Home > Turkmen Rugs >Dissecting the WH engsi
Part II
Sun, May 22nd, 2011 02:55:46 AM
Topic: Dissecting the WH engsi
Part II

As we have written, and should be obvious to anyone versed in “Salor” engsi iconography, the WH engsi is not true to form.

Calling it deviant might be far more correct than different, unusual or a variant, as it deviates and not really differs from all the others.

There are basically two types of “S” group engsi and RK has had them both, as well as seen in person and handled others of each type.

The iconographic differences in the two are minor and taken together they nonetheless present a very highly uniform and homogenous group, which is unusual for pre-commercial period Turkmen weavings.

Detail, WH engsi

This, plus their unnecessarily complex structure and lavish use of silk, have convinced us they are not really among the earliest of Turkmen weavings, and the WH engsi is surely not an early example of the type.

We believe them all to be workshop rather than village or clan production, and regardless of the circumstance where they were made, none come from what we call the archaic period.

Their form has, we also believe, been derived from other group’s engsi and other types of weaving. But that discussion is not the one we are dealing with today, and that can of worms will remain unopened.

But the can of worms the WH engsi deviations present is a slippery enough one, so lets get down to see if we can make some sense out of them and it.

First off as we suspected, and now have heard from our agent’s report, it appears to be open right and, therefore, not “S” group.

However, since we did not see it, and the already mentioned comments from someone close to grogan say it is open left, this issue will have to remain a jump ball.

But as salient as the open left/open right question is, it still does not indicate where the WH engsi was made, or who made it.

Knowing how the knot is tied would put to rest any ideas it might be a ‘unique’ “S” group example, but nevertheless it is what it is -- according to us a later example of the “Salor” engsi type.

Being woven with a two level, or depressed if you like, warp structure likewise separates it from other open right Turkmen weavings and the groups that wove them.

The wool also, as we have been told, is not the type “S” group weavings have, so this too points out it is a nag of a different color.

But wool quality and the appearance of coloration without dye analysis are both subjective opinions that do not, like structure, tell us something.

And since that is in question, this leaves us with only the iconography for discussion.

detail, Tekke engsi curled-leaf center panel

Who made the WH engsi?

This is the $64,000 question with no answer.

If RK was forced to guess we would opine it was made by a weaver very familiar with the rare type of early Tekke engsi we will soon enter into this discussion and the standard “S” group engsi format.

A detail from the center panel of that Tekke engsi is pictured above.

If asked to guess where the WH engsi was made, we would have to take a wild guess and say somewhere in the Gorgan-Atrak area.

If we had to guess when, we would answer circa 1800 plus.

Enough guesswork, let’s get down to some postulating that is on firmer demonstrable ground.

When we first saw a picture of the WH engsi we did not like it, and the more we have studied it our opinion has not improved.

It is surely not by any means airport-art but neither is it genuinely historic or beautiful.

It is middle period, a very late Classic/early Traditional period in our continuum Turkmen weaving that is a rare bird.

One a certain type of comprehensive, get all the variants, type collector or two will probably pursue to great, and in our estimation unwarranted, lengths.

Beauty is, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder and anyone who believes the WH engsi is beautiful is surely within their rights.

But putting it into its place in Turkmen weaving history is not something personal but rather one of fact, and not opinion.

And that is unassailable.

In Part I we listed a number of aberrant features and mentioned the elem being the most deviant of all.

Let us now examine it and in doing so attempt to explain how it came into being, ie. where the iconography came from, and why the WH engsi is surely not the earliest or among the best of the type as some pundits claim.

Before we dissect the elem we must state clearly invention is not a key to identifying archetypal Turkmen weaving.

Rather expressing the form in the best possible and convincing manner is that key.

It is clear Turkmen weavers worked in a very closed and proscribed environment and this is why the weavings they produced are unfailingly similar.

The weavers were not at liberty to do what they wished (see RK Anatolian Kelim opus where this is discussed at length).

Nor would the weaver have wanted to, as reproducing the form was their goal, not inventing a new one or adding their own take on it.

This is the basic premise of our system for defining Turkmen and Anatolian archetypal weaving; one that likewise shows how a weaving like the WH engsi, and its inability to express that form and instead add to it, must be a late example.

We do not believe it is 18th century and would if forced to date it we would again suggest circa 1800.

But actual age is not the issue here, nor can it be determined – a relative one is, and it can be demonstrated.

Here, once again, is a detail of the elem so we can now begin the dissection process.

