Turkman Now, Part 1, The Lecture

On April 22, 2017, Bob Emry and John Howe gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning, reviewing research, since about 1980, on Turkmen weaving.

This program was inspired, mostly, by the publication in 2016 of the long-awaited “Turkmen Carpets: A New Perspective,” by Jurg Rageth.

The program began with a survey by Howe of Turkmen research, since about 1980, excepting the two Rageth volumes.

Slide 1:  Serious study of Turkmen weaving has been going on since the first of the 20th century and with some visible exceptions, before.

But our central purpose in this session is to focus, mostly, on Turkmen research from approximately 1980 to the present.

(You can see larger versions of each of the slides below by clicking on them three times.  The resulting image will have a blue ground.)

Slide 2: Above is an informal listing of the literature before and near 1980.

Slide 3: Since the late 1970s and especially intensifying after 1980, we see the following four broad progressions:

Slide 4:  The first important progression, we see, was the move away from such descriptive terms as “Bukara,” (a marketing center for a variety of Turkmen and other Central Asian weavings) or pointing at particular Turkmen pieces with dealer usages like, “Royal Bukara” or “Princess Bukara.”   

Instead, it was argued, tribal designations were more appropriate, although some debate has continued about instances in which geographic rather than tribal designations might be more accurate.

The tribes usually listed in the literature were: Salor, Saryk, Tekke, Yomut, Ersari, Chodor, Arabatchi (although Wood, in a serious Turkmen ethno-history, in 1990, listed 12).

The research of this period also brought to attention a number of Central Asian non-Turkmen tribal groups (e.g. Uzbeks and Kyrgyz) that are not our concern here.

Slide 5: Another facet of more recent Turkmen research has been the systematic use of differences in textile structure as an aid to attribution.

Walter Hawley used the tribal designations Tekke and Yomut and had presented systematic information on structure in Central Asian rugs, as early as 1913.

But beginning in the late 1970s, and especially after 1980, technical analysis was done at new levels of detail and sophistication and in terms of tribal designations.

Several Turkmen books were published in 1980.

Slide 6: The most important exhibition of Turkmen pile weavings of that time, Turkmen, was held at The Textile Museum and the catalog written for it, by Louise Mackie and Jon Thompson, and also published by The Textile Museum, became seen by many as the standard Turkmen pile textile treatment.

Slide 7: Below is what Louise Mackie’s technical analyses of the pieces in the Turkmen catalog looked like.  Note that she described materials, weaving structure and colors used.

Slide 8:  Dyes were not talked about much yet, in scientific terms, but, Mark Whiting, foreshadowing things that were to come, included an article on them, at the end of the Turkman catalog. 

Whiting even talked, briefly and generally, about what the presence of given dyes can tell us about the age of a given textile.  But the tests, then, for the presence of particular dyes in pile textiles were expensive and destructive and so not really within reach for students of Turkmen weaving.

Slide 9: In 1990, Paul Mushak analyzed the dyes and mordants used in six Turkman pieces. 

He was interested in whether the dyes were natural or synthetic and what the various dyes and mordants were.

(Incidentally, Mushak once worked with Ananda Barodofsky to create a kit that would let one determine whether there were synthetic dyes in a given piece.  It could be marketed for less than $200, but they found that neither the dealers nor the collectors were interested in determining for sure whether their pieces had synthetic dyes in them.)

Slide 10:  The Yomut and the Ersari tribal groups were seen to be large and diverse.  So a next task was to attempt to define their components.

Slide 11:  Let’s look, first, at the efforts to specify more closely the sub-parts of the Yomut family group.

Both Chodor and Arabatchi had been acknowledged as outside the Yomut family.

Slide 12: The need for further specification was indicated by an 1855 Persian census of Turkmen tribes living under their authority.

You can see that the information about Yomut subgroups reported in this census is very detailed.  It does not include, of course, any indication about which subgroups wove which rugs.

Slide 13:  Igdyr, Abdal, Karadashli, and Goklan were some early names proposed either as possible Yomut subgroups or separate Turkmen tribes that could be related to specific weavings.

The bases for these attributions is not always clear and some of these varieties have since been absorbed into other later formulations like the “eagle group,” described below. 

But you can still find Turkmen rugs being offered for sale under these names.

