Home > Turkmen Rugs >Review: new hoffmeister collection book Part V
Thu, Jul 14th, 2011 03:11:22 AM
Topic: Review: new hoffmeister collection book Part V

Three medallion kejebe torba Tsareva calls a “Trinity” of “Sun-Gods”, cat. 7, hoffmeister collection

But let’s move along here to her next “chapter”, called the
Second Story:
“The Salors Voices from the Past”.
“Only masterpieces.

Well, guess we can’t expect anything different here when Tsareva starts off like this

Heroes of the epos of the Oguz name, legendary forefathers of the Turkoman carpet weaving, chief of the powerful Soinkhan Confederation of tribes, the main instigators of Oguz Islamification, between the ninth and fourteenth centuries the Salors spread over an enormous territory…Wherever they went they acted as proselytizers for Islam, and cult-raiders of the art of knotted weaving, as can be seen, for example, by the presence of definite strata of Turkoman motif in Spanish Carpets(4). Put together, data on the history of the Salor and the results of a study of their carpets shows an amazingly complex origin for the tribe and confirm that we know very little of the history of the Salor and even less about their glorious carpet craft.

Cult-raiders of the art of knotted weaving?

Cute phrase, reminds us of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but her text should be erudite not cute.

And pray tell, how can Tsareva say “shows and amazingly complex origin for the tribe” and then “…confirms we know very little of the history of the Salor”?

If that was so, how does she know the history is amazingly complex?

About this, and the rest of her so far somewhat verbose, but say-next-to-nothing new, effort, we ask: What is the meaning and purpose of the whole thing?

Seems hoffmeister’s main hired-gun, Elena Tsareva, not only forgot to put any lead in her gun chambers, she forgot to bring the gun.

Reading dribble like this is pathetic, and if things do not get better RK will just post the scans of the pages instead of trying to critique a text that is not worth effort.

Well, it’s not getting any better reading paragraphs like this

The ‘stormy’ historical past of the tribe(ed Salor) somehow contradicts the uniquely stable characteristics of the Salor carpet ornaments and structures, as if frozen in time, which is one of the reasons but collectors and scholars of art are attracted to them.

Yes, that contradiction is significant, and it appears to be one Tsareva cannot answer.

So let RK clue our readers in to its answer, but before we tackle it we must state neither we, nor anyone else, can definitively associate any early, pre-1850 Turkmen weaving with any Turkmen group.

This is the Achilles heal of Turkmen carpet studies, and a fact.


End of discussion.

We need to restate that, even though we have said it over and over again; so what follows must be seen in that light.

The supposed idea “S” group weavings are Salor is surely not a certainty.

However, and we have also stated this over and over, the homogeneity and the completely unique, in Turkmen weaving styles, structure of “S” group, aka Salor, weavings imply sedentary, very settled, village or even city provenance.

So to answer that question, we propose almost all these “S” group weavings were made when the Salor were in the Amu Darya, quite sometime after their “stormy” past had long ended.

Here’s another question: Where are the earlier examples, those from the “stormy” past of the Salor, when they inhabited southern, western Turkmenistan, and other areas, in former times?

More about this when we discuss the examples in catalog, and after we see if Tsareva has any idea. Something we highly doubt but on we go…

With each few paragraphs Tsareva is knocking another coffin-nail into her text.

Dig this:

The Salor manner of knotting is fundamental to this amazing stability: open left asymmetric knots(table 1), with deep depression; excellent balance between the thickness of the warp, weft and pile yearns; and a ratio between horizontal and vertical rows of knots that is consistently close to 1:1. All these characteristics made it possible for the Salor craftswomen to reproduce any pattern without using any special ‘tricks’, while to achieve similar results the weavers of other tribes had to invent offset knotting and other diverse techniques. Another very important feature is the consistent use of natural brown or red-dyed red wefts, so that even when the pile is worn, it retains its general red tonality.

Where to begin, as this woman is off the deep end without the proverbial paddle, forget a life-raft or preserver.

First off, if the Salor craftswoman could reproduce any pattern, why is theirs the most limited iconographic repertoire of any Turkmen group?

