WEAVERS of Tibetan rugs understand color. How better to liven up a dreary landscape -- a barren plateau encircled by mountains -- than to cover bed, cushion, door and horse with brightness?

In "Temple, Household, Horseback: Rugs of the Tibetan Plateau" at the Textile Museum, the brilliant oranges, golds and reds of rugs reserved for Buddhist monks harmonize with the deep blues of rugs for home and hearth.

Though they share the vibrant tones of many oriental rugs, Tibetan rugs have been an unknown stitch in that tradition's fabric. So much a part of the Tibetan household, they have been taken for granted and not collected. Reflecting the Tibetan saying, "One man, one rug," when a rug wore out, it was discarded.

The rugs have not been widely circulated. In fact, says curator Diana Myers, this is the first major exibition of Tibetan rugs.

Beyond the colors, the 70 rugs in this display present a delightful iconography. Made between 1880 and 1940, the rugs are woven thick with Buddhist symbolism and Tibetan mythology.

The mythical snow lion -- the national animal of Tibet (and not to be confused with the snow leopard) -- in three different examples grins, frowns or chases another's tail. If she seems perky for a mythological creature, that can be attributed to her extreme resemblance to the Tibetan native dog, the Lhasa apso.

The tiger is not so endearing: The mind is a wild tiger to be tamed. And the lama who sits on the orange tiger rug has quelled the animal in himself.

On other rugs, dragons fly to catch the flaming pearls of happiness and daintily clasp them in their claws. Dragons chasing pearls remind Tibetan Buddhists to reach for their potential -- to remember their karma daily. And when sometimes those pearls fall to earth, only the virtuous can find them.

What inspired curator Myers to search for the pearls that are Tibetan rugs was a serendipitous combination: Her mother is a weaver, and Myers served in the Peace Corps near the Tibetan border. There, she herself learned to weave, from Tibetan refugees who carry on a tradition dying out in their own country.

Since the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959, Myers says, "the culture has changed so much they are no longer producing this kind of rug." Instead, the factories tend to make solid green floor coverings without pattern. The colorful craft of Tibetan rugmaking is best preserved in neighboring Ladakh, Sikkim and Nepal. TEMPLE, HOUSEHOLD, HORSEBACK: RUGS OF THE TIBETAN PLATEAU -- At the Textile Museum through March 31. At 2320 S Street NW, museum hours, this Saturday only, are from 12:30 to 1:30 because of a previously scheduled "Rug Convention." Regular hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10 to 5 and Sunday, 1 to 5.