Marked by Ancient Strings
Stanko Kostić, art photographer, in a personal endeavor worthy of praises and respect, revealed us great treasure. He followed the entire process of rug weaving, from meadows to guest rooms and ethno-museums. He was in Stapar, on the Pek and the Mlava, in Pirot and Stara Planina, in Pešter. He made an ode to rug weaving, a wreath of praises, wishing to preserve an important part of us. He initiated us to restart reading ancient symbols and dive into primordial times. Will we be so lost and not even take a look?

By: Bane Velimirović
Photo: Stanko Kostić

It has been there since the most ancient times. Among us, under us, above us. The symbolism and meaning of rugs reach back to archetypes and primordial times. We know it under different names, some sound too practical, some are poetic and ethno-cultural. Šarenica (colorful rug), guber, ponjava, prekrivač (cover). Rugs can be magical, flying, decorative, used for death shrouds. It can protect, warm, cover, ornament, announce. It can be on the floor, on the bed, on a bench or chair, on the wall. It can carry a short message as the Archai book, symbolize the world as a flower meadow and garden of God. We find it in all customs, from birth and baptizing, weddings and other celebrations, to funerals and sorrowful events. From water tanks and beehives to aristocratic homes, from brides’ rooms to ethnographic museums and ethno-restaurants. In Serbian lands, recognizable according to their characteristic manufacturing and decoration, are rugs from Pirot, Stapar, Sjenica and Pešter, Bosnia, Lika… We could write voluminous essays and comparative analyses about the rug as a motif in Serbian folk and art poetry, in fairytales and stories, even in painting, photography, music, art crafts.
Stanko Kostić’s photo-exhibition Rugs. Road of Strings, open from March 1 to 20 in the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Gallery of Science and Technology in Belgrade (Đure Jakšića 2), introduces us to that complex circle. It brings us inside in a studious, documentary and artistic manner, based on great efforts and deep understanding. This art photographer (Požarevac, 1964), member of ULUPUDS, already made us used to such significant endeavors in the field of national culture. We will mention, just as an example, his monographs and exhibitions about the sacral heritage of Serbs in present Romania, about Szentendre, Mt. Atos, mills in Serbia, ethnographic, cultural and historical heritage of Homolje and Braničevo…
Here is what the author tells us about Rugs. Road of Strings exhibition:
”… Almost all ancient nations tried to explain fate. Early Slavs mention suđenice or suđaje (personifications of destiny), supernatural beings similar to fairies, who assigned newborns their fate. Suđenice weave and break threads – threads of life. Ancient Greeks had moirai, Romans had parcae. I listened about them a lot in my grandmother’s and mother’s stories, accompanied with the harmonious melody of the old loom. Enchanted by such stories, I did not even anticipate that, with my listening and amazement, I was taking part in the magic of art creation, there, in front of me, with their imagination and their skillful hands. Yes, that was the first time I encountered art and folk artists. Through a system of inherited patterns and their own creations, they wove a story with strings, arranged them into a rug, a work of art with numerous schemes. A feeling for shape and harmony of colors, which we undoubtedly see in weavers, originates from living in nature and community. From such roots, weavers weave themselves into a rug and make it the reflection of the soul of people.
Many years later, I also began creating, noting events with illumination strings. So my first photos, later exhibitions, catalogues and books appeared. Part of those noted impressions and documents will remain in this album about rugs…”


”… I remembered one of the first researchers of Serbian proverbs, mythology and schemes, Dragutin Inkiostrije Medenjak. At the beginning of the previous century, he traveled through Serbian lands in the entire Balkans, collected several thousands of folk schemes and heard who knows how many fairytales and stories. He systematized them all and attempted, based on his many years of research, to establish the first Serbian national style in art – a recognizable decorative design of then Serbia, based on mythology, inscriptions in embroideries and schemes, on the cultural heritage of all Serbian lands in the Balkans”, tells us Stanko Kostić. ”While traveling on business through various parts of Serbia, I followed the spreading of the autochthonous species of Pramenka mountain sheep, all its subspecies, and the lowland Cigaja sheep. The genetic predisposition of their wool is to give thin, strong and long hair, which was naturally colored. It was used for spinning strings for the rug’s warp and weft. The story about rugs begins on meadows.”
Stanko Kostić has really followed the entire road of strings with his lens. We see meadows of Homolje and Pešter, shearing sheep near Petrovac on Mlava, washing wool in the Pek near Kučevo, wool spinning and knitting on a manual spinning wheel in Sjenica, wool spinning in Milatovac near Žagubica, wool coloring in Badovinci in Mačva, weaving on a loom in Klodurovo… There is also grandma’s room with rugs from the village of Rašanac, part of the loom from Ćovdin, divanhana (sofa) from Novi Pazar…
The entire complex procedure of creating a rug, beginning from ”snovanje” (preparing the basis for weaving), was expertly described by Dragan Jacanović in the accompanying text ”Rugs in Serbia. An Ancient Book”. ”It is no coincidence that the verb snovati is very close to the verb snevati (dreaming). ”Snovanje” of rugs is a great and deeply contemplative process, similar to dreaming”, he wrote. ”… With their bright colors and ornaments, playful and interlaced, rugs leave the impression that the room is on fire.”
”… Rugs were woven according to a predesigned and precisely determined plan, based on a mathematical formula. (…) Geometrical schemes are very complex in terms of name, shape and meaning. Their names (wreath, rose, mirror, devil’s knee, turtle, love, faith, hope…), as well as their stylization to a highly sophisticated symbol, indicate the subtlety of the soul of a Serbian peasant woman. Rugs carry and keep primordial symbols and messages, representing a story about the creation of the world told in a silent language. All those ‘schemes’ had a role of protecting the house and members of the household from evil eyes, invisible evil forces, evil thoughts, providing peace, quiet, harmony and prosperity.”


