Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >RK Reviews the deYoung Turkmen Review
email: jc@rugkazbah.com
Wed, Feb 6th, 2008 11:16:02 AM
Topic: RK Reviews the deYoung Turkmen Review

(ed. We thought it pertinent to move this from the Archive to a position on the board where it will noticed and far more accessible.

The timing is especially apropos, as the deYoung Museum of San Francisco has recently installed an exhibition of Turkmen carpets from their collection into the new Textile Galleries.

This review of the collection was published in hali, and while the reviewer does have knowledge of the subject, we felt it was not enough to enable him to properly comment on the deYoungs magnificient Turkmen holdings.

We sincerely believe our "review" of his review clearly demonstrates the contention hali would have been wiser to chose someone else who had a broader and far more expert command of historic Turkmen weaving traditions.)


There’s no doubt the deYoung Museum has an outstanding Turkmen pile weaving collection with major masterpieces from many of the known Turkmen groups.

However, one might not get that idea so easily after reading a recent ‘review’ of the collection written by someone, who also happens to collect them.

Peter Poullada’s careful and measured approach in surveying the collection for his recent hali article can’t really be faulted but neither can it be cheered.

He’s apparently a collector of the types of Turkmen rugs that have lately become categorized as Amu Darya and his interests in these eastern Turkmen pieces comes to the forefront from the very beginning.

As one reads on, this predilection overpowers his effort. In our opinion, it diminishes the value and breath of the review he is tasked with concerning the deYoung’s Turkmen collection, the majority of which has been acquired through several major recent donations.

RK agrees the ex-phillips Ersari main carpet is a significant and beautiful example of its type but there are numerous other main carpets in the Museum’s collection that are far better in every respect. We would have preferred opening with one of them, rather than this well known and often published gulli-gol carpet.

Since Poullada’s personal interests are centered in this area we were quite surprised to read his comments about another piece:
“Amu Darya Turkmen namazlyks (prayer rugs) are not that rare, but they are seldom as harmoniously beautiful as (2)….Its provenance is uncertain, although there is a small label sewn on the back which says “Avigdor Gallery’….”

Hello, hello -- earth to Poullada – when did provenance ever get answered by a label sewn on the back of anything?

Plus, Peter, since the real provenance is unknown for any historic Turkmen pile weaving why shouldn’t the quite well-defined and cohesive Beshir Prayer Rug group of rugs McCoy’s prayer rug clearly belongs to not be accepted here?

The review then launches into a swirling account of some of the better examples but somehow manages to miss the best ones, like the outstanding one in Schurmann’s “Central Asian” classic work on Turkmen Rugs.

Another error Poullada makes is believing the main border on this kejebe panel is rare.

This assumption can be easily disproved, as can his myopic “…kejebe…show very little variation, whether they are made by the Salor, Saryk, Chodor or one of the Amu Darya tribes…”

There are many differences but they are subtle and require careful examination, something RK would have supposed someone like Poullada should be up to understanding but evidently isn’t.

Plus his describing this ‘S’ group kejebe panel as:
“While it may not stand out as an example of Salor luxury weaving, it offers a more humane, intimate view of the world of Turkmen dowry and wedding ceremonies.”
we find misleading and downright incorrect.

If Poullada knew more about Turkmen pile weaving so would he.

We can easily gloss over his next two or three choices -- all from the Amu Darya – but the treatment this other, somewhat later end of the period, ‘S’ group small torba received from either Poullada or the deYoung’s label writer is tragicly flawed and deserves mention.

Phuleeezze, it’s not Arabatchi, it’s stone cold ‘S’ group.

Besides for the “attribution puzzle” he somehow got tangled up in, Poullada also should not have begun its mention by calling it “charming”. That adjective would have been better for describing his in-laws than this excellent example of an admittedly later type of “S” group torba.

By the way RK finds none of these so-called ‘schlemle’ torba very interesting but this example is one of the best we have seen and deserves better than what Poullada has done to describe it.

Also in dunceville was his confidence in ascribing this Ersari/Beshir long torba as having been wrapped around some bride’s wedding litter.

Was that a ouijji board bit of clairvoyance, if so what happened to that measured diligence we saw earlier?

