Persian Carpets

Book Review
Title: The Root of the Wild Madder
Author: Brian Murphy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2005

There are plenty of dry histories of Persian carpet making, and sterile picture books of Persian carpets, but too often they fail to do justice to their topic. That’s not a surprising problem for anyone trying to unravel an ancient art form that has survived millennia. No book can truly capture the essence, for example, of a Persian Carpet made by hand by a family in a remote village hundreds of years ago. But Brian Murphy’s book The Root of the Wild Madder comes as close as you’re likely to get in an English language account.

Persian carpets have inspired the imagination of people around the world for 2500 years. Their origins are shrouded in the creative mists of an ancient people. Their descendants today speak of the interplay between the carpets’ sacred and artistic language with Persian poetry and spirituality. A carpet is a sacred medium that gives a glimpse into those creative mists of many centuries past. At the very least, the carpets represent a deep cultural labyrinth using exquisite aesthetic organizing principles that are unique. Carpets have a rich and textured history to match their rich and textured ingredients.

In this book, the author set out on a journey across Iran to discover the beauty of Persian Carpets, to learn more about the history of carpet-making from the people most intimate with it, and to meet people who today still make carpets by hand, stirring the dye, weaving one knot at a time.

The book is nonfiction, every word is a literal account of the author’s travels, encounters, observations, and experiences, but written in an artistic novelistic form that is hard to put down.

The book gives you an exciting travelogue. You meet fascinating carpet makers and traders. Friends of the author take him to the edge of the world where nothing has changed in a thousand years. Back in the cities, you’ll wander through mazes of carpet bazaars, where secret deals are made in back alleys between savvy merchants. You’ll have tea with village families crouched around a loom weaving carpets while discussing philosophy. You will discover fields of wild madder, whose root produces the famous Persian red dye, under two-ton stone grinding wheels.

The book highlights the blending of the art of carpets with the art of ancient poets such as Hafez, and spiritual insights into the meaning behind the art. It also explains interesting technical facts, such as the importance of knots per square inch, debates on chemical versus natural dyes, the abrash of varying hues, the warp and weft of wool thread versus cotton, inside look at wholesale and retail channels, even economic and political history of the carpet industry.

The book covers every angle of the Persian Carpet phenomenon, mostly through conversations with a compelling cast of characters met throughout the back rooms, cities, villages, and countryside of Iran. The author takes a lot of risks, with some personal danger, on his journey. He has done his research and brings a wealth of knowledge to inform his experiences throughout his travels. Perhaps most important, he is open to new exposures, which he generously shares as they change his outlook in many ways. You won’t want the book to end. But when it does, you are left with a gift: a new appreciation for this unique practical art form and its culture. I highly recommend Brian Murphy’s magical immersion into a lost civilization through its mystical art of handmade carpets.

Related Topic: How Persian Carpets are an example of Japanese concepts of beauty, Wabi Sabi.
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