George O’Bannon


It saddens all of us to tell you that one of the great oriental rug specialists has gone to Heaven. We shall remember his friendship, passion for life and many accomplishments.

George W. O’Bannon, oriental rug scholar whose writings on the textiles, costumes and people of Central Asia inspired a generation of enthusiasts of tribal arts, died in Tucson, Arizona on October 2, 2000. He was 64. The cause was lymphoma.

George’s first love, developed while still a youngster growing up in Artesia, New Mexico, was gardening and horticulture. He frequently credited his early interest in plants and taxonomy for his ability to see connections in the myriad combinations of patterns and designs in oriental carpets, particularly those of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. Until the time of his death, George remained an avid gardener.

After serving in the navy in the 1950s, George studied Political Science at Cornell and earned a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Stanford. While studying in California. He met his wife, Helen Bohen, a graduate student in economics. Shortly after their marriage in 1962, the couple relocated to Washington, D.C., where George worked for the Department of Agriculture and the American Friends of the Middle East. In 1965, he was appointed Assistant Director of the Peace Corps in Afghanistan where he began his lifelong study of carpets and Central Asian culture. “Carpets seemed like the only things that had any value in Afghanistan,” he said on several occasions. In time, though, George developed an appreciation for all aspects of the culture of the region that he came to love and write about so passionately.

In 1968, George and Helen returned to the United States where George took a position with the department of foreign studies at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1971, George organized an exchange program between Pitt and the University of Kabul, Afghanistan with funding from the Fulbright Foundation. He remained Director of the program until 1975 when he went into business for himself. That year, he opened O’Bannon Oriental Carpets in Pittsburgh, at about the same time, he published his first book, The Turkoman Carpet, a seminal work in its field.

In 1979, the O’Bannon family moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when Helen, despite being a Democrat, was named Secretary of Welfare for the state under Governor Thornburgh. In those years, George commuted frequently to Pittsburgh to run his business while continuing his studies and scholarship in tribal arts. In 1983, after Helen was named Senior Vice President at the University of Pennsylvania, the family again relocated to Philadelphia. Shortly after moving to Philadelphia, George sold his business in Pittsburgh and opened a gallery in Philadelphia specializing in textiles and Central Asian art.

After his wife’s death of cancer in 1988, George closed the gallery and concentrated on his career as writer, guest curator and speaker on oriental rugs. From 1987 to 1991, he served as the Editor of the Oriental Rug Review, the only American magazine reporting exclusively on rug and textile art.

In 1993, George O’Bannon retired to Tucson where he wrote and spoke extensively on textiles and returned to his hobby of gardening. In Arizona, his love for the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert was rekindled. During his years in Tucson, he argued for the preservation of wildflowers and clashed with those who, he thought, wished to sanitize the desert. He also led frequent study trips to Central Asia and the Far East. Trips to India, Indonesia, Turkey Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan occupied much of his time. George also shared his love for textiles with southwesterners: in 1998 he served as curator for “Tribal and Village Rugs from Arizona Collections,” a part of the “Tucson Collects” series of exhibitions at the Tucson Museum of Art.

In 1996 George realized a long held dream by co-editing the first English translation of Carpets of the People of Central Asia, by famed Russian ethnographer of the 1920s, Valentina Moshkova. In 1998, he organized the award-winning exhibition, “From Desert to Oasis: Arts of the People in Central Asia,” at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia. At the time of his death, George had recently finished editing two works on the carpets of Kyrgyzstan.

In addition to his numerous written and edited volumes, George was co-founder of the Pittsburgh Rug Society and the Arizona Oriental Rug and Textile Association. For his scholarship and stewardship in Islamic textiles, George was the 1993 recipient of the Joseph V. McMullen award given by the Near Eastern Art Research Center. He leaves a legacy as a brilliant and talented man, whose many accomplishments include horticulture, photography, dancing and cooking. His quick wit and exceptional intellect endeared him to many: to be fair, others found his honesty abrasive.

George O’Bannon is survived by his four sons and three daughters-in-law, Patrick and Pia Deinhardt of Philadelphia, Colin of Columbus, Ohio, Sean and Nancy of Boca Raton, Florida and Casey and Susan of Philadelphia; two grandchildren; and his longtime companion Arlene Cooper of Manhattan.

The family requests that those who wish to make memorial donations direct them to the Textile Department of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, to which George recently bequeathed a substantial portion of his collection of Central Asian textiles and costumes.

Donations can be sent to the:
George W. O’Bannon Memorial Fund,
c/o Niloo Paydar, Textile Department Curator,
Indianapolis Museum of Art,
1200 West 38th St.,
Indianapolis, IN 46208-4196.

Here is a selected annotated bibliography of George’s writings that was distributed at the Textile Museum show dedicated to him, From the Amu Darya to the Potomac. It was prepared and kindly provided to us by Claudia Brittenham and Richard Isaacson.