It is made up of several elements so let’s first show them before we demonstrate how they have been “invented”.

The first and most obvious is this, as it is repeated many times in two rows

Actually it is what we call a compound element made up of basically two disparate ones, as we show below

The double bracket, as we will call the one on the left, and the double tree, as we will call the one on the right, are both elements that appear to have been based on, and copied from, this extremely rare form of a Tekke engsi.

This is the same engsi we have already shown a detail from above.

Detail, early Classic period Tekke engsi elem, private collection, unpublished

We are not at liberty to discuss this engsi, who owns it or where we saw it, so please understand.

There is, however, a somewhat later copy published in the 1980 publication titled “Turkmen Studies”. It appears in the Tekke engsi photo album section towards the back of the book.

It is illustrated in black and white and was formerly in the collection of dr. walter denny, who is listed as the owner in that publication.

RK saw it with denny many, many years ago and now believe it is a copy done several generations later than the one above.

Here are the icon as they appear in the Tekke engsi, and for those of you who might already be lost in this comparison the trees above and the double bracket below.

Detail from the elem of the Tekke engsi showing the trees and double bracket

Trees are trees but a far more significant one for this discussion, also from the Tekke engsi elem, is shown below.

It is the exact icon the WH engsi double tree element emulates and reproduces in a later, more amorphous and less potent form.

Left: Iconic kotchak and interior small plant/tree icon from the upper elem of the Tekke engsi and source for the WH engsi double tree; Right a single tree from the double tree element

First we are sure some of you will discount our analogy and others will raise the pertinent question: Why are the elements in the WH engsi the later copies and the icons in the Tekke engsi the original?

To address the first group we will only say read on, and for the second our answer is a bit more involved.

To prove our position is impossible, as there are no positive 100% proofs available in oriental rug studies.

The most positive proof gets in this area are well-supported and documented premise, something we think our analysis provides.

First-off the environment these icon and element appear in must be considered.

The question to ask is: Which is more in keeping with the iconography expressed on other early Turkmen weavings?

As we wrote earlier invention is not a facet of early Turkmen weaving, rather careful attention to the well-defined form is.

Both the WH engsi elem, and to a far lesser degree the Tekke elem, share a sense of invention and difference from others of their respective type, but which appears to be part of the Turkmen oeuvre, and their specific types, and which departs from it?

When these questions are asked we are sure anyone who is unbiased will have to say the Tekke elem is the winner hands down.

Its two elem of giant ashik icon above and large extremely well-articulated trees with such clear and crisp secondary elements below are far and away superior, and true to form, than the conglomeration of disparate and poorly expressed elements the WH elem sports.

The icons in the Tekke elem appear alive and potent, while those in the WH elem emasculated and diminutive.

Not to mention the ashik, omnipresent and important icon in the Turkmen weaving vocabulary, are in this Tekke engsi elem perhaps the most beautiful and iconic version presently known.

Now let’s compare the brackets both elem display.

While, again, we can provide no definitive proof, their presence in the WH elem is appears formulaic and used as nothing but pastiche, filler elements.

Whereas in the Tekke elem they maintain an integral part of the complex landscape of large flowering trees.

When the two versions are carefully compared and studied we believe this becomes apparent.

Plus the WH engsi has only one elem, surely not a feature any early engsi we have ever seen shares.

The Tekke has the most typical form – two, with the bottom one a tree type. And what great and complex trees they are!

We trust readers have been, so far, able to follow our thoughts because now the going will get a bit tougher and less obvious.

The most aberrant element in the WH engsi is this one from the middle row of the elem.

Detail, WH engsi showing ragged-edge pseudo-gol

We call this a pseudo-gol because everything about it is deviant and pseudo, the ragged-edge outline being the most deviant and un-Turkmen.

Where did his come from since there is no other known related form from a pre-commercial period Turkmen weaving we have ever seen?

Before we reveal its origin we must reiterate a concept we have developed and formulated to help explain our methodology for placing related example in continuum to show relative age and relationship.

We called it “sets” – a set being at least three or more identifiable icon/elements that are reproduced unfailingly in related weavings. These set provide firm basis to prove kinship, sometimes as in the WH and Tekke engsi comparison, among seemingly unrelated examples.

And it is a strong set that connects them, one with more than three iconographic element.

OK then, let’s now examine the origin of the WH engsi ragged-edge pseudo-gol.

A picture is worth many words so see this before we spend a few on it.

