Archive for January, 2019

Mehmet Yalcin and John Howe on Central Asia Textiles and Some Others

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2019 by rjohn

Dear folks –

On December 1, 2018, Mehmet Yalcin,

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and John Howe

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gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation program that centered on Central Asian textiles, but included some others.

Mehmet says that he was born a Turkish nomad. 

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He has had an interesting life that included wide international travel, work in different international organizations, a Harvard doctorate, and his current ownership, now for 23 of years, of two textile-artifact shops, Woven History & Silk Road, here, on Capital Hill, in Washington, D.C.

John (that’s me) is a long-time textile collector.  I am active in the DC textile community, especially in the documentation of these Textile Museum Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning (RTAM) programs.  I am very interested in textiles, and try to get things right, but would never claim to have done so.  The urge to authority can get in the way of enjoyment.

I said, at the beginning of this session, that the RTAM programs are named in honor of the late Harold Keshishian, an important DC area dealer,

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who may have been most important among those who founded them.  RTAM programs have traditionally drawn on local textile dealers as important resources. 

I approached Mehmet about giving this program with me as a continuation of this tradition of drawing on dealer resources.

Our program began with a series of “Central Asian” textiles made in western Mongolia.

In a broader map,

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Mongolia seems embedded in the northern part of China.

But looking at the map below, we see that a small uncolored finger of Mongolia, on the right, reaches out to the green of Kazakhstan.

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And this is significant because the far western district of Mongolia, in the map below, has a population that is 80% Kazakh.

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And this is where the first set of “Central Asian” pieces we treated, were and, are, made.

Mehmet made a further argument that the conventional notion of “Central Asia” is too restricted, and that a proper view of it, defensibly, includes both Mongolia on the east and the Caucasus on the west.

This first set of textiles we treated in this session is a series of hangings made by Kazakhs in western Mongolia.

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S11

(image identifying numbers will, often, not be sequential)

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(If you click on most of these images, you will get a larger version)

These hangings are hand silk embroidery on a cotton ground.  They usually have a border on three sides, quilted cotton or velvet.

Here is a closer detail of the piece above.

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S11a

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These silk embroidered are hangings that nomadic Kazakhs hung on the walls of their yurts.

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Below is a Kazakh yurt (the Mongolians say “ger”). There is still a significant number of Kazakhs who are pastoral nomads, although their numbers are declining.

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Below are some Monglians erecting a Mongolian type yurt (ger) (note the steeper roof angle.).

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Mehmet, and a young Mongolian, employee of his, Solar,

from this western district, feel that nomadism is attractive and, counter to the conventional wisdom about nomadism, in many parts of the world, they feel that the number of nomads in Mongolia may be increasing.

Solar says that he and his grandmother were nomads, with only a flock of about 100 sheep. He says that nomadic life if full of lots of spare time (in which, for example, textiles can be made)  During the winter, when he moved to town to go to school, she hired herders to look after her sheep.  He says that barter is a frequent form of exchange in western Mongolia, although money is now more frequent.  He also estimates that someone, who undertakes nomadism in western Mongolia, will have a difficult time at first, but will be, predictably, successful in about five years.

There are signs that most folks who are “nomads” in Mongolia, are not of the “free-standing” sort we often celebrate in our descriptions, but rather herdsmen employed by rich folks who own most of the sheep and other livestock.

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Still there are persistent traces of nomadism.  Kazakhs, and others, have been reluctant to give up their yurts even when they settle.  Yurts frequently appear between other structures in Mongolian cities.  They also ring the outer edges of cities.

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(Below is a Getty image and caption that gives a less optimistic view of this situation.)

ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIA – 2012/07/26: Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts are populated mostly by displaced nomads who have moved to the city in search of economic opportunities.
Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world’s largest remaining nomadic cultures. For millennia they have lived on the steppes, grazing their livestock on the lush grasslands. But today, their traditional way of life is at risk on multiple fronts. Alongside a rapidly changing economic landscape, climate change and desertification are also threatening nomadic life, killing both herds and grazing land. Due to severe winters and poor pasture, many thousands of herders have traded in their centuries-old way of life for employment in mining towns and urban areas. The ger (yurt) camps that ring the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, house a permanent population of displaced nomads. There, they live without running water or a tangible use for the skills and crafts that were practiced on the steppes. The younger generation is no longer learning these essential aspects of their nomadic heritage. (Photo by Taylor Weidman/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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But let’s go back to these Kazakh tent hangings.  We do think that it is likely that they were made, mostly, by Kazakh pastoral nomads.  Once folks come into cities they tend to (need to) take jobs.  Jobs take up the time that nomad life provided for making such textiles.

