The exhibit focuses on the geographic area defined by the Silk Road, a trade and communications network that extended on land from China to Constantinople (now Istanbul) beginning in the first century BCE. Using materials obtained from their flocks and plants, women in cultures along the Silk Road have traditionally woven beautiful saddle rugs, first on portable looms in tents, later on larger looms in village houses, and finally in city workshops and factories.
Saddle covers make sitting on saddles for long periods more comfortable for equestrians. Horse covers help to keep the animals warm and protect their backs from the saddles. The exhibit explores these and other surprising ways saddle rugs function, including in ceremonies and sports.
Ella Douglas, a senior anthropology major at Wake Forest University, worked with museum director Stephen Whittington last spring to plan “Weaving along the Silk Road.” She researched saddle rugs and the cultures that have used them, located photographs of saddle rugs in use, wrote drafts of text and labels, and helped to develop the exhibit’s layout.
The exhibit features weavings and saddles from Turkmen tribal groups in Turkey and Afghanistan, Persian villages and cities, Tibet, and China, all drawn from Nicolas Salgo’s collection of saddle rugs, amassed from the 1940s through the end of the 20th century. The Salgo Trust for Education donated the rugs to the Museum of Anthropology in 2011. The late Nicolas Salgo was U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and Ambassador-at-Large during the 1980s.