Comparison showing on left the hidden but implied ragged-edge pseudo gol in the Tekke elem; it outlined in black in the middle, and the ragged-edge pseudo-gol in the WH engsi elem on the right

This is a powerful analogy, one based on reciprocal, aka figure/ground, design theory that states important designs are sometimes hidden between more obvious ones.

It also theorizes the ground, ie. background, of a design can be as, or more, important than the figure, ie. the main design.

Were the implied ragged-edge gol the only connection these two engsi had it would be a long stretch of imagination to say it is valid.

However, since it is another in a strong set the probability it is a true and valid one greatly increases.

Regardless of the validity of this analogy, the fact a design like the ragged-edge gol appears in the WH engsi, and nowhere else in the Turkmen iconographic lexicon, again bodes poorly for any ideas the WH engsi is an early and important example.

Also studying early Turkmen weaving proves there is no other gol with ragged-edge or, to more properly describe it, serrated outline.

This too adds weight to our position it is a circa 1800 weaving.

Before we leave the ragged-gol, implied or well defined, we must mention it does appear, again implied but even less so, in some later Yomud gol.

Here is an example

detail, mid-19th century Yomud chuval gol with a later version of the implied ragged-edge gol; private collection, unpublished

And just for drill here is another way to read the implied gol hidden in the figure/ground of the Tekke engsi elem

There is also another element from the WH engsi elem traceable to the Tekke elem, albeit not as obvious as the others we have demonstrated.

Curious red figure from the WH ensi elem

Here are two pics of it in the Tekke elem

Flower from the trees of Tekke engsi elem turned 90 degrees with the curious red figure between them for comparison

While this iconographic analogy is not that positive, the position they have in each elem is.

The WH engsi small double trees can also be seen as diminutive versions of the large ones the Tekke elem displays, and the curious red element its version of the Tekke trees flowers.

Again, were this, the only similarity it would be eminently discountable. But this is far from the case, as it is another piece in the set.

Lastly, the curled-leaf, or recumbent animal, icon in the center panel of both the Tekke and WH engsi is another notch in the icon set.

detail, Tekke engsi curled-leaf center panel

Here is the WH engsi curl leaf panel and the same design with a different execution in the minor borders

All ‘Salor’ engsi have this panel and curl-leaf repeat as minor borders, so this is not that remarkable or significant for this discussion.

However, the fact the very specific way the WH engsi’s have been designed, with the # sign icon rather than a curled leaf, is noteworthy.

Basically because the Tekke are the only group to use this particular # sign border, and while this might on its own not carry much import, the fact our comparison is based on a rare form of Tekke engsi it surely then does.

We should also add it is a very rarely used, and we have only seen it appear in some Tekke torba and, even more rarely, in a couple of early Tekke Khalyk

Are those enough reasons to support our position the Tekke is the iconographic source for the WH engsi’s aberrant format?

The relationships Turkmen weaving Turkmen groups maintained is a mysterious subject but as more old examples come to light defining them becomes increasingly possible.

The points of reference we have outlined seem to suggest a strong iconographic connection, one that is not accidental or coincidence.

One thing is sure, the WH engsi is a pastiche of Tekke icon and element grafted onto a ‘Salor’ engsi root.

In conclusion we expect this analysis will provoke some worthy comment, not the least of which is how did the iconography get transferred from the group that made the Tekke to the group than made the WH engsi?

Because Turkmen groups and clans were at constant struggle, war if you like, with each other hostage taking was common and women who wove were considered as valuable hostages.

Also each group had their own icon and design elements their weaving expressed and when groups merged through conquest and marriage it is no wonder the iconographies at times became shared.

This is how we view the WH engsi.

Another possibility, one that is now becoming accepted, is the existence of certain groups of weavers who executed weavings on commission.

The idea a “factory” or even an organized “workshop” existed in Turkmenistan prior to 1800 seems highly improbable.

However, and this applies to our use of the workshop concept, we do recognize, to reiterate, a weaving like the WH engsi and its unnecessarily complex structure and lavish use of costly (foreign) material and dyes could very well signify it was produced by such a group of commission weavers as mentioned above.

One thing is sure, the “Salor” engsi type is atypical for pre-19th century Turkmen weavings. The extreme uniformity of design and materials implies they were made outside the clan-based weaving culture that produced a weaving like the Tekke engsi discussed here, or many others we know.