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The pieces we are showing were made in the mid-20th century and some are inscribed and dated. 

The “rondel” designs look Chinese and may sometimes be, but the fabric below is Central Asian, woven not embroidered.  But it indicates that rondel designs have appeared in Central Asian textiles since at least the 7th-9th centuries.

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The Silk Roads were a real thing and lots of things flowed back and forth along them.

These hangings are silk hand embroidered on cotton, with a quilted edge on three sides also of cotton or velvet.  The embroidery is mostly in chain stitch.

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Below is a second of these hangings. Notice that these hangings have unfinished bottoms.  It is said that the Kazakh makers do this for hangings made for a couple and that the unfinished bottom is to suggest that their marriage be one of unending happiness.  They are often made by the bride’s grandmother, or passed from mother to daughter, and even, sometimes, made by the bride herself, as part of her trousseau.

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The designs in the outer areas of this one, seem similar to Kyrgyz felt designs.

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The design in the center panel is very different, but we’re not sure of its source.

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The next hanging (S14) has a paler palette.

S14

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It seems older. Its designs are elaborate.

S14a

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The next hanging features some of the seeming Kyrgyz, felt-sourced designs, and a centered area, the designs of which are distinctive, but of the same scale.

S16

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Details of S16.

S16a

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The next hanging has a darker palette.  It hangs in a conspicuous place in Mehmet’s shop.  He thinks well of it.

S36

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It has a good range of color.

S36a

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Next, is another Kazakh tent hanging that Mehmet displays prominently.

S39

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One of the most elaborate designs.

With S17 we move to a hanging with a five-star rondel design.

S17

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It is also a departure from the designs above in that it features birds and flower forms in it center area.

S17a

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One more of these Kazakh tent hangings.

S19

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More seeming Kyrgyz felt design influence.

S19a

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On last hanging image is of a fragment from one.  This piece has only two rows of flower forms.

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A closer look in a different orientation.

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With S18 we moved to what Mehamet sees as a Kyrgyz “suzani.”  Note the surrounding border and distinctive, flower-based rondels.

S18

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This piece is inscribed and dated 1959.

S18a

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Another detail of its right side.

S18b

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Another hanging,  Uzbek. Applique.  Some of the applique squares are Russian printed cotton.

S15

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S21 is another applique that is younger: the seeming ikat borders are printed.  Needlework in the diamond applique areas.

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S21

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Another view of S21

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S20 seemed quite different.

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Mehmet says that it’s an Kyrgyz panel.  The dark ground was woven first and then embroidered.  The designs do not resemble most used by the Kyrgyz.

But below is an older Central Asian embroidery, 11th to 13th century.

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And the Russians really liked flower designs in their printed cottons.  Here is a modern version based on traditional Russian patterns.

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So S20 above may be plausibly Kyrgyz.

Mehmet had several textiles he describes as “Lakai.”  The small piece below is, I think, the best of them.

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Mehmet thinks this is not a village piece, not meant for the urban market.

Here are two details of it.  It seems, also, to have been done using chain stitch.

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The next piece is dramatic.  Mehmet calls it a “bokche.” Again embroidered.

S1

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S1 is an unusually elaborate bokche.  Turkman bokches are envelope bags that look like this.

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Image result for Central Asian Bokche images

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But Mehmet sees the piece below as a Lakai version of this kind of cover.

S1

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We often encounter this latter variety of bokche as V-shaped pieces like those below.  The literature calls these V-shaped pieces “segusha.”

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Below is another, larger version of these V-shaped pieces.

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Sometimes, the area above the V is filled in with black cloth, but in the case of S1, that area is richly embroidered.

