That is, the plateau's isolation is indigenous to a few animals and plants. Because of the high altitudes, usually well over 2500m., it is cold and the air lacks oxygen. Tibet is very unique- the Tibetan sheep and yak can live only at high altitudes. Recently, these are being protected as endangered animals. Also indigenous to the high altitude plateaus of Tibet, people have tried breeding the Tibetan Mastiff, and grow Blue Poppies, but have failed miserably at lower altitudes. In 2006, Beijing, Tibetan Mastiffs were selling for $500,000 and out of the 200 or more brought to Beijing only 4 were still living one year later.

Tibetan Plateau Story: Into Tibet and Climatizing.
I usually backpack in from China where altitude is well over 2500 m. I started in Thrangu Monastery in Jyekundo, Kham. Here I met a young man who wanted to come with me but he was only 18 so he suggested his grandfather give me a blessing. His grandfather was guarded by two huge Tibetan men. The air in the room was heavy, my head literally swirled- I felt drunk. He was giving blessings all day. He gave me an ambulant, a postcard photo of himself, and money. I tried (trust me I did!) to refuse the money but one guard told me to take it. I learned later that his grandfather is head of the Sakya sect (Jyekundo or all?),I thought I understood second only to the Dalai Lama and that he was a friend of the Dalai Lama. (I have his name and old notes but not with me.)
Jyekundo maybe 70 miles from an obscure crossing. I walked across. The border guards had girls in the house, it was evening. I waved myself through. It poured later around 10pm, caught a prcession of tractor, pumpkin trailer, small trucks to get to Nangchen, the next city away. The start of the northern highway, a two lane roud connecting China to Lhasa.It took a good 12 hours to get there, to Riwoche in Chamdo by early morning vegteble seller another 8hrs. Hitched with a teacher about an eigthth to Nagchu, 3hrs. At this point things went dead for the next day. One night was splendid and I saw shooting stars the whole night as I camped near a monastery. Rain and cold for the next day or so. I was chased out of the next town when the PSB (Public Security Bureau) were alerted a foreigner was there. I avoid the PSB, which are Tibetan Police for the most part,their job is to scare you out of their area. Flashing the beam light right at my position and then moving onward, they were signalling me to move out of town. Stayed under a wooden eves with a blanket to cover me from rain while all night a mastiff barked standing 1m. away in the rain waiting for me to move. Finally it stopped raining and again I walked out to the "highway". Came to a small village where I ate tsampa and drank yak butter tea for a day, slept inside. About 4hrs into the day a Tibetan trucker picked me up for 50 yuan and stuck me in the back with a bunch of Han Chinese he didn't like and insisted on bouncing us about the 3m bed of his truck. He stopped maybe 200kms from Nagchu to spite his weary travelers. I continued on hitching, another trucker was leaving the tea stall and with the 30 yuan I got back from the first I paid him. Nagchu, in Tibet was a saftey zone for travelers who do not have permits. That particular day the Horse Racing Festival started. Again it rained but the sun broke and maybe 20m. away a rainbow touched earth. The final leg is straight south to Lhasa. A hired taxi drivers boss gave me a ride. Comfortable, though my clothing smelled he welcomed me. He got off in the suburbs 50kms north of Lhasa. The car broke down immediately after he told the driver to take me on. I fixed his car, he flooded it and for 2 hours insisted on fixing it himself, that night 3am. I arrived at the Snowlands Hotel. Snowlands is where I always stay, they remember me but because of so many Chinese tourist I would have to sleep on the couches with the night watchmen. I take a shower and in the morning the Shoton Festival started so my day begins. After 2 days the staff bump a Chinese tourist and give me a bed. Because it is festival time and I am busy visiting friends, a Korean staying in the bed next to mine I hardly met a couple times, maybe talking 5 minutes- he works long hours in Shanghai. He is friends and speaks with the Chinese students. I notice he is tired but I think nothing of it. He falls asleep maybe his 4th day in Lhasa and doesn't wake up. I help take him down to the ambulance and he was airlifted to Chengdu. It happens alot when tourist come to high altitude zones without climatizing themselves.

Tibetan Plateau:

It is extremely cold and windy, and fairly obvious that the sheep and yak have been essential to Tibetans from the beginning. The thick, strong wool is used for the clothing, rope, animal ornaments, blankets, some of the monastery hangings and of course- rugs. The meat is dried and eaten. Butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese are made too. The yak butter becomes the wax used in candles by the people and in the monasteries. Yak butter is the staple of the diet in the form of tea and tsampa. Tibetans drink yak butter, mixed with a little tea leaves a minimum of twenty times a day. As you can imagine it fattening, warm and has a distinct smell. Tsampa is a mixture of barley (similar to Japanese soba), yak butter and a little tea. This is then molded over and over in the hand until a dough like ball is created. Traveling Tibetans have always thought it essential to carry: a knife, gau (religious box with a tsa-tsa or statue of Buddha and Mantras), a wooden tea cup, dried yak meat and a wooden container of tsampa. See the pictures to the right side. Walking through Tibet, I see why this is, people share what they can with strangers. The region being just so barren, hospitality from both sides is welcomed. Honestly, it was like living a history book. With a few exceptions, nothing was machine made. It didn't bother me that the fruit and vegetables, outside goods like dishware, and cheap clothing are imported from China. Tibet and China have been trading for years. Long before the cultural revolution, any antique silks you'd find in the monastery came from the trade routes (ie. silk road), as did most of the dyes used in the carpets and as... fruits and vegetables. Most farming tools, all wooden crafts were hand carved or hand spun on a manual lathe. Everything seemed to be antique. All traditional garments were hand loomed.
Every carpet or textile had a purpose. The traditional Tibetan home is colorful and uses textiles for all purposes. Rather the floor is wood or dirt, like Japanese, Tibetans use the rug as a futon mat when sleeping or sitting. (Incidentally, the Tibetan numbers and Japanese are the same sound, ichi, ne, san, she...) In some of the nicer homes, on the walls, rugs are art. In such cold temperatures, beautiful hand woven wool blankets and felts are used for the people as well as the livestock. The colors within the blankets range from a natural base with indigo blue stripes to a great variety of colors within a single piece. The livestock also becomes decorated with tightly woven rope ornaments and small woven rugs. The ropes are woven by the women as they tend to the sheep, intricate geometric patterns or Buddhist and animal motifs can be found in the earlier pieces. Tibetan nomad tents are also woven wool using the natural dark wool of the yak. Every married woman’s apron too was hand loomed. Using contrasting stripes in typical Tibetan colors, the apron will consist of three or four panels, older pieces may also use tigma (a cross made by hand dye) I like to think of all this as folk art.

 

Why Tibetan Antiques...

All great art is religious. I love religious art and especially Buddhist. Only Tibet in this world, practices their religion so lovely. Having spent 3 months traveling the Chinese side of the Tibetan border, I was elated but saddened at the reality: if China was to grow, it would have to come west. There has to be ample natural resources untapped. If the economy ever opened, if the Dalai Lama ever died then Tibetan Culture would disappear. This seemed like a wise investment. Another reason why I collect Tibetan textiles is, ”I rather be surrounded by beauty than save money in a bank.” I believe beauty should hold its value and if my predictions come true- the prices will rise. In the least of perfect worlds, I am surrounded by the mystic beauty of Tibet!
My first expeience in Lhasa, I arrived mid day. I hitched in on a couple of trucks from Goldmud- took 35 hours. Another quick idiom: Travel Cheap, Sleep Cheap, Eat Well! I dropped off my bags and went the 30 meters to the market around the Jokhang. The Jokhang is the most important monastery in Tibet. The Jokhang was built as the center for Tibetan Buddhism. The 4 schools, sects of Buddhism, are the cardinal points centered on the Jokang. Here, within 20 minutes, I met an American who speaks Tibetan. I'm not much for believing in fate (incidentally I believe that is how I met my wife) but... I was looking to buy a rug. I asked his opinion and come to find out, he was a professional rug buyer! Hmm... Once I started buying, it became a windfall. In the morning I was awakened by villagers who came to Lhasa, selling rugs as they made their pilgrimage to the Jokhang. The day was spent visiting many homes, drinking yak butter tea, beer and negotiating prices. This would often go into the night and finally all the top foreign collectors would gather and discuss prices and the day's finds. For some, they bought to increase their personal collection. Others had clients in Europe or America. The hunt is what brought them. The high altitude air, the ambiance of burning incense from the nearby Jokang certainly helped further this passion. Obvious to each, collector or buyer, this was a labor of love.

Disappearing Culture ...

I am in love with Tibet, I have been there 10 plus times. With each time I traveled into Tibet, there has been a greater Chinese influence. This last year, internet cafes, and Shanghai fashion boutiques have sprung up along the pavilion of the Jokang. Anything not traditional in the view of the Jokang seems to be sacrilege. Many foreign tourists realize this but China isn't concerned about the west. Like Americans, Chinese want to travel their own country. Tibet is considered by a billion Han Chinese to be China and one of the greatest tourist attractions of China is to see Lhasa. As people want to travel Tibet, roads are being paved, new monasteries and towns are being created and developed, a train now runs the distance to Lhasa. Tibetans may complain, but China is trying to make Tibet self sufficient. And the younger Tibetans want the game centers, cell phones, styles thought to be "western". It is the way it is, development means change. There use to be an antique markets around the Jokang, and further behind that, a jewelry and a rug market. My last time, Han Chinese monks were manning the newly constructed ticket gates to each monastery. The antiques are in the antique stores, prices equalivent to Hong Kong. The alleys are all paved and the markets are gone.  A brief window was open into the history of Tibet starting in the early 1990's. I believe that time is closing fast, but there are still many areas where progress hasn't yet assimilated the Tibetan way of life. Just little is left in the way of antiques. Ah, if only I was born 150 years earlier.