1974 The Turkoman Carpet. Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd, London. An early book with emphasis on more recent Afghan production.

1975 Oriental Rugs from Western Pennsylvania Collections. Westmoeland County Museum of Art, Greensburg.

Exhibition catalog of 19th century rugs from Pennsylvania collectors, exhibited by the Pittsburgh Rug Society.

1979 Kazakh and Uzbek Rugs from Afghanistan. George W. O’Bannon, Pittsburgh.
1986 Woven Treasure. The Squibb Gallery, Princeton, New Jersey.

Princeton Rug Society exhibition catalog.
1987 Tülü: Traditional 20th Century Pelt-like Rugs from Central Anatolia. George W. O’Bannon Gallery, Philadelphia.

A small booklet on these 20th century primitive rugs from Central Anatolia.

1990 Vanishing Jewels: Central Asian Tribal Weavings. Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester.A catalog of Marvin Amstey’s collection with good introductory essays on the peoples of Central Asia and their culture.

1990 Princeton, anyone? Tibetan Tiger Rugs. The Gallery at Bachelor’s Hall, Philadelphia.

1993 The Gallery at Bachelor’s Hall Presents Pieces de la Resistance: Afghanistan’s War Rugs. The Gallery at Bachelor’s Hall, Philadelphia.

1994 Tribal Treasures: Carpets and Jewelry from Central Asia. Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut.
A short introduction to the museum exhibition.

1994 Oriental Rugs. A Bibliography. Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, New Jersey and London. An essential reference work. This is the first comprehensive bibliography written in English on the oriental rug and carpet literature, beginning with the first publication on oriental rugs in 1877 and including all known publications in any language published through 1992.

1995 Oriental Rugs: The Collector’s Guide to
Selecting, Identifying and Enjoying New and Antique Oriental Rugs. Courage Books, Philadelphia and London. A good survey of rugs for the beginning collector. Most of the rugs are late 19th-early 20th centuries, village or tribal.

1996 Moshkova, V. G. Carpets of the People of Central Asia of the Late XIX and XX Centuries. Edited and translated by George W. O’Bannon and Ovadan K. Anamova-Olsen. George W. O’Bannon, Tucson. A translation of Moshkova’s field research, with editorial commentary and updates on recent advances by O’Bannon. Strong on non-Turkmen Central Asian rugs. A very important reference for the serious student.

1997 From Desert and Oasis: Arts of the People of Central Asia. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens. An exhibition catalog largely drawn from the collection of Tamor and Elaine Shah. It covers 20th century Uzbek and Kyrgyz weavings.

1998 Tribal and Village Rugs from Arizona Collections. Arizona Oriental Rug and Textile Association, Tucson. Exhibition catalogue for the 1998 AORTA convention. About twenty percent of the examples are Turkmen, twenty percent Baluch.

2000 The Kyrgyz Carpet. Edited by George W. O’Bannon and Ovadan Anamova. Two volumes. George W. O’Bannon, Tucson.
This is O’Bannon’s last editorial work, a translation of three important works on the Kyrgyz. Two articles are by Klaudia Antipina (“Characteristics of the Material Culture and Applied Art of the Southern Kyrgyz”,

“The Decorative Arts of the Kyrgyz”) and one by Beresneva (“The Kyrgyz Carpet Collection in the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow”). Also included are O’Bannon’s commentaries and short essays on Kyrgyz weavings. This is an essential book for Kyrgyz textiles.

1977 Saltiq Ersari Carpet, Afghanistan Journal, Jg. 4, Heft 3.
1978 Twentieth-Century Ersari Rugs; Baluchi Rugs. Yörük: The Nomadic Weaving Tradition of the Middle East. Anthony N. Landreau (editor). Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.
1979 Towards an Understanding of Nomadism and Nomadic Rugs, Hali, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 40-42.
1981 Three Beshir Weavings, Hali, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 29-30.
1982 Baluch Rugs from Afghanistan 1. Taimani rugs, Hali, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 352-356.
1982 Baluch Rugs from Afghanistan 2. Aksi rugs, Hali, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 127-130.
1985 Diamonds in the Dark: Rugs of the Mushwani Tribe of Northern Afghanistan, Hali, Issue 25, pp. 8-12.
1988 Dated Prayer Rugs from Afghanistan, Afghanistan Studies Journal.
1989 Oriental Rugs, Artful Floor Covering or Art?, Art and Antiques, vol. 6, no. 4.
1989 Persistent Patterns, Art and Antiques, vol. 6, no. 7.
1996 Roads to Confusion, Hali, Issue 89, pp. 74-75.
1997 Donald N. Wilber, Hali, Issue 92, p. 69.
1997 Chaykhane, Ghereh, Issue 11, pp. 102-105.
1999 Turkmen Rugs: a guide to aesthetics, Ghereh, Issue 19, pp. 7-19.
1999 Nine Saryk: a selection of Turkmen Weavings, Ghereh, Issue 21, pp. 21-29.
2000 Uzbek Rugs: history and tradition, Ghereh, Issue 26, pp. 9-25.