We won’t slug it out with Poullada on this point other than to say the conventional interpretation of these long, large torba (not necessarily those made by “Amu Dary-ities”) has them being storage bags, as some show evidence of having had or still having a back.

So much for visions of the bridal litter for Poullada.

We’d also like to inform him this chuval, from the McCoy Jones collection, like all the best ‘Amu Darya’ examples should have “…an aesthetic that seems foreign to the western Turkmen tradition…”.

The more standard banner gol chuval woven by Amu Darya tribes rarely reach the high level these more anomalously patterned chuval can demonstrate.

These chuval are one of the few types of ‘Amu Darya’ weavings RK respects (along with early ‘Beshir’ Prayer Rugs) and we’d have expected Poullada to have expounded on their historical significance and beauty instead of briefly tripping through, as he does, Turkmen ethnography to nowhere as pertinent a destination.

We include a detail of another atypical Amu Darya chuval to show how a more archaic example compares to the later one in the deYoung Museum collection.

This detail comes from the well known and often visited Turkmen exhibition online at the Weaving Art Museum website, which by the way should be not be a stranger to any well-motivated RK.com reader (weavingartmuseum.org/ex3_trappings.htm)

Poullada’s worst pitfall comes when he mentions this large torba and it is here that he gets mired in muck way over his head.

It’s not a mafrash and no matter what the deYoung’s records say someone with Poullada’s reputation should have corrected this error.

But Tekke is as good a guess as any and one we’d easily believe, since we are the one who attached it to this historic masterpiece when we sold it to the deYoung’s generous donor some years ago.

Therefore, we happen to know this piece quite well and it is not early 19th century, either.

Try 17th century, because that’s where RK dates it without any reservations.

We also recognize it could possibly be a very archaic example of some known/unknown Yomut weaving group, but, regardless, it is head and shoulders above anything yet illustrated or discussed.

In fact, it is one of the best Turkmen weavings in the deYoung’s collection or any other collection, public or private, RK knows about.

Poullada’s fumbling around with his cut-and-paste version of Turkmen rug weaving commentary over this piece, and some of the others when he tries to dissect them, is quite amateurish and doesn’t belong in such a report.

We also can’t see how anyone could pick this Saryk main carpet when there are so many better, more beautiful and important other main carpets from other Turkmen groups in the deYoung collection.

Guess those big minor gols with their central stars and pseudo-Memling gol outlines were too seductive for Poullada to resist.

Ending his ‘survey’ with the well-worn and terribly tired “All of them have a story to tell….” line actually tells readers more about the reviewer than the rugs he tries so diligently to survey.

In the end it’s too much for us and while we recognize Poullada’s ‘A’ for effort we can’t see giving him honors for what he has written.

In some ways it reminds us of the disappointing job robert pinner and Murry Eiland did with the text for the Weisdersperg catalog but that’s one we need not get started on, again.

Author: Sue Zimmerman
email: luvluvluvluv4605
Thu, Mar 16th, 2006 11:34:37 AM

RK Replies:

Structural analysis is the most important tool.

Analyzing the materials those structures are made from, is, obviously, as important but much harder to accomplish.

Scientific examination of the materials used for the dyestuffs and the wool or hair itself will, we believe, help to locate places of production.

These are the areas we are in the process of investigating.

By the way: Usage often contributes to and even, at times, determines the "handle".

"Warp formulas"? Please elucidate on this one,please.

We could suggest getting a better monitor or flying off to SF to examine it personally to see it better.

Or, you can accept what we say, and go from there.


That which reveals itself, in the hand, to be ancient can be determined to be ancient or not. The specifications of materials, their preparation, their usage, and, most importantly, the formulas they were based on, are completely knowable and measurable. These things, of all things lost, certainly were amongst the first to go -- with warp yarn formulas vanishing first. All else being equal, or even approximately so, it is yarn structure that determine "handle". This photo of the torba cannot open a door on that subject. It closes the door. On my computer monitor even the motifs are too blurry to make out. Sue

Author: John Lewis
email: john_lewis@mac.com
Wed, Mar 15th, 2006 05:35:17 PM

RK Replies:

Hi John:

1. The technical characteristics of any rug are essential to understand what group of rugs it belongs with.

2. Design is the most transmutable aspect of any weaving and should hardly ever be used as a meaningful indication of anything.

