Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum: Artist & Carpet: Today & Tomorrow

  2023 Jun

The October 21-22, 2021 international conference papers are now available online from the ANCM website.
Jorie Johnson introduced her contemporary felt rugs, the Sado Tearoom sets of mosen made over the years, as well as, her research work for the Imperial Household Agency, Nara. The subsequent mid-7th C. replica reproduction of Kasen no. 17 completed in 2020 was explained in detail. (This publication is text only: English, Azerbaijani, Russian)

Kyoto University of Art

“Square Peg in a Round Hole” refers to the nomadic yurt dwellings, exclusively round in nature, and the rugs found inside them. During Jorie Johnson’s early treks to Central Asia, she found the interior space of such shelters intriguing for the contrast between the circular walls and the rectangular rugs upon which the people sat, ate, and slept, amplified the geometrics and the division of the minimal living space.

In 1986 Johnson came down from Finland, where she had studied various traditional craft techniques including felt boot-making, to join the Second International Felt Camp, organized by the Vidák Family of Kecskemét, Hungary. This experience was a foundational pillar of felt teaching, which came from a Turkmen female artisan brought in to demonstrate the traditional inlay design technique in rug making.

The participants learned the elemental importance of a reed mat. This tool presents a natural grid and aids the artisan in the layout of the typical mirror-image nomadic design. They learned about inverse design layout, mat rolling in the initial stages, and then rolling outside and on top of the mat to harden the patterned felt into a rug with great integrity.

The design was worked until it was well embedded into the matrix of the base wool. Johnson said, “One might have thought that the design was being eaten up, but learned that a well-made intricate felt will slowly reveal the beauty of its design during years of use.”

Having lived all her life in rectangular spaces, and unfettered to traditional nomadic felts, Johnson understood the capability of color blending, coupled with the freedom of non-traditional form allowing for alteration to the classic rectangle (developed by nomads using the maximum surface area of the mat or by a loom’s warp and weft dimensions).

A traditional Japanese dwelling was made with mud walls, tatami floor coverings placed in mosaic layout, sliding glass or paper doors, and wood. An early JoiRae Textiles (JRT) series was based on two design departure points. The first being to explore natural color wool for the base and vegetable-dyed wool for the pattern, which would harmonize with the home interior. And secondly, to include two Japanese characters into the motif as if they were naturally drawn. A few examples of paired characters incorporated in the rugs were Weed / Sun, Forest /Light, and Bird / Wind.

The challenge is always to prepare the initial layout to include the desired shrinkage necessary to form a sturdy rug (15-20%+ depending on wool quality and quantity). No matter how well the base and design layers are prepared, the very nature of the migration process, i.e. entanglement of the wool, allows variations to emerge. Johnson helps guide certain color combinations, rubs edges to round them, and pulls out tabs of color with pliers, but lets the initial shape of the rug form a subtler self.

As she remarks, “the subtly of color achieved by the self-blending process is always a gamble. Which colors will migrate up…which colors are erased or lost. The thing about felt is that you can’t go back. It is always a one-way street, and the future results we only try to predict.”

Another theme that she worked on in 2009 reflects her frequent local train rides. Through her senses, and design memory, she says she is aware of the various areas inside the train car, outside the train window, the sky and horizon line, as well as the middle ground to that final distant point. She tried to capture these memories, such as rhythmic telephone poles, beautiful fields and hills in any season, even if it is all out of focus from the train window as an artist she remembers the beauty in the “blur of color.”

To replicate these train journeys the “View From Train Window” series uses a dark brown Karakul wool base and has a deep black/brown square in the center representing an entrance tunnel. (image 3) Johnson has kept to a roundish rectangular form but adds felt rope tails, a subtle circular ring of red wool embedded just under the surface, and a few outcropping tabs of color to highlight the straight edge. She believes rugs should meld into an interior, to make a conversation with other objects in the room, saying “warming and graphic, a rug helps us through the cold winter months”.

Johnson still uses a design point she picked up from the nomadic Türkmen felt, which is making the work reversible. All her rugs have some simple reverse design element, not only as a surprise to the client, but also because the seasons change, and children and pets may play on them.

In 2011, Japan was shocked at the TV news from Fukushima. She suddenly had an image that each household, side by side, in her neighborhood was very different. By then she had lived 23 years in Kyoto and she felt “My Own Rising Sun” (generally translated as Hinomaru, referring to the Japanese national flag), which became another rug series. What did being alive now mean to each neighborhood family, to each Japanese individual, and what did it mean to her personally?

Often traveling in and out of Japan, there were times when she says she felt “more Japanese” than others. So now, the red circular element, that was visible in some areas and less in others of the rugs, added meaning to the design.

In 2015, a less ornamental expression continued in the My Hinomaru Series with a more predominant red circle, and with titles like “Person”, “Landscape”, and “Playground”.

Johnson feels the primal quality of felt is a gift from above as a sheep grows with its feet in the mud and grass, its oily, sweet lanolin wool coat provides protection, while the meat pro- vides us nourishment.

