A pile of vintage and antique rugs including Sarouk Persian rugs waiting to be re-worked at a workshop on central Turkey
American Sarouk Rugs
Sarouk carpets are arguable the most recognized vintage and antique Persian rugs in the American market. Famous for their intricate curvilinear floral design and bold colors, often deep red and blue fields of color. Rug cleaners see these in abundant numbers of antique sarouk rugs woven between 1900 and 1950s, many still in use for over a hundred years.
The name Sarouk is familiar with rug dealers and cleaners worldwide. Sarouk or Saruq, its spelling varies, is located in the Farahan (Sultanabad) district of western Iran, some 15-20 miles north of the principal city of Arak. Even today, Sarouk is a small town; in a 2006 census, its population was only 2,189 still weaves carpets in Iran.
How did such a small town become well-known in the western rug market and supply many rugs to American and European homes? In contrast to much larger rug weaving cities such as Tabriz with 1.5 million people, Kerman with 821,000, and Kashan with 433,000, such a small city to be such a big player in the emerging global rug market or was it?
By the late 19th century, demand for hand-woven rugs exceeded the large weaving center of Tabriz. Forced companies to seek weavers south of Tabriz, the Hamadan, and Sultanabad, known today as Arak today. It's important to state that in Iran, weaving is part of their culture and more so a hundred years ago. In the new towns these companies explored, they found skilled, experienced weavers ready to weave their sarouk rugs.
Farahan Sarouk Carpets
The town of sarouk wasn't the only town weaving Sarouk rugs. The first clue is in the name Farahan, the district where Sarouk and two other cities reside in the district Farmahin, Khenejin. These villages and more wove Farahan Sarouk rugs at the turn of the century to feed the western exporter's insatiable demand for rugs. Sarouk, in name, became a trade term for a type of rug and not just a source town for sounding villages in Arak and Hamadan.
Sarouk weaving outside of Arak is wildly evident when Mohajeran Sarouks rugs entered the market around the turn of the 20th century. Mohajaran is in the neighboring district of Hamadan. Hamadan is both a town and district neighboring Arak( sultanabad). The village of Mohajeran is closer to the city of Hamadan than the town of Sarouk. Color design and weave are that of Sarouk, but the rugs geographically are not. Yet the term Mohajaran Sarouk stuck even though the term is outdated and inaccurate to the geographic location of the two towns. This isn't unique or unusual in the rug world.
Jozan Sarouk (Jowzan)
Like Mohajeran, Jozan rugs, or Jowzan, as it's sometimes spelled, look like Sarouok rugs but are made outside the area we associate with Sarouk rugs. It's important to note that Jozan rugs have structural, color, and slight design differences that often separate Jozan from sarouks carpets.
Painted Sarouk or American Sarouk.
By the late '20s, Americans' taste favored deeper Laquer red in their rugs. This was at odds with the brick madder red found in sarouks and the dye purity laws for 1920-30's Iran that forbid synthetic dyes.
The workaround was by painting the red fields with dye to make them deep red and ushering in the age of the painted sarouk. While this was most common in sarouks other rugs, particularly from the Hamadan district, were painted as well Lilihan and dergazine rugs were pained in significant numbers in late 1920- 30
By the 1950s taste and changes in demand for wall-to-wall carpets started taking a bigger bite out of oriental rugs sales. Combined with radical economic shifts in Oil-rich Iran, the 1950s ushered in decline in sarouk carpets. Design, weave quality, and dyes suffered; they never recaptured the magic of the early production sarouks from the late 19th to 1930s.
In the late 1990s decent sarouk copies were made in Inda, but even these failed to capture the feeling of folk art that real Persian sarouk rugs have.
The floral red and blue colors are no longer desirable to American rug buyers; many once expensive rugs are now inexpensive.
Classic Persian sarouk rugs and other vintage and antique rugs are falling victim to a new trend. These once incredible rugs are sold off at a steep discount and shipped to places like Turkey, where they are reworked.
Overdyed with grey and pale blue or cut into squares and sold as patchwork rugs. What heavy use and time couldn't do to quality hand-woven rugs, consumer tastes, and color trend forecasting did.
I imagine that at some point, people will lament the loss of so many classic Persian rugs.
Today, most consumers care about color, size, and price and not anything about the people that weave rugs. Designs are contemporary. The rich design history and symbolism of the Persian carpet and traditions are dismissed and largely irrelevant in the psyche of the American rug buyer.
Pile sheared and burnt off, colors bleached out, and a whole Frankenstein industry has cropped up to make them into new decorative rugs.
A generation of classic Persian and Turkish rug weaving from 1900-1990s is disappearing. Rugs that lasted nearly a century are being turned into rugs that, in many cases, may last a few years.
A vintage Turkish rug being