P. R. J. “Jim” Ford’s The Persian Carpet Tradition, from Hali Publications, is the winner of TSA’s R. L. Shep Award for the best book published in 2019 in the field of ethnic textile studies. Ford’s lifelong engagement with his subject dates back to 1967, when he joined London-based OCM (Oriental Carpet Manufacturers) as an export salesman. His 1981 book Oriental Carpet Design remains a highly regarded standard reference, but Ford found that writing about twentieth century production in Iran only served to stimulate his curiosity about the fifteenth century origins of the most important designs. He began research for the current book in 2013 after his retirement from the carpet trade, setting out to examine some 100 carpets and fragments surviving from that early period as well as relevant manuscripts and miniature paintings in collections around the world.
In the preface of the book, the author draws the reader in with a brilliant analysis that brings to life a painting produced in 1494 in Herat (presently in Afghanistan, but at the time the leading metropole of eastern Persia). Now in the British Library, the painting portrays a scene from the court of Sultan Husayn Baykara with figures seated on two carpets. Ford describes how these carpets, with their overall abstract patterns, were depicted by the artist to represent “tradition” at the very moment in history when that tradition was on the verge of being swept away by a design “revolution” that would replace them with the carpets with central medallions surrounded by floral motifs that we consider the “traditional” Persian carpet today.
Subtitled Six Centuries of Design Evolution, the book goes on to gloriously detail those classic medallion carpets with the kind of beautifully produced illustrations that we have come to expect from Hali. The chapters follow the design revolution as it spread through place and time, showing one spectacular example after another. The study of Persian carpets has sometimes appeared in less accomplished hands to be a dauntingly specialized field, full of unfamiliar terms and little-known historical events, but here the glory of the art will thrill any admirer of textiles while at the same time the scholarship is always of the highest caliber. Ford takes us on a journey into the world that produced these masterpieces. TSA congratulates him for this magnificent contribution to our field.
Roy W. Hamilton, 2020 Chair
TSA Book Award Committee