S1

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One more comment about this latter type of bokche/segusha.  It is also used to decorate the “juk” in a nomad tent.  Most will know that the juk is a pile of the family’s valued textiles that is placed in a place of honor opposite the tent door. The top (and widest) part of this bokche/segusha would be tucked in toward the top of the juk stack and hang down the front of it.

Mehmet next showed some other small Central Asian textiles.  They are used as tent decorations or even used by women on the sides of their heads.

S6 

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Here is one up close.  There is lots of wrapping and use of tassels, including beads.

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S3 is another Lakai hanging.  It’s worn but is older and has good color and drawing.

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The next piece was a small embroidiered cover.

S4

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An experienced person said afterward about S4: “Embroidery is from Afghanistan, Katawaz, a Pashtun tribe.  Typical example: fine work and funny colors.”

The next piece was also small. Mehmet said about it “… a Uzbek girl’s dowry purse, which is very finely done and it is silk. I remember picking it up in a dark, dusty, small Afghan Uzbek dealer’s shop in Peshawar in 2006. I know it is old, maybe from the 1930’s. It’s a beautiful piece.” 

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S27

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Details of S27.

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The next piece was less refined.

S23

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An experienced person said after that S23 is a “typical Kurgrat embroidery.”

S45

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An experienced person said about S45 “This is Hazara, from Central Afghanistan (as opposed to the Hazara district of Pakistan that also produces embroidery).  (I’m) not an expert on Hazara embroidery, but in Afghanistan, things like this were often placed on top of the tray of tea pots, cups, snacks when served to guests.”

Below is another piece of Uzbek embroidery, about which we can say no more than that.

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There were some dresses and coats.  The first S8 below.

S8

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Mehmet described this dress as Afghan “gypsy.”

The next is a Turkman coat that is relatively simple on the outside, but has a gloriously colorful ikat lining.

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The coat below is an embroidered Tekke Turkman chyrpy.  Not a very fancy one but fully embroidered.

S9

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It has a lining that seems older but that is hard to make out.

S10

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Mehmet wore a black quilted coat. He says that “It is a traditional Uzbek Chopan from Tashkent. The outside is silk, inside is Russian cotton material.”

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Here are two images of the inside of Mehmet’s coat.  Notice that the rectangular quilting is visible on the inside and that there are two kinds of printed cotton, one simulating ikat.

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Closer.

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John had the coat, below, in the room, but did not wear it.  It was made here from material that is cotton and silk ground and contemporary Uzbek hand embroidery with an Ottoman pattern.  He was not alert enough to order a Russian printed cotton lining and so the one it has a solid tan.

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S26

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Mehmet says that this is a Turkman purse with silk embroidery.

There were some hats.

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Let’s look at some of them more closely.

S28

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Mehmet says that S28 is a Turkman wedding hat for a man.

S29

Mehmet says that S29 is an Afghan “gypsy” hat.  Metal, conch shell decorations.

S30 is an off topic hat.  It’s Tibetan and ends in a near scarf. Mehmet says that it is “a traditional Tibetan hat worn in Ladakh, Zanzskar and elsewhere in the eastern Himalayas in India.”

S30

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The next hat was entirely beaded.  Mehmet says that he “picked this hat from an Afghan Uzbek dealer in Peshawar, Pakistan in 2007. I was told it was a Turkmen wedding hat.”

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Mehmet had some Turkman pile pieces.

The first of these were some complete miniature Tekke khorjins.  These three pieces are in perfect condition and the technical quality of the weaving is very high.  Mehmet thinks they may have been used as Koran bags.  I estimate them at about 1910, on the basis of their knot ratio, which approaches 1/2.  Mehmet thinks they’re older.

S31

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S32

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Animal forms (see the top of both pile fronts) are unusual in Turkman pile weaving.

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They are nice pieces.  Don’t see many like them.

S35

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Comment:  S35 is a Turkman pile torba with an ikat field design from the Middle Amu Dyra (formerly often called “Ersari”).  20th century.

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The word “carpets” crept into the announced title of this session so we had to produce a few.