What makes antique Tibetan Rugs so special?

The Tibetan rug is the one unique Tibet Art. The isolation allows us to glimpse life preserved through time but this acts as a double edged sword cutting deep when researching specifics. Tibets past inaccessibility, becomes a major hindrance when we want specifics of the history. This mystic land, high plateau, offers little literature in the sense of pre 20th C. In the few Tibetan Rug books offered, all authors acknowledge little is known about the age of rugs or when the tradition and weaving technique began. By studying rug making in other tribal regions with more written history such as in Central Asia of Persian rugs we see the borders and medallion motifs are similar. Once again, with the earliest Oriental/Chinese/Mongolian rugs or felts there are distinctive similarities that can not go unnoticed. We can definitely see floral, Buddhist symbolism as well as rare snow lions and tigers motifs common to all three cultures.  So one ought to wonder the next viable question… What came first? Where is the origin? There is not sufficient evidence, or documentation. We know the Tibetan people are of Turk-Mongo origin, nomadic and various tribes occupied and settled the lands in and around Tibet, likely Tibetan rug making history can be dated to about that of Central Asian tribes.

 

Rug Sizes and Purpose:

 

Most common size is the sleeping/sitting rug called a kanden. This is a large rectangular sized rug about 3x5. Smaller rectangular rugs would be used for sitting or the entry way. Small square size rugs were typically used during meditation, thus called meditation rugs. Very difficult to find uncut, are the Meditation Runners. They will look like 3,5,7 individual small squares woven together creating one rug. These squares are often cut years later. Long Hall Aisle Runners are typically longer and the design is concurrent without break. Horse Saddles used for yaks or horses, vary in shape and are typically laid over the back of the animal.

 


Unlike any other Rug

The Tibetan knot, shown in Denwood's, The Tibetan Carpet, p. 43, fig. 83c


Unlike any other in the world, the Tibetan knot is indigenous to Tibet. The particular technique that Tibetan rugs are woven (the wool is knotted around a rod and later cut to create the loop pile) is now considered to be an ancient one, as early or earlier than the techniques of knotting now commonly used. In that long period of time nomadic and remote Tibetans were wool weaving. China and Central Asians were making rugs, so why is the Tibetan knot, sandwiched between, so different? The trade routes went through Tibet, certainly if it is later and not a contemporary or predecessor of Chinese, and Central Asian rug making, then the Tibetans would have used the precipitated knot. Makes sense, so perhaps, the Tibetan knot actually predates that of the surrounding areas. Is it possible that it came earlier, part of that isolation theory. The Himalayan nation that time skipped somehow, help keeping its lore.

 

Another indigenous anomaly of Tibet is the warp faced back weaving process, called the Wangden Rug. See the pictures to the side of the text. Much fewer are found because the rugs were produced in the Wangden Valley in Southern Tibet only. The tradition somehow disappeared for the last 100 plus years.  Because of their weight very few of these were found outside Tibet until the mid 1990’s, when western collectors started to become more acquainted with them within Tibet. These facts helped keep this style a secret, nothing was written pre 1990. These rugs are loosely knotted, much heavier, often with a shaggy fringe border.  The heavy backing offers padding and warmth to sleep or meditate on.  The Wangden is a favorite in the monastery. Sometimes even today, I find Aisle Runner Rugs 5 meters long, few pristine, but most worn and falling apart under the new exterior rug in the great hall of monasteries. These are rare and treasured by the monastery in any condition- valued highly for their warmth, more for their history.

According to Rupert Smith, noted Tibetan Wangden Rug expert.

Wangden was once famous throughout Tibet for its unique style of carpet weaving, practiced nowhere else in Tibet, and in great demand by monasteries from Lhasa to Amdo to Ladakh. Wangden rugs were used as meditation mats by the Fifth Dalai Lama, and every year a new set of Wangden runners was woven for use by monks participating in the Great Monlam Prayer Festival in Lhasa, the first and largest religious gathering of the Tibetan Buddhist year. Aesthetically, as a group they represent what is according to legend an ancient, strictly-preserved canon of designs, adhering to rigid knot-counting, arid, color schemes in honor of a former Wangden Lama Jian Teppe Genshe with whom the designs (and the weaving tradition itself) are associated.

After the Wangden's disappearance, people liked the shaggy fringe and the softness of the warp backing so they often attached a fringe to the sides and a warp face backing mat to a kanden. I have a few false Wangdens that with a wool foundation, they are at least 100 years old. See the right side photos.

