A peculiar custom in America is to include Oriental carpets in the sales of Colonial furniture, ceramics and silverware. Such carpets are also displayed over tables and on floors in the Early American period, in places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Does this mean that Oriental carpets and American antiques go together like bread and cheese?
''Oriental carpets have been an integral part of the material culture of the West for 600 years,'' said Walter B. Denny, an art historian at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Turkish carpets ''have been an essential part of the American interior since the 19th century,'' he also said. As an authority on Islamic and Turkish art, he was the guest curator of ''The Classical Tradition in Anatolian Carpets,'' an exhibition at the Textile Museum in Washington from Sept. 13 through Feb. 16 in 2002.
The show featured 50 colorful Turkish carpets, prayer rugs and cushion covers from the 14th through to the 19th century. Many accumulated by George Hewitt Myers, an heir to the Bristol-Myers Squibb company fortune who founded the museum in 1925. The London publisher Scala has brought out an illustrated catalog with text by Denny, who explored the classical design sources that inspired Anatolian carpet weavers.
''By classical, I mean carpet designs that have never gone out of style and that have continued to appear in Anatolian rugs over the centuries, sometimes in their original forms and sometimes in designs that have gradually mutated,'' Mr. Denny said.
There were carpet-weavers in ancient Egypt, Persia, Syria and the Caucasus, but the earliest carpet to survive was from Anatolia, the Asiatic portion of modern Turkey. In 1071 Turkic tribes invaded Anatolia from Central Asia, the women of these tribes had a tradition of weaving distinct woolen nomadic carpets. These knotted pile carpets were immensely varied in technique, design, symbolism and function, and they attracted attention. When Marco Polo was in Anatolia in 1271, for example, he said the best carpets in the world were woven there. Early travellers from France also praised them. Soon they were being exported.