Slide 14: Thompson, in the 1980 Turkmen catalog, made, and then immediately withdrew, a claim that the “Imreli” could be recognized as a separate tribe, not part of the Yomut group. 

There were folks who called themselves “Imreli,” and they wove pile rugs.  But Thompson was not able to establish either what rugs they wove or that the pieces he named “Imreli” had been woven by them.

Slide 15:  A more successful effort to delineate one aspect of the Yomut complex was undertaken by Rautgenstengel and Azadi (1990) who identified an “eagle gol/ fine brown Yomut group” mostly on the basis of structure and materials.

You can see in these high knot counts the reason for the “fine brown” designation.

Notice that this is a group of seeming Yomut textiles, defined mostly by structure and materials, but there is no further tribal or sub-tribal label offered for them (although Azadi did say that he thought that Group I and III had been woven by the Goklan).  So while this was an important breakout, it was also less than satisfying, and some still describe it as “provisional.”

Slide 16:  Beginning in 1998, the late David Reuben, an English collector of Turkman weavings published three volumes Gols and Guls I, II and III.

Because most Yomut pile pieces have symmetric knots, he decided in the third of these volumes, to look closely at Yomut pile chuvals with asymmetric knots,

seeking to determine whether they were a Yomut sub-group on other grounds as well.  (He focused on this bag format because he felt that it was more likely that they would have been made for use than would Turkmen rugs and so would exhibit traditional features more accurately.)

He says that he set out to identify and examine all the Yomut chuvals with asymmetric knots that he could find. 

He found and analyzed more of them than he could include in his published report: Gols and Guls III.

In his report, he provides color photos and technical analyses of 46 Yomut pile chuvals with asymmetric knots (he includes two “eagle group” pieces).

His findings are modest.

There is a considerable number of Yomut chuvals that have asymmetric knots open to the right.  These pieces sometimes also have other features similar to Tekke weavings (e.g., major chuval guls are often identical). 

Yomut pieces with an asymmetric knot open to the left are quite rare. 

And if members of eagle groups with this knot ( I and III) are removed, they are rarer still.

But no further Yomut sub-groups were identified.

Slide 17: Actually, this kind of thing had been done before.  In his translation of and commentary on Moskova, O’Bannon reports on a comparison he made on the presence of asymmetric knots in Yomut weavings. 

He did a survey of 407 published pieces and compared the results with those reported by both Moshkova and a German Turkmen scholar, Troost.  A wide variety of formats was included.  No effort was made to distinguish open right from open left asymmetric knots.  Both the Moshkova and Troost analyses were based on material estimated to be younger.

A majority of Yomut pieces in all three groups use the symmetric knot. The asymmetric knot seems to be used more frequently on pieces estimated to be younger.  Asymmetric knots were used much less frequently on floor carpets estimated to be older.

Again, no Yomut sub-groups identified.

Slide 18: Elena Tsareva, the current leading Russian Turkmen authority is, for our purposes here, a transitional figure.

She has always paid close attention to technical features like materials, structure, dyes and colors.

Slide: 19: Here is an example of her work in this area in her most recent book on a large English Turkmen collection.

Slide 20: But Tsareva, a disciple of Moshkova, has begun to recommend that a strong “historical” component be included in Turkmen textile research.

Slide 21: Here is a statement she made about this approach in her study of the Hoffmeister Collection in 2011.

Slide 22:  She characterizes this historical approach, again, in 2016 in her book on the Kingston collection.

 She thinks that too exclusive a focus on things like structure becomes sterile, detached from the lives, culture and history of the weavers.

She writes that “…nothing ever disappears from our culture” and argues that a close study of Turkmen history gives us access to information that makes it possible to say where and by whom given Turkmen pieces were woven and to say something about the origins and meanings of Turkmen design devices.

Part of this approach was an accenting on the importance of geography: which Turkmen tribal groups were where, when.

Slide 23: As we shall see there was a general shift away from terms like “Ersari” in the direction of a “Middle Amu Dyra” designation.

Slide 24: She also says that Moshkova is one of the few to investigate seriously the meanings and origins of Turkmen designs.  She is pointing here to the assiduous way that Moshkova documented Turkmen designs,

but also to Moshkova’s controversial claim that some main carpet gul-forms (“gols”) are “owned” by particular Turkmen tribes.  So much so that weavers in conquered Turkmen tribes are reputed, sometimes, to have been required to weave the “gol” of the conqueror rather than their own.