Second, what Tsareva calls stability RK calls the results of formal workshop environment, rote copying and repetitious concentration on a limited set of icon.

Third, the Salor are not the only group to use red or dyed weft but, in fact, the all the best and earliest examples have undyed, very fine, natural brown, probably camel hair, weft.

Fourth, Tsareva is using the oft attributed ‘significance’ of the 1:1 ratio, which we do not necessarily agree with in many instances, incorrectly to prove her point.

Using this ratio does not inherently demonstrate stability or really prove anything of the sort.

This far more supports our workshop environment weaving “culture”, where-in weavers had the time and inclination to carefully regulate the weaving’s structural materials.

This uniformity in and of itself does not prove anything, nor does its presence make a weaving superior, or the lack of it inferior.

There are just too many other factors to consider in making such judgment calls.

Fifth, and most important, offset knotting was not invented to address the deficiencies she claims.

Thinking this, let alone writing it, is stupid prejudice and complete nonsense.

Someone should have done Tsareva a favor and taken her aside to read her the riot act for her patently bogus, elitist, Salor-über alles stance. Let RK be the first to do that now.

Her stability theory is nothing but puff the magic dragon..smoke on with her Tsareva fans, smoke on.

Leaving color and stability behind, Tsareva then launches into discussing

…the origin of Salor motifs, some of which, such as the kyrk shak are quite simple in form, while others show extremely complex designs, of which the magnificent ‘flaming’ medallions, with charkh palak intermediate motifs, are among the most intricate.

Cat. 5 has the kyrk shak, commonly called a “memling-type gol” but why Tsareva needs to use another ‘foreign’ term, which is frightfully unfamiliar, is unquestionably absurd.

Cat. 5, “S” group torba with ‘memling’-type gol, hoffmeister collection

According to Tsareva this design

…proves to be a derivation from the Women’s Family Tree motif(Tsareva 2007, pp.81, 82), connected with the idea of Umai Goddess in Turkic mythology, and represented in its earliest variations on rock carvings of the early nomads of Northern Eursia (Novgorodova 1989). It acquired its modern woven shape, the symmetrically arranged hooked form especially, through the natural weaving technique-driven development of the initial symbol, without any intervention by shamans or bearers of the ancient sacred knowledge of the Steppe peoples.

Here it would be necessary, in any real effort at scholarship, for the author to demonstrate how this ornament “proves to be a derivation from the Women’s Family Tree motif”, even if she has done it before and cites that reference.

This is especially valid considering at other times Tsareva repeats references far more well known and heavily circulated.

Also some diagrams, particularly to further explain how, according the Tsareva, “ It acquired its modern woven shape, the symmetrically arranged hooked form especially, through the natural weaving technique-driven development of the initial symbol, without any intervention by shamans or bearers of the ancient sacred knowledge of the Steppe peoples.” would seem to be in order.

Plus dropping a bomb like “ without any intervention by shamans or bearers of the ancient sacred knowledge of the Steppe peoples” should surely be elucidated, and whoever edited this text was definitely lax not to have required it.

Ahhh, but that would be too real for a rugDUMB book, and so far the hoffmeister collection publication is proving itself to be perfect example of rugDUMB’s reputation for substandard scholarship.

Same goes for Tsareva’s short mention of the flaming karkyk-gols, which are the name she has given to the highly accreted and codified minor gol on the chuval below .

Cat 7, “S” group Chuval with Salor gol, hoffmeister collection

And what can RK say about her dubbing this pattern a “trinity of sun-gods”?

In our opinion calling the three Salor gols on cat. 7 a representation of a “trinity” of “sun-gods” that “…must be the creation of a superior intellect…” smacks of ouijji board academics. Not to mention Tsareva’s silly and totally absurd comment it was the creation of “superior intellect”.

RK’s comments are especially pertinent considering Tsareva then throws in, like a drunken chef in front of a spice rack, the Salor gol

quite probably reached its full development during the spread of Nestorian Christianity in the East, which for Turkmenistan was in the 2nd century…For me personally this composition – three Sun-Gods floating in the Cosmos, surrounded by Wheels of Universe – is truly divine and full of heavenly harmony

Sorry, Madam, not for me, “personally”.