Author: Beau Ryan
email: beauryan@rareelements.com
Sun, May 22nd, 2011 02:55:46 AM

RK Replies:

Greeting Mr Ryan:

Here's a couple of straight answers to your convoluted comments.

1. Posting a picture of a quarter or a half, or even the entire Tekke engsi RK used for comparison is unnecessary, as the details are large and clear enough to make the points we presented.

2. The owner of the engsi does not wish to have it published at this time and RK must respect that wish.

3. If you were half as knowledgeable about Turkmen rugs, or any other type for the matter, you would not need to see more, so forget that one.

4. We did not "lambast" you in any regard. We wrote what we believe about you, and those beliefs are proven from your actions.

We have said the same to your face, and on the phone with you a number of times, so quit belly-aching and go learn something to support your over-arched rug-ego instead of parading it in private and now in public.

You, like grogan, believe you know alot...sorry, sir, RK does not agree.

You have over the years proven to us you know little and yakety yak alot.

5. If our agent did make the big mistake of mis-identifying the structure, so be it.

We already have partially divorced our comments from 100 percent belief, go read what we wrote instead of yakety yaking away.

And, get this, we did not on the phone say it is 1850. Our position has never changed we believe it to be 1800 plus. Period.

6. Regardless of the structure the WH, aka grogan, engsi is a late example; and even if you, or anyone else, does not believe the comparisons we have posted in Part I and II, there will very soon be a Part III go read it.

Failing to believe everything we have written does not change the fact it differs, and differs radically, from any other "Salor" engsi, "S" group or not.

And this, dear Beau, is the most pertinent and salient issue to prove it is, as we say, late in the type.

Here's a tip: All the differences from the already well-defined form the WH engsi exhibits are derivative -- none of them is archetypal, prototypical or even noteworthy.

This bodes poorly for anyone's case as to why it is "early".

7. And speaking of early why don't you, sailor grogan, or anyone else who disagrees with our prognosis that the WH engsi is a middle period, late version post some documentation, instead of yakety yaking why they believe it is.

Talk is cheap, Beau, and your post is not even two cents worth.

Go put some documentation and support together instead of mouthing worthless platitudes to it and unsubstantiated declarations it is "early".

8. Lastly, whatever price it brings later today does not prove anything either way. It just proves what a few turko-ruggies wanna spend for it, or who they believe or don't.

And the "bet" you offered on the phone was dollars to donuts it would sell for 125,000 dollars plus.

So we will take you up on your wager and bet you 100 donuts to 100 US dollars the WH engsi does NOT sell for more than a HAMMER PRICE, EXCLUDING any premium, of $125,000.

Post your acceptance of the bet here before the auction starts.

PS: and the IP address of the person who posted the comments located to Concord Mass, USA.

That's where you live and have your shoppe, right?


We have great software, beau, but like anything on the net can be tricked but it would be completely 100 percent impossible for anyone else but you to have posted both message from the exact same ip address.

Here is it for your information:

So you have been busted, boy, and there is absolutely nothing you can do now except admit you lied about not posting here before.


First of all Jack, let's clarify a couple of things. Number one, I did not write the comment you claim that I wrote, in fact as I mentioned on the PHONE when you called me yesterday, I haven't looked at your site for 2-3 years until today. Number two, I don't care what you have to say about me, because you are two-faced and asking me to send you pictures of things that I have for sale in private while lambasting me in public is so opposite what you claim to be. Number three, as you asked me on the phone, and as I will say for the last time, and I will bet you anything you want.......the piece is open left, PERIOD. Anyone who knows structure even basically could tell you that and as I also told you, the piece is woven upside down, which is why whatever bozo you sent to look at it probably couldn't even figure that out and told you it was open right. The piece might be 1800, it might also be 1750 or even earlier. Funny you say 1800 now, but on the phone with me you said 1850. It's a great and unprecedented piece Jack.......your little drawings are absurd to compare the negative space to these elements. And I don't believe for one second that the actual elements exist in your 'rare Tekke ensi' which is very nice, but show a picture of a quarter of the ensi with those elements and I'll believe it. I don't own the ensi, nor have an interest in it except it is an exceptional piece. Lastly Jack...........find another word besides "pastiche"...you way over use it to the point where your criticisms using that word have no meaning or credibility. Too you, everything is a pastiche. You, my friend are a pastiche! Well this IS Beau Ryan signing off for another 3 year break......I won't miss it. Oh and you said to me on the phone the piece will bring $60,000. I'll bet you anything you want you are wrong on that as well.....$140,000-$180,000.

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