Contributions to Oriental Rug Review
George O’Bannon was editor of Oriental Rug Review magazine from 1987 to 1991. Some articles are available on-line at the URL
1982 Turkoman Prayer Rugs, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 1-5.
1982 Turkoman Prayer Rugs II, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 2-4.
1983 The Peace Corps and the Making of a Rug Dealer, Part I, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 10-12.1983 The Peace Corps and the Making of a Rug Dealer, Part II, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 6-8.
1983 The Peace Corps and the Making of a Rug Dealer, Part III, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 10-11.
1983 A Group of Rugs Attributed to Shisha, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 2-3.
1985 U. S. Auction Houses: A Consideration, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 160-161.
1985 Mafrash, vol. 5, n. 9, pp. 386-389.
1986 A Collector on Collecting, Interview with Fred Boschan, vol. 6, no. 8, pp. 195-196.
1987 Tulu, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 2-3.
1987 Three from Turkestan, with Paul Mushak, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 8-15.
1987 Carpet Making in India-1907, vol. 8, no. 1, p. 33.
1988 The Saryq Main Carpet, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 7-13.
1988 The Rugs of Amos Bateman Thatcher, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 22-26.
1988 The Grand Gesture, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 6-14.
1988 The Collector: A Conversation with Russell Fling, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 22-26.
1988 The Jerrehian Mamluk Rug, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 33-34.
1988 Oriental Rug Ephemera, vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 6-10.
1988 The Liberty Textile Collection, vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 33-34.
1988 Donkeybags: Shedding Some Light, vol. 8, no. 5, p. 51.
1988 And Now, A Bird Asmalyk, vol. 8, no. 6, p. 9.
1988-89 Yacub Khani and Dokhtar-I-Ghazi Baluch Rugs, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 17-20

1988-89 Near the Rio Arriba in August, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 23-25.
1988-89 A Baluch Bibliography, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 26-29.
1989 Olana: Victoriana Preserved, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 6-11.
1989 A Conversation with Charles Grant Ellis, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 44-49; vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 54-58.
1989 A Conversation with Ivory Freidus, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 30-33.
1989 Why Not Collect Tibetan Rugs, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 62-64.
1989 A Tibetan Rug Primer for the Uninitiated, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 74-75.
1989 The Rugs at Glencairn, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 14-18.
1989 When Something is Not Right, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 64-65.
1989-90 Max and Simon’s Thing: The Museum for Textiles, Toronto, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 6-11.
1989-90 The Impact of Oriental Rug Books on Navajo Rug Design, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 18-21.
1990 Bogolubov and the Karakalpak Attribution, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 6-11.
1990 The Carpet Collection of the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 28-32.
1990 A Group of Rugs Attributed to Shusha, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 12-15.
1990 Caucasian Rug Nomenclature and Structure, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 40-41.
1990 A Visit to Ayvacik, vol. 10, n. 6, pp. 6-9.
1991 Weftless Soumak Bags From Eastern Anatolia, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 10-14.
1991 Donald N. Wilber: A Tribute, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 32-33.
1991 Rugs of East Turkestan: Khotan, Yarkand or Kashgar?, vol. 11, no. 6, pp. 16-23.
1991 Ivory Ground Flower & Lattice Shirvan Prayer Rugs: Good, Better, Best, vol. 11, no. 6, pp. 62-64.
1993 Charlie’s Archive, vol. 13, No. 3, p. 21.
1993 Tekke Turkoman Juvals: Cautionary Comments, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 54-56.
1994 A White Central Asian Asmalyk of a Rare Type, vol. 14, no. 5, pp. 12-18.
1995 Vegetal Dyed Tibetan Rugs Revisited in Nepal, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 12-13.
1995 The Karakalpak Rug Collection of the Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, by L.G. Beresneva and A. S. Teselkin with a commentary by George O’Bannon, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 12-22.
1996 The Rug and Textile Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 31-32.
1996 Boucher Collection Goes to Indianapolis Museum of Art, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 33-34.
1997 Carpet Collections in Central Asia, vol. 17, no. 2.

