Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >RK's Review of "Timbuktu to Tibet": Part I
Author:jc
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Sun, Feb 15th, 2015 06:51:54 AM
Topic: RK's Review of "Timbuktu to Tibet": Part I

The more we examine what is between the synthetic cloth, blue colored, hard covers of the "Timbuktu To Tibet"("TtT") tome, the more we find questionable.

In Thomas Farnham's extensive introduction on the hajji baba rug club, and the various members past and present who have belonged to it over the 75 years of its existence, one can not escape his harping on how the hajji's are both well versed, knowledgeable and the cutting-edge of rug scholarship and connoisseurship.


Plate 34, munkasci collection” -- one of the example discussed below

This notion is probably best and most succinctly expressed by Louise Mirrer and Linda S. Ferber of the New York Historical Society who write in the Forward

"...founded by a small group of aficionados with a deep passion and extensive knowledge of Oriental Rugs. The Club and its members, past and present, have had an enormous impact on collecting trends and scholarship in Islamic and other rugs and textiles, far beyond their local roots....and we hope that our venue will bring the Hajji Babas' extraordinary objects and scholarship to larger and more diverse local, national, and international audiences..."

Perhaps these ladies, and many other readers of this book, will be lulled, or is it arm-bent, into agreement with such hi-fallutin' comments.

But these glowing words are nothing but more hype. The reality is far from such lofty heights, as what RK has already published, and what we will continue to, demonstrates and proves.

We defy anyone to prove there are any real academics or new and original "scholarship" in "TtT".

We also challenge anyone to demonstrate the selection of examples warrants their being characterized as “extraordinary objects”, save a few which we will illustrate and discuss.

Again, compared to a dealer’s sales catalog, or the proverbial going out of business rug sale, the hype is completely true.

But who compares a show like this to those types of venues and publications?

Collecting and researching Oriental Rugs has come a long way in those 75 years and, from RK’s perspective, one of the most significant is the demographics of who collects and who researches these objects.

Prior to the middle 1960’s collecting rugs was also almost exclusively the province of rich, well-to-do, ‘gentlemen’ collectors and research confined to an extremely small group of ivory-tower academes.

However, by the end of that decade, all that began to change and we should know, as the roots of RK’s collecting history go back to this period.

In fact, we can honestly say there was far more interest, passion and concentration on rug studies and “scholarship” from 1969 – 1980 than from 1980 to the present.

Again, we defy anyone to prove what we say as incorrect.

But let’s leave the history of oriental rug studies and focus back on “TtT”.

In the Preface, written by thompson, the same notions about the hajji’s are echoed, though in a somewhat less interesting and laudatory way.

RK must state that the hajji’s have had some degree of influence on, as thompson calls it, “…the changing tastes and the vagaries of fashion…(and) re-evaluations….” of what a good rug is and why it should be collected.

However, they surely are not now, nor for decades, in the vanguard of those who develop original ideas about rugs. Nor are they, even as a group, the leading source of the most important collections internationally.

The hajji’s are not the supermen of the rug world and, no matter how many kind words are lavished on them, this fact remains apparent to anyone who is in the know.

Before we leave the theatrical scenario the Forward, Preface, and Introduction create we should mention even the types of members belonging to today’s club are overwhelmingly similar to its founders – wealthy ‘gentlemen', some of whose fortunes might be equal to the lesser “millionaires” of yesteryear who started the club.

But all, almost to a man (there are a few women as members), are well-to-do armchair collectors and pseudo-researchers, just like the former “swells” Farnham’s chapter immortalizes.

Perhaps this is the place for RK to mention why we never joined the Club, even though a now departed colleague and friend of ours, Charles Grant Ellis, thought it might be a good idea.

We will someday write our recollections of our discussions with C.G., as we liked to call him after we became friendly, but let us state for the public record, and for the first time, our belief had C.G. lived another decade he would have become a major supporter of many of our ideas about non-Classical, non-urban rugs and flat-weaves.

This may come a shock to many who knew C.G.’s somewhat disdainful attitude towards these so called small-scale society weavings.

But, trust us on this one, he was a very bright and astute man and the new information, and examples, that came to light in the 10 years prior to his passing were not lost on him.

But we digress again, let’s get back to “TtT”.


