Symbols in Rugs

figure 1

figure 1

Our collection of Moroccan items features Berber traditional crafts almost exclusively. They differ from classical Arabic art by including symbolic representations - often seen are human figures, animals, plants, hands, and eyes. These motifs likely predate Muslim influence, hailing from the past when Berbers practiced an animist religion. This collection of red rugs is a great example of this historic link. The knowledge we are acquiring is constantly growing and with aesthetics aside, the history is what truly makes these pieces exciting. For more information about Berber people you can read up about them in the post "Berbers and Blankets" also in the blog. All except the Marriage Rug are Beni Ourain vintage rugs.

These are handknotted shag carpets from the Beni Ourain tribe. The two-tone design and sparse decoration exemplify their tasteful restraint. The weaver included a few rows of weft between the pile knots to allow for more texture and air to breathe. Since the weft and the warp are both yarn, this carpet is completely made of sheep's wool. This collection is a rare example of colorful Beni Ourain rugs, the vintage high-pile carpets are in great condition. The years have merely softened its wool and added character to its coloration. What was once blood-crimson has faded to a monochrome rainbow of deep pinks and dusty reds. Red, in varying hues, is traditionally a dominant color in Moroccan rugs reflecting the deep red of the earth in the central Middle Atlas Mountains. Previous washing has slightly felted the knots.

figure 2

figure 2

The unique hand-knotted carpet in red and brown, figure 1, is centered around the symbol of the Amazigh, Ж. Amazigh is the name used by Moroccan Berbers to refer to themselves and their language, of which there are many tribes and dialects. The letter Ж in their alphabet corresponds to our Z and is the symbol of native pride. This movement that has grown in recent years with the Moroccan government's official recognition of their language in 2011 and its increased presence in public schools. We had the chance during our journey in Morocco to stay with a Berber family just outside of Imintanoute in the south and I was able to practice and learn the Berber alphabet.

The symbols hand-knotted into this rug, figure 2, are a union of female and male shapes. Tribal women choose to weave these motifs based on their environments, life events, and personal preference. The fertility designs are so universal to humanity that they have been found in common with unconnected peoples across the globe.

figure 3

figure 3

Take note of the black hand carefully worked into in this unique carpet, figure 3. It's a sublime reminder of the long hours devoted to hand-tying the thousands of knots required by even this small carpet. This is also an example of Jewish iconography of the time. Imagine the Berber woman who wove this rug and know that its existence is proof of her own.

It is common to see variations of facial tattoos traditionally worn by Berber women represented in the design of the rugs.

During the heyday of shag carpeting, this minimalist look was a favorite of mid-century modern designers such as Frank Loyd Wright and Le Corbusier and we have also recognized many of these rugs in the home decor photos of current magazines. The colorful variations shown here, however, are far scarcer.

 

figure 4

figure 4

The spirit of Berber women is reflected in the design of this hand-knotted carpet, figure 4. The motifs tell the story of the traditional marriage ceremony. The man places his candle in the fire and if the woman accepts then she places her candle in the fire as well. Upon close inspection you can see human figures (upside down) and the bonfire that is represented by the black geometric outline.

This vintage treasure is most likely Boujad, from a region between the Atlantic and Middle Atlas Mountains called Haouz. These shaggy pile rugs are woven by women using Berber motifs referencing marriage, spiritual beliefs, and fertility. Along with tribal symbols, messages are also told with color in Moroccan rugs, and red in all forms is a reflection of the deep red of the earth.

Viewing figure 5 in the flesh, these mesmerizing sunbursts seem scattered like stars, or spots on a Dalmatian. Take a few steps back and the carpet reveals a network of shapes intricately arranged in nested zigzags. It's a fractal design - diamonds made of diamonds - diamonds forever. 

A true masterpiece rug from a Beni Ourain tribe that follows Judaism, this lush vintage carpet is in incredible condition. The colors remain bold and the shag is light and fluffy. With the flatweave face up, the black and white patterns fade into the background and the subtle orange border trim takes on more prominence. The pile knots provide built-in padding in this mode. This is also a two sided rug, which mentioned previously can prolong its life and provide seasonal variation to yours. This versatility parallels the rugs historic use as winter cloaks; when it snowed in the mountains the shag was turned to the outside.

figure 5

figure 5

All of this information is already listed for each item in the shop; this is just a compilation of the collection together. Being a practical person myself, I was immediately drawn to the fact that each rug has the option for two carpets in one, changing with the season. 

  • All of these carpets come from an association in Fez, Morocco that benefits widowed and divorced women and promotes traditional weaving. We had the opportunity to spend many days getting to know the people at the cooperative and gained new insight about historical referencing and rug origins.