So much for kyrk shak, charkh palak sun-gods and trinities and on to “darvaza”.

Three medallion kejebe large format torba Tsareva calls “darvaza”, cat. 9, hoffmeister collection

Using “darvaza” for this design is nothing but another example of Tsareva’s, and perhaps RK should remark she is the not only author to do this, annoying penchant to use terms that are uncommon and foreign when far more standard and recognizable ones exist.

Anyone who is involved past the novice level would call “darvaza” a (one-two-or-three) medallion kejebe torba.

While we are at this let it be known RK coined the phrase “large format torba” to describe torba, which are considerably larger than the average torba. And we are gratified to see other writers, but not Tsareva, have started to use it.

Bigger is not always better, but invariably the earliest Turkmen torba, as well as chuval, are larger in both dimensions than the later and more commonly seen examples.

Let’s now read what Tsareva has written about hoffmeister’s piece and see she what she has to add to the already well known, but scant, existing information.

According to Tsareva

The eight pointed star is formed from the joined corners of a square and a diamond, where the first symbolizes the Earth, and the second the Cosmos. Here I want to emphasise that the symbolism I write is not the product of my vivid imagination, but an embodiment of ancient concepts of the structure of the universe, fixed and passed on to us by the philosophers of the past. Whether or not we believe in such concepts is irrelevant, what is important is that the creators or such ‘icons’ did.

Again, any good editor should have requested Tsareva reference at least one of these, not to say RK doubts they exist.

What we do doubt, though, is Tsareva stating these ancient philosophical ideas are behind the development of these medallion or the kejebe ‘niche’ icon.

And quite frankly Tsareva’s claim for the origin of the kejebe medallion torba is nothing but a perfect example of the vivid imagination from which she has tried, rather feebly, to divorce herself.

Nothing but comic book scholarship, and writing like this has no genuine place in any publication trying to establish deeper insight into oriental rug studies.

Thus the rosette” she then says “ in the center of the Magic Star can be interpreted as the “Ideal Island” or Paradise.

Sorry, but this is junk interpretation and farcical.

But, amazingly, it gets even worse, as you can read in the scans below. For example take Tsareva’s next sentence

For the Turkmen that was their land and themselves, the beating heart of the people being marked with a small central star with unequal “twinkling” ends.

We are at a loss for words to describe the complete lack of anything even close to academics or scholarship “twinkling” nonsense like this demonstrates.

The four arches flanking the Magic Star represent the Four Gates of our Universe, with figures of Cosmic Guards inside each(herein lies the source of the name of the composition). I will go on no further, though there is much to say, as every element, number of figures, and so on, has definite meaning. Taken together they reveal the Turkoman concept of the Universe and give graphic representation to the folk’s national idea.

RK is thankful of one thing, she chose not to go on though supposedly “ there is much to say”.

Where did Tsareva get this information?

RK has never heard it, or anything close, before.

Might not it have been a good idea for someone, anyone, to have asked her before allowing her to appear as nothing but a charlatan spouting imaginary connotations?

And get this

To conclude this theme, I should note that, rather like the lobed contours of the ‘Ideal Island’, the Salor-gol contains an eight-pointed star, and has other common features, in which the similarity of important details connects both images and confirms Moshkova’s idea of the gols as symbols of Turkmen self-identification and self-expression.

Oh yeah? This is nothing but dribble and until RK reads something worth our effort to comment we will not continue to critique what Tsareva writes and just end our look at this “chapter” with posting the scans so readers can see why.

Asking how come the “S” group carpets are so large Tsareva can’t seem to think of any reason other than imaginary, unproveable, ones.

The most obvious is these rugs were made in workshops and the larger size was done to make them more valuable. After all they are too large to be used in any normal yurt and Tsareva’s ideas about the origins for this tradition of making such a large MC are once again fishing for answers in an unstocked, lifeless pond.

She states these large carpets

…survived from the period before the seventeenth century. When the Salors were in the Caspian coast area and lived in large circular houses – possibly yurts with stone foundations – which according to Djikiyev, a great authority in the field of Salor history, one can still see in the Mangyshlak Desert.