“Plate 30, Cooper Collection” – another example discussed below

Basically, and apparently to all who know us, either personally or though RugKazbah.com, we do not cow-tow, or appreciate, stuffed shirts or checkbook wielding armchair ruggies, and considering those two groups are so well represented in the hajji baba club we decided never to join such an organization.

OK enough of our preambles and searchlight exposure of the hajji's and their “club”, let’s get to the meat of the matter – the pieces and what thompson wrote about them.

Before we do so, please grant us your attention to the following outrageously foolish comment gracing thompson’s Preface:

“The marvelous ‘classical’ carpets from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, still to be found fifty years ago, are now vanishingly rare and so expensive that they are beyond the reach of all but a few. Of necessity, collectors have had to turn to other types of object, with the result that the field of interest for club members has been vastly expanded, and with it has arisen the need for study and research.”

We find this both stupid and comical, for just as politics today presents a lesser of two evils paradigm – the lesser of two evils is still evil.

If thompson really believes the only reason to “collect” or “study” non-classical carpets is because they, unlike ‘classical ones, are attainable, financially or otherwise, he is even more prejudiced and short-sighted than we imagined.

What a slur and denigration he mouths, not only to those who collect and study what thompson implies are inferior works, but to those art works themselves and the people who made them.

RK has worked diligently to demonstrate, and prove, these non-classical or, if you must, small-scale society weavings are equal to and in many cases far more historically important than ‘classical’ ones.

From such a position, one by the way few would try to discount, reading thompson’s words are equivalent to “fighting words” and we take extreme displeasure and umbrage to the stupid, elitist and unfounded position he attempts to advance.

Maybe thompson is just being glib, something his text demonstrates in every chapter; or, like the pot who wishes to call the kettle black to deny his own blackness, is the now rich and important former penny-collector of those boring red rugs(as he used to be known in London in the old days) trying to remove that stain?

Frankly, RK could care less and we only mention this to put thompson in the proper perspective.

Sorry for once again digressing but it is impossible to “review” the “TtT” book or exhibition without noting thompson’s over-arching role in promulgating the failures RK has, and will, demonstrate.

It’s clear the hajji’s know little and their reliance on rug-god and guru thompson is, and was, their fatal error.

Let’s now offer some concrete proof of what we claim.

An obvious comment, considering all the words spent trying to show how “knowledgeable”, “expert”, and far-reaching the collective rug-worth of the hajji club allegedly still is, leads to this question: Why they did not write the text to the catalog themselves?

Surely, doing so would have demonstrated their alleged prowess and leading edge importance to rug studies, the rug world and the lay public.

Why, if they are so ahead of the times and expert, did they use a hired-gun like jon thompson.

Are not their own credentials, and of course the catalog’s aforementioned pre-eminence in this field, enough qualification to write the text and choose their exhibits without outside assistanc?

This is, perhaps, the one crack in the dyke anyone from the public with enough sense to unwrap a stick of chewing gum can easily realize.

You do not need to be a rug expert to sense the falseness all that laudatory praise implies, or to realize how significant it is not one word in the catalog, about a rug, was penned by a member.

Anyone who knows about thompson knows he made his mark by collecting Turkmen pile rugs, so it is here we should have expected to see some new ideas; after all since his sotheby auction catalog and the words he wrote therein, thompson has contributed nothingto the growing scholarship in this genre of rug collecting and appreciation.

Let’s remember that auction was in 1993, fifteen years ago, and surely, besides this opportunity, thompson has had many others to continue his work in this area.

But like others, he dropped it like a hot-potato.

Why might some ask?

The reason is clear – Turkmen rug studies, unlike ‘classical rug studies, is something very hard to accomplish – there are no 15th, 16th, or 17th paintings of Turkmen rugs in situ or elsewhere to learn from, and there are no historical accounts to read and scrutinize.

Working on Turkmen rugs requires that scholar’s sweat we mentioned and also a priori inspiration to lead any researcher to new ground.

The reality thompson has not exhibited any semblance of these qualities since his Bogolyubov annotations is as obvious as the nose of his face, and his work on the Turkmen rugs in the “TtT” proves it in spades.

RK previously mentioned there are only two mentionable unpublished star-quality weavings in the catalog – here is the first of our choices:


“Plate 34 munkasci collection”

Before we continue we must mention the Luddism this catalog is mired in concerning the dating of any rug that is not “classical”.

It is almost as if, according what someone recently wrote about the exhibition,

“…Turkmen studies had regressed by several decades.”

