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Visual Arts  


Kilims - Turkish Flat Woven Tapetries
By Robin Wander
Sep 5, 2011, 23:02 PST



Kilim, 18th–19th century Turkey, Anatolia Wool; slit tapestry weave 335.3 x 180.3 cm (132 x 71 in.) The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Collection Gift of Caroline McCoy-Jones

Kilim are flat woven tapestries, often used as rugs, that were designed during the 15th-19th centuries in the area that is now known as Turkey. According to the de Young Museum, the Kilim are "woven in the slit-tapestry technique, primarily from the wools of sheep, goats or camels. These works obtained their rich, earthy hues from natural dyes derived from locally harvested sources (with the exception of indigo, which is imported). The kilims are characterized by bold abstract designs that have been translated as symbolic renderings of architectural, human, animal and floral motifs, some of which trace back to Neolithic times. "

Textile lovers in the San Francisco area are fortunate that a world-class collection of two dozen of the finest Anatolian kilims were gifted to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by Caroline McCoy-Jones. Caroline and H. McCoy Jones have generously donated more than 800 textile works to the museum. The importance of these collectors is paramount in the textile arts community and The Art of the Anatolian Kilim is a celebration of their gift. Curator Jill D’Alessandro explains,

“The first presentation of works from this collection in 1990 signified a breakthrough in the appreciation of this weaving tradition. Not only was it the first time a Western museum had mounted a major exhibition dedicated to Anatolian kilims, but it was also the first time that kilims of this age, rarity and fragility were seen by the public; subsequently, the Anatolian kilim entered into the pantheon of the textile arts. With more than 20 years passing since this important collection made its public debut, many visitors, scholars and textile enthusiasts will be able to enjoy and study them for the first time.”

Presented in the textile arts gallery at the de Young September 10, 2011 through June 10, 2012, the pre-19th-century Anatolian flat-woven kilims on view include a variety of design types, regional styles, as well as superb examples of artistic and visual prowess. The kilims in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection are considered the most important group of Anatolian kilims outside Turkey.



Kilims were not only created for personal use but also serve as an expression of group identity, a representation of wealth and a source of currency. Over the centuries and up to modern times, both technique and design have been passed down from generation to generation of Anatolian women. Traditionally, they were used as floor and table coverings, room dividers, door flaps, prayer rugs and burial cloths. Many were given to local mosques to be used as floor coverings—layered one on top of another, they lent warmth and comfort. The kilim was also an important part of a bride’s dowry.

D’Alessandro explains, “These surviving examples, in their fragmented states, show the passage of time. Although structural disintegration has interrupted the design field on some of these pieces, their colors remain deeply saturated and their patterns simple and powerful.”

Kilim, 18th century Turkey, Anatolia Wool, cotton; slit tapestry weave 142.2 x 350.5 cm (56 x 138 in.) The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Collection Gift of Caroline McCoy-Jones

Exhibit Info:

Presented in the textile arts gallery at the de Young Museum from September 10, 2011 through June 10, 2012


Related Programs

Thursday, September 1, 1 pm
de Young Museum, Koret Auditorium
Curator Lecture: Anatolian Archetypes: The McCoy Jones Kilim Collection, Jill D’Alessandro, Curator of Costume and Textile Arts, FAMSF
Free and open to the public.

Saturday, October 15, 10 am
de Young Museum, Koret Auditorium
Textile Arts Council Lecture: Discontinuous Wefts: The Brilliance and Beauty of Anatolian Kilims, Cathryn Cootner, Textile Curator Emeritus, FAMSF
Free and open to the public.


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