3. Coloration, i.e. dyestuffs, are, like structure, the two criteria that comprise the technical characteristics mentioned above.

OK then, the knot type (there are basically two types of knots -- each one of which has several very distinguishable variations) is important in some instances, like "S" group for example, but it is not a be-all-end-all scenario.

4. Along with the actual type of knot, the other criteria of structure, like the different types of plying and spinning of the warp, weft and pile materials are equally important.

5. Then, of course, the materials used for these structural components -- for example, cotton, silk, goat hair, etc -- also play an important role in identifying any weaving.

However, and this is the big bomb, none of these aspects, no matter how scientifically determined will ever tell how old the weaving is.

6. Clearly if there are synthetic dyes, their identification allows a terminus ante quo (it can't be made before ....) to be determined.

If the dyes are not commercial and no other datable commercially derived materials are present, there is no way to know to answer the "how old is it question".

Sooooo, sorry for the long preamble but it is necessary to understand all of that to comprehend the following.

The torba in question is asymmetrical open right[it's probably symmetric but we are still not 100% positive. ed], which is typical for Tekke work.

There are, of course, other groups, both known and unknown, who used the same knot [and if it is in fact symmetric it would not be Tekke. ed].

7. Therefore, the knot type, in this instance or basically almost any other, cannot of itself tell us anything.

But the torba is an archetype in all respects of that word and appears in the hand to be ancient.

How old is ancient for a Turkmen weaving? Well that Pandora’s box is one we care not to open but our dating it to the 17th century is supported by

1. the historical record of Turkmen tribal movements and locations;

2. the extremely pure rendering and articulation of the design;

3. and, lastly, the appearance of the materials used to construct it.

More than that I cannot substantiate or will not reveal presently and in this forum.

One thing additional, RK has seen and handled hundreds of genuinely old Turkmen rugs, seen and handled many of the museum and private collections of old Turkmen rugs and collected a number personally.

Do we know more than anyone else? We'll come down on the modest side of that one and just say we know as much as anyone else .

It's a great torba, this is sure, and just studying it, even from the picture here on RugKazbah.com, should be and is an instruction on its own.

We sincerely hope you and others will study it carefully -- it would be time well spent, we guarantee that. ===================================

Kaa in Jungle book may have got away with "trust in me" but you have to be a bit more specific.

Several "experts" have told me that knot type is more important than anything else in dating/describing a rug.

My own view is that the aesthetics are more important - I cannot see that a salor woman captured by the tekke would be able to change how she wove.

Pure speculation, but what are your views?

Author: Interested
Fri, Mar 10th, 2006 05:22:29 PM

RE Replies: Well, interested

what can we say.

You could make that continuum for yourself and then you'd probably be able to answer your question without our assistance.

We'd appreciate it, tho', if you'd try and then report back and we'll do whatever it takes to prove our guesstimate.

One thing's for sure, there aren't many like it.


Does that make it 18th century, 17th century, or even earlier?

Without knowing with certainty even one example of any type of Turkmen weaving made, let’s say circa 1700, we can’t really say with any certainty how old the deYoung’s piece might actually be.

Please enlighten me: how do you get from your statement above, to this:

Try 17th century, because that’s where RK dates it without any reservations.

Author: John Lewis
email: john_lewis@mac.com
Thu, Mar 9th, 2006 04:17:29 PM

RK Replies:

Greetings John:

The dating of some Turkmen and Turkish rugs is basically a guessing game with no prizes for winners and no booby prizes for losers.

What we don't know about this aspect is a galaxy compared to the thimble we do know.

However, there is what RK likes to call "dating by comparative analysis" that can assist us in making quality stabs at assigning dating.

To digress a bit, let us state rug studies are not even on a kindergarten level and the only tools we actually can rely upon are:

structural analysis

fiber and dye analysis

and they do not illuminate dating in any respect.

Sadly, there has been absolutely no work done to push the perimeters of these tools further than they were 80 years ago.

Yes, there have been new groups identified through the use of structural analysis (‘S’ group for example) but that's about it.

At this point in time, and since founding the Weaving Art Museum, my interests are concerned with finding applicable scientific tools and utilizing them to investigate historic Near Eastern weavings.