If you collect on a budget, as I do, your older pieces are often fragments

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The first carpet is from the Middle Amu Dyra area.  We think it could be quite old.  The narrow borders are one indicator and I know of only to others with this design.  It has the brightest orange warps (which look natural) I have ever seen. It was published in the catalog for ICOC 10.  There is one caution about a late date: this piece came to me mounted on a tan backing and there is some transfer of red to that backing that I can’t explain if this piece is old.

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A second carpet is this dilapidated but classic Chodor fragment.

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Again, there are narrow borders.

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And lots of cotton showing on the back.

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And there are vertical, S-design, connecting panels between the diamond forms, the latter, composed of triangles. These S-tabs seem to be overlapping the diamonds and can be read as a 3-d effect..

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I will offer this piece to the Textile Museum as a study piece.

A third carpet fragment is the Kizil Ayak piece below.  Again, there are narrow borders, used both as a main border but also used to form compartments.  This narrow border is the same one used in the Middle Amu Dyra main carpet fragment above.

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This piece is so faint that it doesn’t get much wall time.  Note that there are animal forms in all the quarters of the major guls and that they, invariably, are standing upright and face one another (this is a directional rendition).  And the minor guls in the center of the field are split by the main border usage that forms the compartments.  I like compartmented designs and so forgive them for this aesthetic, desecration of the minor gul.  Noting such features is one of the things that results in our being called “Turkomaniacs.”

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Another carpet fragment, I bought via the internet from a flea market in Jordan with the help of Filiberto Boncompagi, one of the technical manager on Turkotek.com

It has dark warps, Caucasian-like borders, and interesting gul forms.  The consensus is that it’s Uzbek.

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I sent it to Melissa Keshishian for mounting and she demonstrated how one can use a background color close to the field color of a rug to disguise the fact that it has two holes in it.

The next piece was, in fact, a large Middle Amu Dyra Turkman chuval, large and heavy enough to use on the floor. It is likely 19th century

H2

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It has an ikat design similar to Mehment’s torba, that you say earlier.

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The piece below is a smaller Yomut chuval that I have also sometimes used as a throw rug.

H3

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It has a good green in some of its guls.

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Sometimes when you’re collecting on a budget, you’re reduced to a mere strip of a main carpet and here is one. This is a lateral strip (not complete) from a Tekke Turkman main carpet.  I feel confident that it’s 19th century.

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Most of the carpets I have on the floor, in our apartment, are from Chris Walter’s non-profit “Ersari Project” production.  Hand woven by Afghan Turkmen refugees in Pakistan.

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Chris Walter (on right) and friends in Haripur Refugee Camp

Hand carded and spun. Woven with natural dyed wools. Traditional Turkman designs and colors.  The weavers are paid and any additional proceeds are used to finance schools for Turkmen children.  Chris and his Afghan partner have been doing this since 1988.  Here is more information on this part of Chris’ non-profit efforts.

https://www.yayla.com/rug/rug_page/ersari_about

The rugs I have from Chris’ production are all from the Haripur refugee camp in Pakistan.  Nowadays, the “Ersari” production has been moved to Afghanistan.

The scatter rug below is one of the first I bought from Chris.

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When I first saw it, I thought might have been a somewhat conventionalized version of an Afghan “gul-i-gul” but found a near example in Jourdan (see 234 on page 234) attributed to the late 19th century.  I like the big, blocky border that seems to me like the proportions of some early Woven Legends throw rugs. 

Notice that this rug is inscribed (as many of Chris’ Turkmen pieces are) in its lower right corner.

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I can’t read it, precisely, but I know what it says.  “Turkmen Refugee Molla Ashir, Camp Haripour, 1373″ (Afghan Calendar), that’s 1995, 23 years old.

Sometimes I have asked Chris to make me a special order rug, often a copy of something I like.  Here is one example.

A few years ago the Chicago dealer and collector. Joe Fell, gave a TM presentation and showed this Middle Amu Dyra bag face. 

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I took a photo of it and made an 8″x10″ inch and sent it to Chris and asked him to copy it for me.

Now copying a rug is a challenging undertaking. 

Think of the progressive kindergarten story where one child whispers a short story into the ear of the child next to her.  She does that to another child, and that sequence goes on until a number of children have been told the story.  Then we ask the last child to say out loud what the story is.  Invariably, the story told by the last child does not resemble much what the first child told the second one.