This again sounds good, at least she mentions a reference; but, once again, where is the proof it was the Salor who lived in those circular houses, or stone foundation yurts, and not some other people?

And those “possible yurts with stone foundations” are, according to what we have read about them, merely some rare instances where circles of post-holes remain visible in the ground surrounded by stones.

Surely they are not real foundations of layered stones.

This is another exaggeration of Tsareva’s, and we defy anyone to prove her reference correct and ours assailing it incorrect.

Forget about proving who ever lived there made the carpets she is discussing.

Again what she writes is far-out speculation and nothing but unsubstantiated opinion, especially her implying the many incredibly similar “S” group MC are 17th century or older.

We have said it before and will say it again: “S” group, aka Salor, weavings are just too similar to have been products of such an early period of Turkmen weaving culture.

On almost aspect these “S” group, aka Salor, rugs appear foreign and alienated from other Turkmen woven products.

And we will stick to our position they are urban; not really Turkmen, probably Persian, with none of the ones in the hoffmeister collection, or those like them, pre-dating the 18th century.

But more on this in our coming discussion of a few of the “S” group, aka Salor, pieces in the hoffmeister collection. We are not sure exactly when wew will get aqround to this but perhaps it will not be until we have finished our complete and comprehensive review of the book.

Well, glory be, Tsareva finally mentions the kejebe word in connection with the “S” group, aka Salor, torba in the hoffmeister collection.

However, we disagree with her surmise these “S” group, aka Salor, ones are the archetype for this icon.

Some long time ago, RK wrote about the kejebe and illustrated a single medallion Saryk kejebe torba we believe is best yet discovered example showing what was most probably the archetypal form.

We used to own it and published it in the Tent Band Book.

Early Classic Period Saryk kejebe torba, ex-RK collection, published in Tent Band Tent Bag

This torba has the most complex articulation of these medallion; as well as kejebe, which appear to be far more iconic than those in any “S” group, aka Salor, one we know.

Here is the URL for a short paper we wrote that includes mention of kejebe and this Saryk torba


We recently published some additional thoughts on the kejebe and direct readers here for more information on our position.


There are many reasons we discount the hoffmeister and other examples of “S” group, aka Salor, kejebe torba are the archetype, and after reading the just cited references we trust they will be clear and need no further explanation.

RK finds Tsareva’s Salor-centric ideas grossly unproven and on top prejudicial.

Many if not most Salor patterns served as archetypes for the weavers in southern Turkmenistan and the Middle Amu Darya territory.

This is hog-wash, and by stating such a premise Tsareva only echoes the market for Turkmen rugs which goes gaga for anything “S” group, aka Salor, while ignoring earlier, far more archetypical weavings.

RK does not deny “S” group, aka Salor, rugs are beautiful and shiny, but are their patterns and iconographies evocative and magical?

Sorry, they aren’t, and anyone who doubts what we say is welcome to try and prove us wrong.

Tsareva then comments about the Type A and B examples of “S” group, aka Salor, engsi in hoffmeister’s collection, and calls them “very different”.

They are very different, in fact, one is so different it is not even “S” group, aka Salor.

We also find difficulty accepting this idea she offers

…when creating the first woven ‘doors’. The Turkoman used the wooden prototype as a pattern maodel…Such wooden doors have been made in the in Turkmenistan at least since the Eneolithic period, as confirmed by the dwellings of the Namazga-Tepe and other settlements…

As mentioned, RK is no stranger to the archeological excavations of Turkmenistan, as our text published in 1989 in the Tent Band Book clearly illustrates.

Here is the URL for the survey of archaeological research we wrote and published in the Tent Band Book

By the way, we wrote this long before hoffmeister was invited to join our Tent Band Book project, and within our survey we include many far more detailed references than the few Tsareva mentions.

Besides a couple of citations in the franses/pinner Turkmen Studies book, which by the way is the best effort either ever made in trying to deal with Turkmen weavings, RK’s Tent Band Tent Bag Book project text was the first, and still is most comprehensive examination, to explain the relationship Turkmen rugs maintain with archaeological objects recovered from excavations in south-west Turkmenistan.