She says that few students of Turkmen textiles have focused their attention on this aspect of Turkmen research, but lists Robert Pinner as one who has. 

Slide 25:  Pinner’s lengthy article in Turkoman Studies 1, 1980, on the “animal tree” device is a virtuoso performance, drilling deep and comprehensively.

Tsareva argues such an approach lets us draw on historical information about the origins and meanings of Turkmen design devices and lets us determine which tribes were in what geographic locations, when.  The latter sometimes lets us explain such things as color differences, since particular natural dyes sources vary by geography (she says she always lists specific color descriptions in her technical analyses).  Both of these areas of historical research, she says, can be an aid to attribution.

Slide 26:  In her emphasis on the importance of history, Tsareva has not moved away from technical analysis. Here is an example of her technical analysis of a particular Turkmen piece in 2016.

As I just indicated, she argues that her careful listing of colors can be combined with historical information about which tribes lived where and when and that about what the water and dyes sources were like in a given area can aid attribution.

In this 2016 catalog on the Kingston Turkmen collection, Elena demonstrates how she currently uses geography, design, dyes, structure, and especially history, to sort out the Yomut group. Not just where a given piece was woven, but what its designs mean.

As we shall see, Tsareva is not alone in this new emphasis on history.

Slide 27:  But to continue describing Tsareva’s current work with Yomut sub-group attribution, here is a summary of her geographic and subgroup attributions for the Yomut pieces she examined in the Kingston collection.

Slide 28: She places most of them in what she calls the “Aralo-Caspian” area,

and then, usually offers either a subtribe attribution, or

Slide 30: a sub-geographic one.

Slide 31: In one instance, she has revived the Imreli attribution (2011 and 2016, p.74, Fig. 45) and, in her treatment and argument for it, you can see this historical approach full-faced. 

The piece below is the one she calls “Imreli” in the Kingston collection.

Slide 32: Toward the end of her treatment of the Tekke pieces in the Kingston collection Tsareva cites the following indicators on which she bases her assertion that pile textiles in the “eagle group I” were likely woven by the Imreli.

  • Color palette indicates weavers were on the southeastern Caspian coast close to and sometimes over the border with what is now Iran.
  • Structure of the weavings indicate that the weavers were settled people.
  • But ornaments point to an “archaic tribal” genesis.
  • Variability of designs suggest that some of these weavings were “commercial craft.”
  • Some design features of Turkman “eagle” group carpets are similar to those of the Transcaucasian “eagle” carpets, likely woven on the opposite Caspian Sea shore. Seems not a coincidence.
  • Weavers not only partly sedentary but also wealthy, strong and a large group.
  • All rugs in the “eagle group I” are estimated to have been woven in the 18th century.
  • The weavers disappeared from the historical stage in about that time.

Slide 33:  She then asks the question below and gives her answer.

She admits that it is a reasoned assumption and applies only to textiles in “eagle group I), but when I questioned her about it she said “We must be brave” (Azadi has claimed that eagle groups 1 and III were woven by the Goklan). 

If one surveys all of the writing on rugs in the 20th century, one will find that design evolution and the meanings of designs are its centers of gravity. 

But with the rise of interest of structure and the increasing ability to analyze technical features of weaving and the character of dyes, and to use carbon-dating in some instances, one would think that this traditional interest in history and design development and meanings (which is often very erudite, but also often seems speculative) would recede.

And it did to some extent.  But a “historical” perspective and approach is being revived by some of the leading Turkmen scholars now.

I am not a Turkmen textiles scholar and not able, at all, really, to offer any real critique of this new historical approach.  But there are aspects of it that make me uneasy, in a “déjà vu” sort of way.

Tsareva has even argued for the advantage of what she calls a “romantic” approach to textile scholarship.

The image below is not one Tsareva recommends, but is a possible example of where a romantic approach to Turkmen research can lead.

We have one picture, a drawing of a Saryk engsi in use on the door opening of a trellis tent, made near Pende, in 1885, by a known artist for The London Illustrated News who was covering the Afghan Boundary Commission. 

For a long time, this image was seen as the only one we had of a Turkmen engsi in use on a trellis tent door.