To end her presentation Johnson gave some information about the rare felt history found in Japanese collections at the eastern end of the Silk Road as it may relate to contemporary times. She presented a detail of an 18th century standing screen with the image of a “Cherry Blossom Viewing Party”. Using pigment on mulberry pαper the artist depicted a scene out in nature with guests seated on reddish Chinese felts, called mosen in Japanese. According to the Nagasaki Tax Office, these thin felts were sold through the Port of Nagasaki by the Portuguese merchants in the tens of thousands until the early 1900’s. The Japanese artists worked in such detail that one can see the depiction of the shadow left where the felts overlapped. Johnson has been searching woodblock prints, hanging scrolls, and standing screens for images such as these for proof of their dated existence.

Depending on Japanese Tea school protocol the use of several mosen (now industrial felt) inside the Tea room, always in solid bright crimson or navy blue color, is measured and cut to the exact width and length of each tatami mat (approx. size of 95 cm x 191 cm.)

To date the JRT studio has produced four sets of contemporary Tea rugs. The major challenge is to calculate the shrinkage so that all the rugs in the set are exactly the dimensions of that tatami room. Because Johnson admires the natural rounded edge of a well made rug she never cuts the edges of her rugs. Size being Tea protocol, Johnson feels she must observe the proper size, especially as her versions are lightly patterned, contemporary works.

In 2019, the JRT studio received an order for a pair of mosen for a contemporary Tea room owned by an interior design firm. (image 5) It is essential to prepare all rugs in a set at the same time, as after shrinkage occurs it is hard to remember or duplicate the design. It takes several days to layout a design, another long day to roll one rug, and then another day or so, to wash, and shape the work to the exact size and proper form.

Although these Tea rugs are to be more elegant than nomadic rugs, JRT studio still uses dark brown Karakul for their base, but with a finer merino wool as the design layer. Often guests appear in kimono, so sitting on a rough felt surface is a worry as it might be too abrasive for the silk fabric. A set of rugs are something that coordinates the room with the Tea bowls, however the rugs shouldn’t over power or ever become the main attraction. The JRT studio is the only workshop making contemporary Tea carpets in Japan.

In 2011, Johnson received an invitation to join the Imperial Household Agency Nara, as an adjunct researcher. The Shōsō-in Repository they oversee holds an extraordinary collection of more than thirty mid-8th century inlay felts, referred to as kasen, once owned by Todaiji Temple as well as personal belongings to then Emperor Shōmu.

These large, elegant rugs, with floral patterns made from cut elements of partially felted wool sheet, called pre-felt, are hardly nomadic style. To take an obvious example, one such pair each have at their centers an image of a Polo Player which even for a carpet today is unusual. The Japanese hadn’t embraced the sport of Polo until the Tang Dynasty introduced it to them. This suggests that innovation and trends are not a new thing but that clients requested designs that mirrored their passions and taste, such as brocade or empirical robe embroideries, too. The kasen patterns are so complex that the artisans would have needed, out of necessity, a high walled-in workshop area to keep the wind from blowing the design away.

Johnson chose to study the interlocking flowering vine design of Kasen no.17, and in 2020, the JRT studio made three replica portion attempts. (image 6)

Kasen no.17 offered various floral patterns for her to demonstrate how the pre-felt forms were made, dyed, and cut, proving the skill of a workshop, and the probable production system of 1,300 years ago. Soft pre-felt (lambs wool) designs mixed well into the tougher wool base (adult wool) then, and the technique is still used today throughout Central Asia, and western contemporary felt makers have embraced it, too.

Johnson and her team spent much time over 8 years sampling various ambiguous aspects to replicate the rug. The studio used a modern method with masking tape to secure the many elements onto the outlined plastic sheet, as security during the initial stages. Eventually, the tape self-released as the wetted design started to entangle with the white fat-tailed breed wool base. The finished replica portion was shrunk about 10%. In Johnson’s opinion 10% is not enough shrinkage for a strong rug, but the assignment was to produce a replica that exactly illustrated the condition of Kasen no.17 which arrived in Japan around 750 CE, not one from the standards of the JRT 21st century studio.

The computer based analysis of the dye matter and the estimation as to the original brightness of the carpets varies greatly from the subdued, elegant beiges and indigos one sees today. The Tang Dynasty was open to opulence, and the commonly used dyes then did suggest brilliance of gradated color and certainly supported artistic design innovation.

In comparison, Johnson feels that from ancient to contemporary felt workshops three constants still remain today. 1. The diligence of the shepherd and wool salesman. 2. The supervision of the workshop for production and overseeing use of the materials. 3. The experience of the artisan who as the conductor of the material manipulates it into the envisioned final work.


The mid-20th century, with synthetic fiber readily penetrating the market, was in retrospect a very serious time in US textile history. Growing up in a Boston wool merchant’s household, I developed an interest in textiles and fashion and went on to study Textile Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. Three semesters and two Finnish art professors later, I ended up in Finland, where a 3-day Scandinavian felt boot-making intensive introduced me to the path I have followed ever since.