Material and Dyes:
Because the wool comes from the higher altitudes, more oils come through, mixed with these early dyes, a beautiful patina is created.  Wool being the only Tibetan material in abundance, rugs with a wool foundation: Warp (vertical) and Weft (horizontal) are thought to be older than a wool, cotton foundation. True enough, but without carbon dating (C-14 testing), it is impossible to say with any authority the exact age of an antique Tibetan rug. To add confusion to this dilemma, trade with India is older than Buddhism itself!  Silk and Cotton, we know came up from India very early on. One must stop and consider the logistics of Tibet and the enormous size it once stood. All land trade as we know it with Europe and China, China and India had to go through some part of Tibet. As this is true, it could also be reasoned that Tibetans accessible to trading routes could, at an earlier period in time, use another material. Silk, Cotton, Wool were all traded as were dyes.
Earlier rugs are vegetable dyed. If it is not vegetable dyed, it’s earliest dating can be the 1860’s, when chemical dyes were introduced to India. We must assume that likely that same year, a few rug centers in Tibet had access to the chemical dyes. Earliest synthetic dyes, chemical and alkaline, were red, brown and orange. Synthetic dyes were much easier to work with, uniformity in color was consistent so why wouldn't a wool rug dyer want to use them.  Cooking vegetable dyes takes many days, and constant attention. This was actually a valued trade- it took years to become a proficient dyer. Vegetable dyes, once cooked in a vat, applied to the wool are impossible to reproduce to an exact match. That is why sometimes we get wonderful variations in color within a single rug. Unlike many cultures, it is sometimes the mistakes that make Tibetan Rugs more beautiful.

The following dye information was obtained thru Kuloy's Tibetan Rug book pgs.40-43, thought to be the most comprehensive guide to Tibetan Rugs.
BLUE- Indigo was the most widely used plant for dying wool in Tibet and China. Sometimes mixed with chang (Tibetan Barley beer). Young Fir Cones were used too.
RED- Madder was obtained from the root of Rubia Munjista or R. Tictoria, plants of southern Tibet. The left over was used to make sealing wax. Mulberry trees are also used.  A lac dye is still produced in Bhutan using resin from trees and specific insects.
PINK- Comes from the thorny Dog-Rose shrub, using the roots. The rose hips are eaten and the roots also are used for a tea.
ORANGE- Saffron comes from Kashmir, India.
YELLOW- From the roots of the high altitude wild Rhubarb, unearthed in Autumn. The leaves are dried and used as tobacco. Barberry bark, buckwheat seeds and leaves, turmeric are also used to produce yellow.
BROWN- Can be Natural Wool. Walnuts were used extensively. Myrobolum fruit grown in Orissa, India, in dyes, a yellowish brown color is made. Also used in traditional Indian and Tibetan medicine. 
GREEN- Much rarer in Tibetan rugs but can be made by Indigo and Rhubarb. Indian Henna can be used also.
WHITE/BLACK/GREY- Natural Wool.

How I display:

So little is known, often the word- Tibet, conjures its own history, an image or meaning different for each person. A personal Shangri-la so to say.  Tibetan rugs and textiles capture some youthful dream, purity individualized to each soul. When guest realize a rug is Tibetan, each person creates their own image. It creates conversation like no other. The simplicity in design, the colors and the warmth of wool allow these to go with everything. Modernism, minimalism, traditional, I can not think of any interior a Tibetan textile will not enhance. Tibetan Rugs transcend time. For example, the Scandinavian Rya Rug, thought to the most similar to Tibetan Rugs, notably for the loop knot and contrasting colors with usage of geometric designs are truly beautiful rugs...but because Rya rugs are affixed to a time period- modernism, they are not cross cultural. To the advantage of Tibetan Rugs, Tibetan rugs precede all living people and all known living design eras.

 

Made by common villagers, for daily use- they are by pure definition folk art. And as such, I believe can highlight any interior.  Tibetans themselves will display rugs on the wall. It is easy to do and there is no damage to the rug or wall.

Click on image. When hanging a rug, I use double sided tape, velcro, glue, small thin strip of wood and staples. I drive staples through the wood so less than a centimeter is showing through the other side. To the wood I glue velcro.To one side of the tape, I attach another piece of velcro. The other side goes to the wall. Finger nail polish easily takes off the tape. The rug is ready to hang once the two pieces of velcro are attached. Frames are wonderful for hiding damage with showing fragment Rugs or Thangkas. Plate hangers are a neat way of hanging objects too.

Our house is our showroom! In a perfect world, I would have my own gallery to display these better, use space better but I hope you enjoy and can imagine yourself how you'd display. Tibetan Rugs have the ability to be woven into any home's design without dispelling the current theme. Therefore antique Tibetan rugs are distinct and conversational. They are art, antique and timeless.

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Copyright 2010 by M Petras


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