Reviews of Books, Exhibitions, Conferences and Auctions
1982 A Beginner’s Rug Book Survey, vol. 2, no. 6, p. 14, 32.
1983 Armenian Rug Symposium, vol. 2, no. 7, p. 24.
1983 Review of The Birth Symbol in Traditional Women’s Art from Eurasia and the Western Pacific, vol. 2, no. 11, pp. 8-10.
1984 Review of The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan by Thomas J. Barfield, vol. 3, no. 6, pp. 24-26.
1984 Kurdish Auction Retrospective, vol. 3, no. 10, pp. 445-446.
1984 Retrospective on Baluch Rugs, Auction Report, vol. 3, no. 11, pp. 489-490.
1984 Rug Auction Retrospective: Tracing the Tekke Main Carpet, Auction Report, vol. 3, no. 12, pp. 533-534.
1984 Southwestern Textiles Symposium, vol. 4, no. 3, p. 118.
1985 Rug Book Nuggets, vol. 4, no. 11, pp. 453-454.
1985 The Silent Language of Guatemalan Textiles, exhibition review, vol. 4, no. 11, pp. 446-447.
1985 Review of Islamic Emroideries by Peter Bausback, vol. 5, n. 8, p. 362.
1986 Review of Seltene Orienteppiche VII by Eberhart Herremann, vol. 5, n. 12, pp. 18-20.
1986 Review of Exclusively Baluch by J. P. J. Homer, vol. 6, no. 2, p. 42.
1988 Wrinkles…The Unresolved Problems of Safavid and Qajar Textiles, A Symposium at The
Textile Museum, vol. 8, no. 4, p. 27.
1988 International Conference on Central Asian Carpets, vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 44-50.
1988-89 Review of Seltene Orienteppiche X by Eberhart Herremann, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 22.
1988-89 Baluch Rugs at Auction, 1983-1988, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 26-29.
1989 Review of Tibeter-Teppiche by H. Harrer, P. Mauch, and J. Ford, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 77.
1989 Exhibition of East Turkestan Rugs in Atlanta, vol. 9, no. 5, p. 64.
1989 Review of Kilim, Primitive Symbols of Mythology, vol. 9, no. 6, p. 22.
1989 Review of The Paisley Pattern by Valerie Reilly, vol. 9, n. 6, p. 23.
1989 An S-Group Salor Ensi at Christie’s, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 6-7.
1989-90 Dragons, Blossoms, Sunbursts: Textile Arts of the Caucasus, exhibition review, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 32-33.
1990 Trefoil at Mills College, exhibition review, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 28-29.
1990 A Price Guide to Five Caucasian Rug Types from 1983-1990, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 30-34.
1990 South Persian Masterworks, Part I , exhibition review, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 28-29.
1990 Review of Baluchi Woven Treasures by Jeff Boucher, vol. 10, no. 5, p. 33.
1990 Textiles of Wonder and Delight at The Textile Museum, exhibition review, vol. 10, no. 5, p. 37.
1990 Review of Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies, Volume III/2 by Robert Pinner and Walter Denny, editors, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 46-47.
1990 J. P. Willborg’s Ten Years Exhibition, 1980-1990, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 62-63.
1990 Review of Kilim by Guran Erbek, vol. 10, no. 6, p. 47.
1990-91 Review of European and American Carpets and Rugs by C. B. Faraday, vol. 11, no. 2, p. 26.
1990-91 Review of Encyclopedia Iranica, Volume IV, Fascicle 9 by E. Yarshatar (editor), vol. 11, no. 2, p. 30.
1991 The Ballard Collection, The St. Louis Art Museum, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 6-9.
1991 Review of Cut Kelim by Jack Cassin, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 48.
1991 Review of Kelim, Soumak, Carpet and Cloth by Jack Cassin, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 48.
1991 Review of Other People’s Money by Arthur Lyons, vol. 11, no. 3, p. 48.
1991 Meyer-Muller Part II: Keith Wayne Would Haven Been Proud, auction review, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 54-55.
1991 A Stitch in Twine, review of A Guide to Weft Twining and Related Structures with Interacting Wefts by David W. Fraser, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 28.
1991 A Trinity of Truths, review of Asiatische Teppich und Textilkunst, Band 2 by Eberhart Herrmann, Der Christlich Orientalische Teppich by Volkmar Gantzhorn and The Lost Language by John M. Douglass and Sue N. Peters, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 29.
1991 Review of From the Far West: Carpets and Textiles of Morocco by Patricia Fiske, W. Russell Pickering and Ralph Yohe, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 29.
1991 Domotex 1991, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 52-54.
1991 Review of Anatolian Kilims by Cathryn M. Cootner and Garry Muse, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 32-37.
1991 Bashful Suitors at a Debutante Ball, Sotheby’s Sale-September 24, 1991, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 54-56.
1991 Review of Through the Collector’s Eye: Oriental Rugs from Private New England Collections by Julia Bailey and Mark Hopkins, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 44-45.
1995 Tapis orientaux des collection permanentes du Musee des Artes decoratifs, Paris, exhibition review, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 28, 30.
1995 The Arts and Crafts of the People of Central Asia at the Samarkand Museum, Uzbekistan, exhibition review, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 29, 31