Sorry to bore you all with this point but it is incredibly important and the fact no one is even slightly interested in joining our push says yards and yards about the mini-minded know-littles populating this art field.

OK then, even without new and innovative invasive testing, we now have a huge body of published material to work with and, someone like RK who has handled thousands of pieces, can make certain unsupportable, but highly logical, inferences based on that experience and body of published materials.

For instance, when the LACMA/dodds rug (I know you all groan and say there he goes again) is compared with all the others of its general design group, and viewed by anyone without an agenda, it proves dodds’s dud is just that, a dud --a late period genre reproduction.

One needn't be a genius or clairvoyant to see how miserable it looks when put next to a great example of its type, or even a later but genuine one.

We even did that ad nauseaum and still there are those rug flat-worlders, who believe it is circa 1650.

So art historical comparisons can give us the data, granted that data is not positive but it almost is, to form continuums and place similar examples within those lines.

That’s what dating by comparative analysis is all about.

OK, then, the deYoung’s torba, is an archetype, as there are no others yet known that can be placed before it on any continuum it might find itself placed on.

Does that make it 18th century, 17th century, or even earlier?

Without knowing with certainty even one example of any type of Turkmen weaving made, let’s say circa 1700, we can’t really say with any certainty how old the deYoung’s piece might actually be.

To bring this to a quick close, our dating it to the 17th century was somewhat provocative but, frankly, we would have preferred to say 16th century but thought that just way too provocative.

It surely appears to us to be far older than the few Turkmen rugs many knowledgeable people now say are 18th century and that, in fact, is the rational we used in dating it.

We do, however, feel there are even older Turkmen pile weavings, ones that we suspect are far older than this torba.

We have hinted here on RK.com several times about this and some while ago actually posted a detail of a piece we feel is 16th century.

Trust us on this one, we will at some point in the future, have more to support our claims and that, rather than buying more pieces, is our main interest from here out – to use science not BS to understand these mysterious and beautiful woven objects.


The torba looks wonderful, but what makes you date it to the 17th century?

One sees very few pieces dated to the 18th century - is it the aesthetic or some aspect of the technical execution?

Many people define the weaver by the knot but you seem uncertain as to tekke or yomut or something else.

How could you bear to part with it?

Author: RKs secret admirer
Tue, Mar 7th, 2006 07:29:27 AM

RK Replies:

We realize Poullada meant no harm, nor did he have any agenda other than his own liking for Amu Darya pieces to influence what he wrote, hence our going easy on him as you said.

Sadly, like so many recent instances, hali has relied on those whose knowledge is not exactly brilliant to write "articles" for them.

Poullada is, in fact, not an expert as his "review" demonstrates.

As for pushing 'young ben' to "make a go of it"?

Phuleeze, the only pushing and making a go something young ben can accomplish is pulling a chain after he has used some Charmin' and before, hopefully, he will wash his hands.

The sorrowful printed miasma that mostly fills hali's pages since marcuson was given the boot from the editor's chair, and young ben's mentor hamburger danny took over, is arcing it's way in a downwards spiral faster than a fly would face in the waters of that swirling bowl young ben's just previously hinted at deposit was directed towards.

There "ain't no hope" young ben will ever turn this mess around, so don't expect him to do anything other than continue the smile and say cheese for the camera.


Hey hey hey RK, Great review! Poulada escapes better than anyone I ever saw you critique. Your slightly caustic post is high praise indeed. I rarely read Hali but I shall go to my local newsstand and purchase a copy. With your wisdom to guide me, the Poulada piece should be very worthwhile. I truly appreciate when you share from your vast depth of knowledge. Maybe if you keep pushing Hali young Ben can make a go of it. RKs secret admirer

Author: jc
Mon, Mar 6th, 2006 04:07:46 PM

Squawk, squawk from rugdom's peanut gallery is all we hear.

How about someone trying to take us to task for any of our numerous positions about rugs and weavings.

For instance, you all read the hali piece our post above critiqued.

Do you all agree?

If not, let's hear some attempts at rebuttal. After all that is what this website and our efforts here are all about -- providing a proper forum for discussion.

Or, maybe, are you all just too busy getting ready for acor in Boston to bother?

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