If this was obvious to a neophyte aficionado, why wasn’t it obvious to those involved as lenders or otherwise?

That’s another easy answer: Who, other than RK, would dare to question what the rug-guru and god thompson utters? Clearly nobody and this is part and parcel of RK’s crusade to right rug studies from its present far from correct trajectory.

Let’s examine thompson’s description of this best of type example.

First, dating it mid-19th century is Luddism at it highest heights and, considering the work RK and a few others have done to establish proof through example of a Turkmen weaving continuum that is at least 400 years old, incredibly reactionary and frankly stupid.

“Although” thompson states “we know this is the face of a small storage bag…”.

Small storage bag?

The piece measures 45 inches, that’s 3 inches shy of 4 feet; surely there are larger storage bags that came off pre-commercial period Turkmen looms but not many, in fact very few -- very very few -- except if you want to quibble about less than 10% of its size.

Who is thompson kidding, or does he write gibberish knowing no one will read it, or those who do will not dare comment?

He continues “…its precise tribal origin is unknown.”

Is this statement, one that is true of any and every early Turkmen weaving, something that qualified thompson to write this catalog?

RK can only reiterate this, like others we have and will mention, demonstrates the lack of any real work or thought present in thompson’s text. More so, it is truly embarrassing for some who is so heralded as a Turkmen rug expert.

And the platitudes he then mouths:

“Although simple in concept, the perfect balance of proportions between field and border, the calm simplicity of the field ornaments, and the wonderful use of color make this small weaving a masterly representation of the woven art of the Turkmen people”

would be more appropriate to an auction sales catalog, not an exhibition, especially one like this.

Again we question why such common, and worthless, rug-patter appears in this catalog?

Another Turkmen example in the catalog, and one almost equally worthy of attention and admiration is this Saryk chuval:


“Plate 30 Cooper collection, promised to the Cleveland Museum of Art”

This chuval is not quite as remarkable as Plate 34, but it is head and shoulders and way above the majority of the examples, from any genre of rug or textile production, included in the catalog.

With amazing disrespect to anyone who has, since 1970 worked and published about Turkmen rugs, thompson boldly, and totally erroneously, states the following in his description of this chuval:

“Tribal attributions have been worked out from material collected and data recorded by General Bogolyubov, Russian Governor of the newly-formed Transcaspian Province, beginning in 1899. More information has been added by Valentina Moshkova, who made several expeditions to study Central Asian weavings between 1929 and 1945. She died in 1952, and the results of her field work were published in 1970. However, many uncertainties remain.”

Anyone reading this would surely get the idea the world of Turkmen studies has stood still since then, what rubbish.

Again thompson’s glibness and lack of scholar’s sweat pours through rug studies like salt though a shaker, and the outrageousness of his statement is truly disgusting.

Once more, thompson dates this, surely 18th century example, unbelievably foolishly as “second half of the 19th century”. And considering he then goes on in his description to state:

“This example is believed to represent the oldest type of Saryk weaving, its age indicated by the soft red ground colour, which changes in later examples to brown and finally, in the latest pieces to purple”

we find it remarkably ridiculous.

Were there no Saryk chuval made before the mid-19th century?

Does thompson truly believe what he writes?

If he does let RK counsel any reader not to, as this notion is nothing but stupidity and blatant ignorance to the max.

And now let RK teach the good dr thompson something else: These changes in color were due to the geographic movements and displacements of the Saryk, and many other Turkmen tribes --it is these changes, and the histories of these movements, that can be used to date many Turkmen weavings, as the historic locations of many groups are now known, and as we speak being further substantiated.

Hasn’t thompson ever heard of Yuri Bregel and his seminal work “An Historical Atlas of Central Asia”?

Or the writings of Siawosch Azadi, who more than anyone else in rug studies, Bregel is an historian not a rug scholar, has published equally as seminal information on this subject?

This bring us to another point, the failure to thompson to mention Azadi, and many others, in his bibliography.

Again it is as if thompson’s failures --noticed or not by the editors of this book; and those, like munkasci, feldman, etc, who paid for it and are supposed to be knowledgeable -- were unapproachable and sacrosanct because of his alleged guru status.

That’s it for today.

RK will continue this exercise and drubbing of “TtT” as time permits, so stay tuned.

Read Part II in the "Pictures for Discussion" Topic Area...

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