Now come to the world of copying a rug.  The customer gives a photo of the desired rug and says what size he wants and any color changes from the photo.  The person who takes the order sends it to Pakistan.  In Pakistan, a cartoon (knot for knot) of the rug in the photo is made.  Then the wools to be used are selected, and the cartoon and the wool to be used, maybe even the photo, are given to the refugee family who is going to weave the custom rug.  They do so and give the rug back for “finishing.”  The finished rug is sent back to the dealer who ordered it. You can see that there is a lot of chance for slippage.  Maybe the carton is made in the wrong size or in the wrong orientation (say turned 90 degrees).  Maybe the person supplying the wool doesn’t have all the colors wanted. Maybe the weaver doesn’t use all the colors prescribed. Etc.

It takes about a year to get a custom rug woven.  When it was ready in this case, Chris shipped it to me.  The image below is what is looked like.  Compare it with the photo I sent.

H4

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You can see that the drawing is pretty good (these weavers can weave this rug), but that the colors used are not what were in the photo.  Some colors have been left out.  The copied rug is not “bad,” but it has been conventionalized and is not really what I wanted.  I confessed to Joe Fell that I had had his bag face copied and he asked me for a photo of the copy.  When I gave it to him he, he liked it enough that he asked if I could get him another copy and I did.  Footnote:  The original ultimately  sold at auction for $17K.  Joe Fell no longer has the original, but he and I both have approximate copies.  🙂

The next rug is another of my special order Ersari Turkmen pieces, but this one has a little longer story that goes with it.

When I first began to collect and study Turkmen rugs I was given permission to work with the Textile Museum curatorial materials and encountered a design that I liked.

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There was a photo of it and I had an 8″ x 10″ blowup made and sent it to Chris and said “Make this rug for me, about 3′ x 5′. “

Now it usually takes a year to get a special order rug made, and one day Chris called me and asked whether I could use a rug, in the design I had ordered, that was 13′ x 15′.  Some serious communication problem had occurred and a hugely different size rug had been made.  I said, no, I wanted a 3′ x 5′. 

So another year went by and one day the rug arrived.  It was more like 4′ x 6′ and looked like this.

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In addition to being still a little larger than ordered, the white usage in the gul had been dropped out, BUT I had been given lots of a good green that collectors value. 

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I kept it. 

It is also inscribed in the field.

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It reads: “Turkmen refugee Camp Haripour.” Lower left text reads: “Turkmen.” Lower right text reads “refugee.” Upper left: “Haripour,” and upper right: “Camp.” I couldn’t read the date underneath of it, but I think it is 1388.  That’s 13 years after 1995 and about right.

I want to be clear about these three efforts to copy a given pile piece.  I mean no criticism at all of Chris’ efforts.  I think the difficulties are endemic to such a copying effort.  I read somewhere that it usually takes three attempts to get a decorative rug, woven to order, to be what the customer wants.

The next piece I have from Chris’ production is a Yomut asmalyk format and design, woven by Ersari weavers as a rug, and that’s how I use it.

H5

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This is a contemporary pile copy of the face of a famous Yomut asmalyk design (a “jewelry” type).  The jewelry devices are across the top.

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One antique piece with this design was claimed to be on the market for $60K, in the days when the Oriental Rug Review was being published.

H6

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This is an Afghan Turkman pile saddle cover. Not Chris’ production.  Doesn’t have great age, but they’re not being made any more.  It is included here because I use it as a throw rug.  It’s full pile and pretty tough.  It has strong graphics that include a yellow that I think is natural.

If you collect on a budget and find yourself often with fragments, you begin to make pillows. 

And I had brought some.

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The pillow below is from a large fragment of a large, Afghan, Middle Amu Dyra Turkman carpet, with a gulli-gul.

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H7

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The next pillow is from the same carpet but focuses on the minor device (notice that there is also a “tertiary” device).

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H8

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The pillow below is from a 19th century, Tekke main carpet, with an unusual use of green.

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A final pillow is from one end of a Middle Amu Dyra rug with a mina khani design and what seems to me to be an archaic end border.