This is a drawing, not a photo and is in some respects an instance of “orientalism” in that the scene is acknowledged by the artist to be to some extent “composed” of human images seen elsewhere, but the picture is seen by rug scholars as authentic in its depiction of the engsi “in use”on a Saryk tent door opening.

We now have some actual photos of Turkmen engsis in use, but this example suggests where a romantic approach can take us when we lack actual photographic evidence. 

Slide 34: The desire to connect to the weaver’s culture is something to be praised, and Tsareva’s presentation and use of historical information seems careful and is impressive, but a “romantic” approach seems to me likely to take things in wrong directions: analysis and findings too dependent on the, sometimes, uncertain information contained in historical sources, may lead to conclusions that draw importantly on assertion and speculation rather than evidence.

“Bravery” driven by a tendency toward the romantic, seems, often, likely to lead one away from an evidentiary basis for knowledge. 

Tsareva argues, as if it is an agreed point, that “nothing is ever lost from our culture.” 

We have the textiles and sometimes, if we look closely enough, we have a surprising amount of history…but one wonders whether we can use them together to, accurately, “see” what is there.

I think it important to remember that the cultures we want to observe and study, and the people we want to talk to, have been gone, in most cases, for 200 years or more.

 Jurg Rageth, the Swiss textile scholar has also adopted and emphasized a “historical perspective.”  We’ll see what Bob’s evaluation of this aspect of his effort is.

Slide 35: Now let’s move to look at the efforts to break out the very large Ersari group.

A great many sub-group names have been proposed and used.

Slide 36:  Murray Eiland wrote long ago:

This suggests that the people who wove the textiles we call “Ersari” have tribal identities at some sub-Ersari level.  This is not always true in other instances. 

The Rabaris in western India are an ethnically diverse group, some migratory and some settled, but they all retain a strong Rabari tribal identity. 

If you ask any of them what tribe they belong to, they will unfailingly say “I am Rabari,” often, with a visible pride.

Slide 37:  I had an experience that counters Eiland’s report about no self-identifying Ersaris. 

I was doing some lectures for Chris Walters in a Smithsonian Folklife Festival demonstration tent for his Ersari project.

I was starting each lecture with the word “Ersari.”  One day, after one of my lectures, a tall lady with auburn hair and blue eyes, came up to me on the platform and asked “Do you know what “Ersari” means?”  I said that I did not. 

She said it means “yellow husband” and “do you know the source of that usage? “  Again, I confessed my ignorance.

Slide 38: ”Alexander the Great,” she said. 

He conquered Afghanistan, as part of his movement east, and established and left Macedonian villages. “A great many Ersaris, like me,” she said, “are tall, and have blonde or red hair and blue eyes.”

My God! I thought.  Kipling wasn’t entirely making things up in his stories about colonial, Indian, England’s forays into Afghanistan.  He reports battles in which they were fighting blond, Afghan “giants.”  Clearly, they were facing Ersaris.

Slide 39: There have been at least two serious visible efforts to examine the contents of the Ersari pile textile complex.

The first is a Hali article published in 2006 by Peter Poullada, who had analyzed and researched chuvals attributed to the Ersaris and claims to have defined two new Turkmen tribes in the Middle Amu Dyra area.

The second of these is by David Reuben, whose work building a data base of Yomut pieces with asymmetric knots, we’ve already talked about.  He did the same thing with pieces having an Ersari attribution.

Slide 40: Poullada has made what seems the most determined effort to break apart the “Ersari” complex, but I think he would disagree with that description.

It’s useful to follow the focus and sequence of his thinking and work.  What follows draws heavily on Poullada’s article in 2006 (Hali 148, pp. 66-73).  He says that it summarizes his findings of twenty years of research.

He starts with indications in the literature that strongly suggest that the “Ersari” complex has for some time been seen to include two distinctive groups of weavings. One that he calls a “western Turkmen or Salor tradition.”  The other groups usually also called Ersari is much more diverse.  There are pieces with an “ikat” style and another group described as “Beshiri.”

He says that a useful way to examine the Ersari complex is to give up at the general level, the broad tribal term, and to move to indicate where most of these people lived.

With Moshka and more recently Tsareva and the Soviet ethnographic scholar, A. N. Pirkulieva, Poullada notes that most of the folks called “Ersari” live on or near the banks of the Amu Dyra River.  It flows to the northwest to the Aral Sea.

