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Woven Treasures on Display at the John Waldron

George Malacinski has been collecting carpets and woven materials from Central Eurasia for a while now.  “This piece is probably only about fifty years old,” he said at a recent showing of his “Woven Treasures” exhibit at the Ivy Tech Community College’s John Waldron Art Gallery, as he gestured at a carpet on the wall, “which I know because I’ve had it twenty-five years, and when I purchased it, it had a bit of wear as well.”  The carpet, bright red with a pale yellow border and cerulean shades of blue, does show some signs of aging; it would nonetheless make a welcome and warming addition to any living room.

The current exhibition of Malacinski’s collection at the John Waldron was put together under the auspices of the 2011 Lotus World Music and Arts Festival and with support from the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, as well as Ivy Tech and the IU Emeriti House.  Filling two large rooms on the gallery’s ground floor, the collected textiles offer a rare glimpse of a truly wide array of colors, designs, and patterns put to use by peoples from across the Anatolian peninsula, the Caucasus, and in Central Asia.  Malacinski’s collection runs the gamut from the expected –carpets, wall hangings– to the surprising –tent bands, woven saddle bags– and the exhibit provides a broad view on the folk-art traditions developed over centuries by the many peoples of Eurasia.

As part of a personal collection, “Woven Treasures” reflects Malacinski’s own collecting philosophy and preferences.  In part, he sees a great deal of value in simplicity: “I like patterns that are easy to understand – that jump right out at you.”  This tends to lead him in search of designs and materials created for rural environments and uses.  “If we have a rug woven, let’s say in a city factory,” he suggests, “it would be so complex, with so many curves, so many motifs, that you would start to frown just trying to figure it out!”  Look at a rug woven in the countryside, or by nomads, Malacinski argues, and “your first impulse is to smile, and not to frown.”

One of the most striking pieces in the collection, a woven and embroidered saddlebag, draws a group of exhibit visitors, and Malacinski takes the opportunity to point out that even the underside of the bag –the part that no one would see– is covered in fine designs.  He points out that embroidery, and weaving in general, were and are very valuable skills amongst nomadic peoples.  In case of a drought, resources are depleted, and a group’s survival may depend on its ability to sell textiles to sedentary populations for goods.  The underside of a saddlebag, then, is the perfect place to practice one’s talents.

The materials on display at “Woven Treasures” span a geographical enormity: from Western Turkey to Turkmenistan, and from the Caucasus mountains to Eastern Kazakhstan.  Across this vast space, however, one can see Malicinski’s consistent hand, and philosophy, at work: colors are bright, and warm, throughout, and there is almost nothing that could lead a visitor to frown.

Woven Treasures ran at the John Waldron Art Gallery from September 2 to 30.  For more information, please visit the Lotus Festival’s website at at http://www.lotusfest.org.