The town of Oushak has the longest continuous history of carpet weaving of any Eastern centre, from at least the mid-15th century until now.Always a source of commercial carpets, it has never had a court or imperial workshop.This is not to say that Oushaks have not ended up in the most rareified contexts: Ottoman palaces ,noble houses and the residences of wealthy Americans.Its commercial nature has meant that styles ,sizes ,formats,weaves and colours have changed radically over time ,mutating according to the everchanging demands of fashion.
Many of the earliest rugs are small with close overall patterns, the “Holbein” and “Lotto” rugs, depicted in paintings by European artists of the 15th- 17th centuries . Also early , but somewhat larger are the red ground carpets displaying large star medallions :”Star” Oushaks.Still larger and produced from the late 15th to the late 18th centuries are the medallion carpets with one or several round to hexagonal central motives.These run over 30 ft. long and were particularly popular in Europe.In the late 18th and most of the 19th century ,production expanded to the western port city of Smyrna with overall patterns in coarse but colorful carpets, often of enormous size, for the western export market.
The decorative Oushak as currently understood is a late 19th century creation of the Smyrna rug traders,mostly European,some Greeks.They required inexpensive carpets attuned to western tastes.Persian styles were in vogue .To compete, the carpets had to share many Persian design aspects, but still have their own character.
These Oushaks are probably most striking for their unique colours,tones that no other rug group employs.Predominantly light palettes feature fields in peach,apricot,shrimp,lime and pale green,buff,salmon and light blue.For example,a salmon field may be paired with a lime border.These idiosyncratic combinations are much sought after by modern decorators.
Designs are spacious,large and quirky.The close attention to detail of Persian rugs is avoided in Oushaks.Although palmettes,rosettes,flowers,vines and medallions figure in Oushaks,they float and move irregularly.Overall patterns are in the majority.Motives and details are stylized and geometric.Often one end of the carpet is different or differently placed from the other .The boldness of pattern gives the carpet a largeness beyond the actual dimensions.
The weave is thick and coarse,with a flat lying pile.Often a shiny pile of angora goat is employed, further lightening the colours and giving it a different look depending on the viewer’s position.The Turkish (symmetric) knot is universal and the foundation is generally wool.
The dyes may be natural,but the use of synthetics,so inimical to Caucasian and Persian weaving,simply adds more radical and unique tones to the Oushak palette.
Sizes run anywhere from 6’x8’ to 9’x12’,and then generally the larger scale carpets could be found in 14’x20’ to 16’x25’ sizes.The long pile gives good wear despite the loose weave.These rugs were originally low-priced.Today the better examples attain levels consonant with their extremely ingenious and naïve designs, mellow colours and unusual tonal combinations.Consequently these carpets work well with virtually any decorative scheme,including the most modern.