Jacanović continues: ”The željka (turtle) motif, as one of the most common, symbolizes long and happy life, harmony, unity of the family, fertility and knowledge. Turtles and hedgehogs, according to Serbian folk legends, can find ”raskovnik”, a herb which opens any locks. In rugs, it is reduced to an ultimately schematized geometric form. There are most often nine of them in classical rugs, which is also no coincidence. Pigeons and doves are a universal symbol of good news, happiness, joy, they represent the voice and peace of God after the Flood. One of the oldest motifs is the ”devil’s knee” or ”devil’s ring”, symbolizing the angled cross – swastika or ”turning hook” as our people call it. In the Balkan area, it appeared in the prehistoric times, in the Vinča culture from the sixth millennium B.C. The symbol represents the Big and Small Dipper, which eternally turn around the North Star, as the single unmovable and immobile point in the sky above the northern hemisphere, through which the Earth axis passes. This star was shown in rugs with a small square known as the ‘third eye’. As our people believe, it continually follows man and protects him from evil.”
This is how Dušan Milovanović, art historian, wrote in his text ”Woven Memory”, accompanying the Rugs. Road of Strings exhibition:
”Tireless worker on the Land of people and God, virtuous photographer Stanko Kostić, made a great effort to bring us joy with another almost forgotten activity of our ancestors. This time, after many deep endeavors through the past of Serbia, he undertook a very difficult task – to bring us the beauty of rug weaving, which many Serbian lands were proud of in the past. He toured everything given to him, from the far north of Bačka, eastern and almost entire central Serbia, all the way to the area of Zlatar. He collected incomprehensible treasure, languishing in bride-to-be chests, less often in guest rooms and beds; and spread them all before our eyes and hearts to show us how it used to be (very truly I tell you). How it used to be in households where there was order in all realms of life, where everyone had their place, from old men to babies in cribs. (…) Stanko Kostić made an ode to rug weaving, a wreath of praises, wishing to preserve it from oblivion and secretly hoping that perhaps such times could return – God willing.
Reaching into this, almost completely forgotten matter, could be done only by a man who stayed in it, learned all its charms, as well as everything else it carries. Of course, present day enthusiasts will imagine watching sheep in flower meadows very idyllic, accompanied with flutes and beautiful shepherdesses. We mustn’t forget, however, that there could be a thunderstorm, icy storm, that sheep could run away, that a wolf could come by… that the road from wool to a wondrous rug leads through an incredible number of actions, which someone had to perform. And yes, a good result can be expected only if love is included in everything. In this exquisite work, all that is told by Stanko, diligent collector and guardian of heritage, who multiplied and spread the talents given by God throughout the Homeland. To the glory of his people, to honor God, to take pride in it, to the joy of us, as message and offer to young people to continue following his traces – which will not be easy at all.”


Centers and Characteristics
There are several famous rug centers in Serbia. Stapar rugs in Bačka are woven with wool from Cigaja sheep. They are recognizable by the rose as the only motif on them. A rose in a flower garden, in a paradise garden, but only a rose.
In Mlava and Homolje, there are flowers as well as many other motifs on rugs: swan, deer, pigeon, fawn, peacock, even lion. A separate type of rugs are those with Christian motifs and narratives from the Bible.
Pirot rug, enlisted as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Serbia, is famous for not having a reverse side. It has two identical faces. Up to now, its 95 patterns and 122 other elements were separated and described. The wool is from a Pirot type Pramenka species, from Stara Planina mountain.
Rug weaving in Sjenica and Pešter is also known for its excellent manufacture, also with two identical faces, while the wool is from the Sjenica sheep, authentic local species.


Symbols and Meanings
”Schemes on Serbian rugs originate from the oldest times and are not just a simple ornament. (…) Sofra is a complex geometric motif, created with skillfully composed rhombuses in various colors, with a double axe in their center – ancient symbol of creation and destruction. Sofra represents the altar, the holiest part of any Christian church. A common central motif on rugs is a stanchion or stanchions, specifically profiled pillar symbolizing the axis of the world, spiritual and physical connection between the earth and heavens. One of the oldest symbols is a tree (tree of life). It depicts the spiritual and physical connection between the underworld, earthly world, and heavenly world, symbolizing their unbreakable unity. Tree and stanchion motifs are often complemented with pigeons and doves on their sides.” (Dragan Jacanović)


”Similar to schemes on rugs, we can follow the primordial story told in the language of symbols from luxurious interlaces preserved on ceramics of the Vinča, Kostolac, Dubovačko-Žutobrdska and Tribal cultures, mathematically and geometrically calculated mosaics of Sirmium, Mediana, Felix Romuliana, Empress’ City, to motifs on frescoes in Dečani, Sopoćani, Kalenić… We find similar schemes on wall canvases of the Smederevo City, Lazarica, Ravanica, Manasija, Kalenić, made on large surfaces with brick and stone.” (Dragan Jacanović)

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