The “western Turkmen” lived on the left bank and the more diverse “ikat” group lived on the right bank.

 Slide 41: Following a local Persian term “lebab” that means “waterside,” Poullada recommends that we should move to the term “Lebab Turkmen,” and away from the traditional broad “Ersari” usage.

Poullada next draws on the ethnic mapping of Pirkulieva, who found that there were 35 ethnic groups in the “Lebab Turkmen” complex and that only four of these sub-tribal groups: the Kara, the Bek-Aul, the Ulugh-Tepe and the Gunsesh are main Ersari tribal sub-divisions.  (I had personally never seen these four “Ersari” sub-tribal names until I read Poullada’s article.)

Now Poullada decides to pursue his researches focusing on chuvals and other bag formats.

As a result of his researches he says that he has:

Slide 43:  Here are Poullada’s indicators for a Kizil Ayak attribution.

(click on the image below to get a readable font size.)

Note especially that Kizil Ayaks have an asymmetric knot, open right, and a knot count of about 95 to 150 kpsi.  Their “evenly spaced vertical rows” and the “perfectly square shape of their knot nodes,” contribute to “uniform knotting” and “crisp, clear designs.”

Slide 44: Here is a closer look at his classic Kizil Ayak example above.

Slide 45:  Below is a second Poullada Kizil Ayak example.

Slide 46:  Poullada’s second non-Ersari Turkmen tribe is the “Ali Eli.”  Below are his attribution indicators for it. 

Note that the Ali Eli have an asymmetric knot open left.  In addition, at 300 kpsi, the Ali Eli pieces have about twice the knot density of Kizil Ayak pieces.  If the silk in an Ali Eli piece includes some in its foundation, this group resembles some “eagle group” types.

On the basis of these two sets of indicators, the Kizil Ayak and the Ali Eli are readily distinguished

Slide 47:  And here are two Ali Eli examples Poullada provides. 

This first one a  “stacked” guls and spacious field arrangement that do not occur in the Kizil Ayak examples Poullada includes.  The major guls in this first Ali Eli piece are about as tall as they are wide.  Notice also the density of the minor-major-minor border complex that reads as a single element.

Slide 48:  This second Ali Eli example has the wider, shallower major chuval guls that we see in many of the chuval guls of Kizil Ayak, Tekke and Yomut pieces. 

So neither the squarish gul shape nor the “stacked gul,” spacious field arrangement, seems to be a reliable Ali Eli indicator.

Slide 49: I’m not sure when Reuben’s Gols and Guls III CD, in which he analyzed a number of “Ersari” pile weavings with asymmetric knots, was published,

but he cites Poullada’s article in some of his comments on the attributions he is making, so he clearly had access to Poullada’s work. 

And Reuben does use the terms “Middle Amu Dyra, “Kizil Ayak,” and “Ali Eli” in his descriptions, so he was aware of these distinctions, but he also uses “Ersari” in an unselfconscious way.

Slide 50: Reuben includes 36 “Ersari” pile pieces in his Gols and Guls III, CD.  He presents data on 16 carpets and a variety of other Ersari pile pieces mostly in juval or other bag formats, but he also includes some engsis, asmalyks, wedding rugs, even one okbash. 

This is the first page of a descriptive listing of these pieces.



Slide 51: And here is a second.


(Click below to get a larger image)


It’s important to remember that Reuben is primarily building a data base of available information on “Ersari” pile weavings.  

His method is one sometimes characterized as “barefoot empiricism,” that is collecting data on various aspects of something and then looking at it and doing sorts on particular factors, looking for correlations without any particular guidance by theory or hypothesis.

This leads to some unexpected ways in which he organizes his reporting on the pieces he treats.  He says:

Slide 52: To repeat what the slide above says:

The pieces (ed. “carpets”) attributed to the Ersari were listed according to the colours of the gol quarters.

Other properties such as the knot, knot count and structure are possibly more important. However, these properties are usually not listed in many publications especially auction catalogues.

There are 3 main colour schemes as well as 2 others to be mentioned later. The first scheme uses orange alternating with blue and or green. The second uses orange alternating with white as used by the other tribes. The third is likely to be a transition between the other two and uses orange and blue alternating with orange and white.

Reuben goes on in this passage relating such color schemes to major gul types and sometimes adds knot type and density indications.