From East to West and back again, along the Silk (or Wool) Road, my research and documentation of traditional nomadic felt making practices brought me closer to an understanding of the animals, wool as a material, and the survival of humankind. All this while delving into the capabilities of the fiber in modern, contemporary “Mad” life terms.

When among nomads in Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan, I noticed how rectangular carpets lay within the circular shelter of the yurt. In industrial production, the shape of the work usually depends on such factors as the width of the reed mat, or the size of a loom, BUT truly, felt has no restrictions of form, and the color possibilities are endless.

However, freedom of shape and color-blending are only the start. The primary point I strive to feature in my work, and emphasize to students, is what the capability of the wool fiber has to prove during the migration and entanglement processes.

Presented here are felt rugs and tapestries produced by the JoiRae Textiles studio in Kyoto. Freed from the necessity of leading flocks of sheep and carrying yurts into the hills by camel-back caravan, the studio designs rugs, interior objects, fine art, and clothing with deep respect for craft and the freedom of artistic expression, not for human survival but the survival of the art of felt making, well into the 21st century.

Kyoto İncəsənət Universiteti


XX əsrin ortalarında sintetik lifin bazara asanlıqla nüfuz etməsi ABŞ-ın tekstil tarixində çox ciddi bir dövr idi. Boston yun tacirinin evində böyümüşdüm və məndə tekstil və modaya ma- raq yarandı. Rhode Island Dizayn Məktəbində Tekstil Dizaynı üzrə təhsil aldım. Üç semestr ərzində iki fin professorundan aldığım təsirlə özümü Finlandiyada tapdım. Skandinaviyada izlədiyim üç günlük keçə çəkmə istehsalı intensivliyi məni o vaxtdan bu günə qədər getdiyim yola gətirib çıxardı.

Şərqdən Qərbə və geriyə, İpək (və ya yun) Yolu boyunca, ənənəvi köçəri keçə istehsalı üsulları ilə bağlı araşdırmalarım və sənədlərim məni heyvanları, bir material olaraq yunu və bəşə- riyyətin sağ qalmasını başa düşməyə kömək etdi. Bütün bunlar müasir, “çılğın” həyat şərai- tində lifin imkanlarını araşdırarkən baş verdi.

Monqolustanda və ya Qırğızıstanda köçərilər arasında olarkən, yurdun yuvarlaq örtüyünün içərisində düzbucaqlı xalçaların necə uzadıldığını müşahidə etdim. Sənaye istehsalında işin forması adətən qamış döşəyin eni və ya dəzgahın ölçüsü kimi amillərdən asılıdır, amma həqiqətən də keçənin forma məhdudiyyəti yoxdur və rəng imkanları sonsuzdur.

Lakin forma azadlığı və rəng qarışığı yalnız başlanğıcdır. İşimdə əks etdirməyə çalışdığım və tələbələrə vurğuladığım əsas məqam odur ki, yun lifinin imkanları miqrasiya və qarışma prosesləri zamanı göstərilməlidir.

Burada Kyotoda JoiRae Tekstili tərəfindən hazırlanmış keçə xalçalar və qobelenlər nümayiş etdirilir. Qoyun sürülərinə başçılıq etmək və dəvə karvanı ilə dağlara yurd daşımaq zərurətin- dən qurtulan emalatxana XXI əsrdə keçə sənətinin yaşaması üçün sənətkarlığa və bədii ifadə azadlığına dərin hörmətlə yanaşaraq xalçalar, məişət əşyaları, təsviri incəsənət nümunələri və geyimlər yaradır.

Университет искусств Киото


Середина XX века, когда синтетическое волокно завоевало мировой рынок, была очень важным периодом в истории текстиля США. Я вырос в семье бостонских торговцев шерстью и, имея интерес к моде и текстилю, поступил на факультет дизайна текстиля Род-Айлендской школы дизайна. Через три семестра и два финских профессора искусства я оказался в Финляндии, где трехдневный интенсив по изготовлению скандинавских валенок привел меня к пути, которому я следую с тех пор. С востока на запад и обратно, вдоль Шелкового (или Шерстяного) пути, мои исследования и документирование традиционных кочевых методов изготовления войлока приблизили меня к пониманию шерсти животных как материала для выживания человечество. Все это произошло при изучении возможностей волокна в условиях современной «безумной» жизни.

Будучи среди кочевников в Монголии или Киргизии, я замечал, как внутри круглого навеса юрты лежат прямоугольные ковры. В промышленном производстве форма работы обычно зависит от таких факторов, как ширина тростникового мата или размер станка. На самом же деле, войлок не имеет ограничений по форме, а возможности цвета безграничны. Основной момент, который я стараюсь подчеркнуть в своей работе и подчеркнуть для студентов, это то, что способность шерстяного волокна должна проявляться во время процессов миграции.

Здесь представлены войлочные ковры и гобелены производства студии JoiRae Textiles в Киото.

Избавившись от необходимости водить стада овец и возить юрты в горы на караване верблюдов, мастерская создает ковры, предметы интерьера, изобразительное искусство и одежду с глубоким уважением к ремеслу и свободе художественного самовыражения – уже не для человеческого выживания, а для выживания искусства изготовления войлока в XXI веке.

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