Therefore when we say we sincerely doubt Tsareva or anyone can produce any evidence to back up her absurd claim we know what we are talking about.

Fact is, it would be impossible: There are no wooden artifacts, let alone pieces large enough to have been doors, extant from any Namazga site, so where she got this idea is beyond us. Maybe the sun-god told her?

Equally puzzling, and even more erroneous, is calling cat. 13 an “S” group, aka Salor, engsi.

Unquestionably this engsi, cat. 13 from the hoffmeister collection, is not an “S” group, aka Salor, engsi as author Elena Tsareva, and apparently hoffmeister, claims.

Interestingly, this engsi has several of the alleged “unique’ features of the record-breaking “S” group, aka Salor, engsi recently sold in Boston.

RK will, at some point, discuss these piece and their similarities but for now we will concentrate on discussing why cat. 13 is NOT a Salor weaving.

In the back of the hoffmeister collection book is, perhaps, the only worthwhile part besides several of the illustrations of the best examples from his collection.

This is where the structural anaylses are listed.

Looking at the information for cat. 13, the following appears

128 X 168 cm
Turkmenistan, Middle Amu Darya region
Northern zone. Salor
Warp: goat hair(/), light grey, Z2S
Weft: 2 shoots; wool; shades of pink, some ivory; Z1 and some Z2s; loose
Pile: wool. Z2S Height (mm) 3
Knot: AS open left, some depression, row of packing knots at the top; eccentric weave in the middle….
Published Eiland, A World of Carpets and Textiles, p. 180

While the asymmetric, open left, knot is an important “S” group, aka Salor, feature having some, and not all-over, warp depression, ie two level warp, surely does not signify this is an “S” group, aka Salor, weaving.

Far from it: The additional presence of pink and ivory weft, not the usual fine brown probably camel hair wool almost every other “S” group aka Salor weaving has, and the “loose” weft packing rather than the tightly packed fine weft all “S” group, aka Salor weavings, exhibit are completely non “S” group, aka Salor, structural elements. This engsi can’t therefore be “S” group, aka Salor.

Then, of course, there is small size, unknown in any “S” group engsi; as well as the aberrant iconography, similar to the equally questionable Boston engsi; the sloppy articulation of just about every design feature; and the lack of fine-line finesse and detail all other “S” group, aka Salor, engsi demonstrate.

Sorry, but Tsareva and hoffmeister are barking up the wrong tree when they claim this late, degenerate version of an “S” group, aka Salor, engsi to be a genuine one.

RK would opine this is a Kizil Ayak product, as the lower elem, basically an ak-su variant, and pink weft are features some, rarely seen, weavings from this area can sometimes have.

In any regard, it is not an “S” group, aka Salor, engsi and claiming it is, once again, is nothing but puff the magic dragon…smoke on hoffmeister, Tsareva and supporters, smoke on.

And we also question Tsareva’s stating comments about cat. 12, shown in the scans below

"The whole appearance of the hanging, especially the eight eagles, indicate that it belonged to a high-ranking person, most probably the chief of the tribe, while the caravan of eight walking camels(/) suggest that it was made to mark the wedding of the chief.

Sounds like a nice and cute explanation for the two different elem icons but we ask: What was Tsareva doing when she made up these ‘interpretations’, or did she read them somewhere?

We surely have no clue.

But we find even more disagreement with her comments about cat.13

By contrast, the smaller Middle Amu DArya piece (type A), with a less formal and slightly overcrowded design, seems to have been made by and for a common family’s needs….demonstrating an early stage of formation of Salor weaving practices.

This is garbage and should have never made publication. The fact it did casts great doubt over the integrity and high praise Daniel Shaffer was paid to write, as well as any reputation as an expert Ms Tsareva carries.

And her claim these engsi, cat. numbers 12 and 13

…show differences…demonstrating different vectors of development of the Salor weaving tradition.

is nothing but bogus palaver, as one of the alleged vectors is not even a “S” group, aka, Salor, product.

The rest of what she writes about “S” group, aka Salor, weavings strikes us as equally worthless, read it for yourselves below.

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