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This is the end border that seems to me to be archaic, although I confess that I don’t know, concretely, what that means.

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The last Turkman carpet I want to talk about is another special order from Chris Walter.  This time I had seen that he was making a mina khani design and also the dark ground border in H10 below.  I asked him to make me a 6’x 8′ version of this rug with this dark border and the most saturated red ground in the field that he could manage.

And he did it.

H10

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It is a special order rug that turned out to be precisely what I ordered and wanted.  I look at it every day.

Here are some closer details of it.

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Having discharge my obligation to produce some Central Asian carpets, I felt freed to show a fairly recent Central Asian purchase that is, I think, unusual.

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This is a bag that is not woven. It is, instead, plaited.  Marla Mallett, Andy Hale and Seref Ozen helped me with its attribution as Uzbek.  Below is a closer detail of it.

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I was attracted to it, in part, because for about five years, in the 70s, I was a serious knot tier.

I was told that such bags surfaced in Afghan markets, a while back, but that they were not picked up much because dealers were already having trouble selling things with a lot more color.  I had not seen another before I bought this one from Marla, but, wouldn’t you know it, another surfaced shortly thereafter on rugrabbit.com. 🙂

I quite like it.

Colin England brought a piece that is another instance of copying.  The piece below is from the Black Church in Transylvania.  It is an instance of the famous “coupled-column” design.  It is dated to the mid-17th century.

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The image, below, is a copy of this rug, woven in Azerbaijan in 2018.  Colin said he brought it to show modern production of “Central Asian” carpets that look a lot like Turkish carpets found in the Balkans.  (He said that he agrees with Mehmet that “Central Asia” is often too narrowly defined.  He said he thinks it includes everything east of the Black Sea, except Iran.)

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Designs, Colin said, travel with time.  Actually, not much time is needed.  A weaver can see a very old rug in a museum and often go home and weave it.  Time can get telescoped.

I’ve talked a little too much about Chris Walter’s contemporary Turkman carpet production, because I think the stories about trying to copy antique Turkman pieces are interesting. 

But I want to end by highlighting Mehmet’s contemporary production.

Mehmet has his own production in Turkey, Pakistan and Nepal.  http://wovenhistory.com/ 

Here are a few pieces from this production.  Mehmet says he uses only natural dyes.

First, Mehmet says are some pile rugs done in Afghanistan near Kabul.  “They are woven by a Hazara tribe that we work with.”

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If you’re producing rugs for sale, it has been found that pieces that include recognizable devices from the Pazyryk carpet are popular.

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A second set of pile rugs are those Mehmet says “are our Tibetan production pieces, that we produce in Nepal working with Tibetan Refugees.”

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The pile rug above is one of the “folklike” type that have been produced in a number of producer settings.  Woven Legends produced some early, and Afghan “war rugs” have been collected.  This is a Tibetan folklife design. Note that it is inscribed and date.  Such rugs are often attractive to buyers.

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The pile carpet above is a contemporary one with an ancient field design, often referred to as “Chintamani.”  It ‘is probably of Buddhist and Chinese origin,” but “was widely used in Ottoman and Timurid ceramics and weavings from the 15th to the 17th centuries.” (quoting Peter Stone and Mehmet).

A third sector of Mehmet’s product are Anatolian, slit tapestry kilims, woven in the Konya province in Turkey.

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Here is a detail of another kilim with a niche field design.

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Another kilim with good color.

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A detail of the kilim above.

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And another.

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The striped flatweave below is done, mostly, in weft-face tapestry.

S42

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You can see some instances of brocade decoration and maybe even some weft twining.

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S42a

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With our last piece on Mehmet’s contemporary production, we’re back to slit tapestry.

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We answered questions and brought our program to a close.

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I want to thank Mehmet for working with me to give this RTAM and for his help, and Solar’s, in fashioning this virtual version of it. 

Thanks, too, to my wife Jo Ann, who took photos, and to Mehmet and Solar for additional photography, and other contributions, after.  I had help from some experienced people, who want to be anonymous, but who also have my thanks.

I hope you enjoyed this post as we begin a New Year.

Regards,

R. John Howe