These are unusual sorts and I don’t think they go anywhere in particular.

While saying this, I should also acknowledge that some others see Reuben’s distinctions as worth citing.

The Tekke torba below is included in the New England Rug Society’s on-line bag exhibition “To Have and to Hold.”

They draw on Reuben in their comment on this piece.

According to David Reuben1, there are three design families for 6-Gul Tekke torbas. The first has elongated centers, with a small rectangle at the very center. The second has rosettes at the gul centers. And the third family, to which this piece belongs, is the most variable. This particular torba illustrates some of the many design variations that occur. The center of the gul has an eight-pointed star, not found in other examples. Other aspects of the major gul are very unusual, with a parallelogram in each quarter of the major gul – most other examples have a square, or possibly multiple small shapes.

Slide 53: Here’s another passage that lets you see how Reuben’s analysis proceeds and what he says his findings are.

Slide 54:  Below is a chuval from Reuben’s data base with the information he provides about it.  A nearly unbelievable knot count, for a Turkmen piece, of over 500 kpsi, even if it is mostly silk.

(Click on the slide below to get a larger image)

Slide 55:  Below is another chuval with a different look.  He estimates it to the 18th century and unselfconsciously attributes it to Ersari weavers.  Again, 279 kpsi is a very high knot count.

Slide 56:  Reuben has collected a lot of weavings attributed to the Yomut and the “Ersari,” and has done a lot of analysis, primarily of design and related color features, but does not help us much in breaking apart these two large groups.

Slide 57:  We have one further recent effort to press Turkmen pile scholarship and Bob is going to describe and examine it now.

It is the two-volume “Turkmen Carpets: A New Perspective,” published in 2016 by Jurg Rageth.

This work was a long time in its making and it might be useful to say how it came to be.

(Click on this slide for a more readable version)

Slide 56

The “New Perspective” consists of combining three principal approaches:  Radiocarbon dating,  Dye analysis, Historical and Art Historical information.  The two scientific/technological approaches (carb0n dates and dye analysis) both greatly expand our understanding of the history of Turkmen weaving, and also serve to debunk some of the assumptions that have become entrenched in the rug lore (I’ll try to mention some of these as we go along).

Slide 57  The slide below was used to help explain why some carbon dates have two or three ranges of dates with differing probabilties.

The next series of images show a number of the weaving published by Rageth, along with the dates obtained, and also show the range of weaving formats that were dated.

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Slide 68  The Tekke carpet shown below is one that would seem to debunk an often-promulgated article of rug lore, which holds  that in earlier Tekke rugs, the octagons that are the principal border motif  lack the “rays” extending from their perimeters, that these “rays” were a later introduction, and became longer through the 19th century.  The rug below is missing its side borders, and has a seam down the center where one column of guls has been removed. The end borders remain however, and these show rather prominent rays around them.  Clearly this is an old rug, with greater than 70% probability of having been made before 1826, and this probability becomes even more compelling once we realize that the 19.7% probability of it having been made between 1918-1960 cannot seriously be considered.

The results reported in these volumes show beyond a reasonable doubt that many existing Turkmen weavings were made before 1800, and some of these are even 200 years older, predating 1600.  

It also shows that those who have experience in collecting and/or studying Turkmen weavings can reliably recognize the older pieces.  Many who have looked at and handled lots of old Turkmen rugs could order them into a series representing oldest to youngest, and most often another collector would put the same rugs into the same order.  

But these progressions would be a chronology without a scale.  Rageth’s studies add some numbers to such a chronology, and also confirm that collectors really can reliably recognize the older rugs.  

The samples that were dated were not randomly drawn from the whole universe of Turkmen weavings–they were selected as rugs thought to be very old, and the results show that many of them were indeed 18th century or older, and some are among the older Turkmen rugs known to still exist.  None of the pieces clearly predated AD 1450, but 18 of them dated before 1650 (12 of these 18 are carpets, the others tent bands, bagfaces and other smaller items).  Many others dated to the later 17th century through the 18th century.

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Slide 72  The following image is something of a non sequitur—-I remembered that when I visited San Antonio, Texas, a few years ago I noticed cochineal insects on the nopal cactus growing at The Alamo.  A finger pressed against one of those white blobs shows how concentrated the dye compound is.

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Slide 74  The next slide is of a Yomut asmalyk (camel bridal trapping).  At first glance there is nothing special about it.  It has the most common field design seen in asmalyks, and is not an especially noteworthy piece, except that it does show how the results of dye analysis can be used.  

I acquired it after seeing it listed in an internet auction, and the images posted with the listing were good enough to show that it has cotton wefts.  These can be seen here in the third image below, which might be good enough to show, at the fraying edge, that rows of knots are separated by alternating shoots of cotton and camel hair.  Cotton wefts also show in the mage of the back.  

After acquiring it, I also noticed that it has small pile elements of insect dyed wool.

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Slide 76 The two images below show the of insect dyed pile wool.  They are small elements, consisting of six knots each, toward the right and left ends of each “gul” center, and also some of the small parallelograms in the lattice.  

After reading Rageth’s book, I looked at these small elements with magnification, and found that this pile wool is multi-ply, at least 4 plies.  

Rageth concluded that until about 1850 cochineal-dyed pile wool was purchased in small amounts as commercially spun and dyed wool.  After about 1850 cochineal dye was sufficiently inexpensive that it was purchased as dye and applied to the same native, hand-spun, 2-ply wool used for other pile colors.  

So by that criterion, this asmalyk is likely to be older than 1850, which is consistent with its cotton wefting indicating an older piece.

Slide 77  The detail below might be good enough to see that the insect dyed knots are multi-ply.  If the plies can’t be made out, the smoother surface texture of these knots also suggests more plies.

Slide 78   The small Tekke rug shown in the following three slides is another piece that has small pile elements dyed with an insect dye, most probably cochineal.  

I have long known that the insect-dyed pile wool is multi-ply, and assumed that it was commercially spun and dyed yarn that was purchased for the highlights in this rug.  But before Rageth’s work I hadn’t realized that this indicates a date before 1850.  

This rug also has many small elements of cochineal-dyed silk, most obvious in some of the small triangles in the hexagonal gul centers.  The format of this rug is very rare.  One was offered at the Thompson sale at Sotheby’s in 1993, and Jon Thompson, in his description in the sale catalog, noted its rarity while also noting, and citing, a few other examples that exist.  

This rug must have been made for some special person or some special occasion.

Slide 79  Insect-dyed pile wool occurs in small amounts elsewhere in this rug, but is best seen where it occurs as the ground color of some small octagonal elements in the elem, arranged diagonally by color (upper left to lower right in the following mage).

Slide 80  The image below shows these insect-dyed elements from the back.  Magnification is probably insufficient to show the multiple plies, but the smoother surface texture of these knot-loops is evident.  

Slide 81  After mentioning these examples to John Howe, we then inspected John’s Beshir (or MAD) chuval fragment that has lots of insect-dyed silk, and also insect-dyed wool.  

Slide 82  Not surprisingly, the insect-dyed wool in this piece is also multi-ply.  It is the diagonal, lobed, element (brighter red in this image) arranged upper left-lower right in the following image.  It’s probably not possible to make out the multiple plies, but it clearly differs from the 2-ply madder-dyed wool at upper right, and the blues elsewhere.  Pink silk is at lower left.

Slide 83   The evolution of the Kepse gul is one design progression that can be followed in Turkmen weavings, and the carbon dates now available show that this progression correlates quite reliably with time.

Slide 84   Some have postulated that Safavid Persian carpets might have been prototypes, or models, for some early Turkmen carpets.  The following slide compares a very old Safavid Persian carpet (left) to an early Turkmen rug (right), of the genre referred to as multi-gul Turkmen carpets.  

At first glance the similarities might not be so obvious.  But notice that both rugs have bilateral symmetry, or reflection symmetry–the left half of each rug is a mirror reflection of the right half, and neither has colors organized into diagonal patterns.  

The main elements of the Safavid carpet are floral, some being “rosettes” (open flower viewed straight-on) and others “palmettes” (flowers in lateral view).  The Turkmen carpet can also be seen as having stylized rosettes and palmettes; those individual elements that are themselves bilaterally symmetrical (eg., the “C” guls) are rosettes.  Others are not bilaterally symmetrical about a vertical axis, but are symmetrical (more or less) around a horizontal axis; these are palmettes.  

These could represent the beginning stage of the kepse gul.

Slide 85  This map shows the extent of the Safavid Persian Empire.  Notice that at the time these early multi-gul Turkmen carpets were being made, Safavid Persia overlapped what is today Turkmenistan.

Slide 86 The following slide shows another early Turkmen multi-gul carpet (left); note that it also has reflection symmetry around its vertical axis, and no overall diagonal color pattern, except that here some of the individual motifs are not themselves symmetrical (eg., some palmettes have alternate colored elements on their right and left halves).  

The right hand half of the slide shows details of individual palmettes.  The left-hand column of individual palmettes are details from the Safavid Persian carpet.  The palmette at upper right is in the elem of a Qaradashli Turkmen carpet shown as No. 88 of Rageth’s books.  Mid right is from the multi-gul carpet shown above, and bottom right is a detail from the carpet shown at left.  

Slide 87    The slide below shows what can be considered a further step in kepse gul development.  

The fields of both these carpets are filled with “C” guls and what are now easily recognizable Kepse guls. The carpet at left might still be labeled a multi-gul carpet, as it has, near the top, one row of guls that are neither “C” guls nor kepse guls.  

Notice that the kepse guls in both are not symmetrical about a vertical axis, but are symmetrical about a horizontal axis.  And notice also that the field also has reflection symmetry, with color all organized (reflected) horizontally, except that lower elem of the carpet at right has some obvious diagonal color arrangement.

Slide 88  The slide below shows further progression.  

The carpet at left has only “C” guls and kepse guls, and has bilateral or reflection symmetry about its vertical axis.  The kepse guls, with prominent white elements, are organized into the beginning of a 2-1-2-1 pattern (from top  to bottom) that persists into later carpets with only kepse guls. Its kepse guls have become symmetrical about their vertical axes, but still lack the central vertical bar typical of later kepse guls.  

The center rug below has only “C” guls, larger ones as the primary guls and smaller ones as secondaries.  Notice that the “C” guls with white centers are arranged into the 2-1-2-1 pattern, which can also be read as a diagonal pattern.  Here the overall design lacks reflection symmetry (the minor “C” guls (smaller ones) alternate colors from the left to the right side of the rug, and the elems show distinct diagonal color patterning.  

At right is a carpet with only Kepse guls and they have acquired the central longer vertical bar that becomes standard in later carpets. The guls with prominent white elements are arranged into the 2-1-2-1 pattern, whereas the colors of the remaining guls are arranged into diagonal (lower left to upper right) color patterning (some exceptions at the sides).

Slide 89  The carpets shown below could be seen as further progression.  

The one at left has only kepse guls, and the color patterning has become rigidly diagonal, upper left to lower right, both in the field and in the elems.  

The “C” gul carpet at right has guls all of one size, and like the kepse gul carpet at left, color is arranged strictly diagonally, upper left to lower right, in the field and elems.  

Continuing through the 19th century this rigid diagonal color patterning persisted in Kepse gul rugs (though the diagonal color patterning can also be lower left to upper right).  Through the 19th century the kepse guls become more crowded, with less intervening space, so that in some late 19th century kepse gul carpets the kepse guls virtually lose their identity as separate elements, and the field appears as an over-all pattern.

Slide 90  I show the carpet in the next three images because it is one that I once owned (regrettably no longer do), and it clearly fits somewhere into the progression followed above.  It has the look and feel of a very old carpet.

Its border isn’t quite unique, but is very uncommon.  Its large kepse guls have small “C” gul centers.  The guls with white elements are staggered, but are not in the strict 2-1-2-1 pattern.  However, the color patterning can be read diagonally, upper left to lower right.  The diagonal rows alternate as follows: a row having all guls of the same color pattern, followed by a row having guls of two different color patterns alternating, one of which has white elements, and then repeat.  

I can imagine this carpet as an intermediate between those with the strict 2-1-2-1 pattern and those later ones with all guls arranged diagonally by color.

Slide 91

Slide 92


What this whole discussion of kepse guls (and incidentally also “C” guls) and color patterns shows is that graphic changes in design elements and the arrangement of their colors can be organized into series or progressions that make sense logically, and that these changing patterns can now be constrained by carbon dates that allow them to be interpreted also as chronological sequences.

This is the end of the Lecture by Bob And John.

They had brought in a number of pieces and to see their treatment of those, you need to go to Part 2 using this link:



R. John Howe

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