Home > Turkmen Rugs >Review: new hoffmeister collection book Part VI
Fri, Jul 15th, 2011 06:39:26 PM
Topic: Review: new hoffmeister collection book Part VI

Saryk torba fragment, cat. 27, RK considers the most interesting and earliest example of this group’s weavings in the hoffmeister collection

Calling each chapter of the book a story is quite true, as what Tsareva is writing is a story, a fairy-tale about Turkmen rugs and hardly anything else.

Her chapter titles, probably meant to be provocative, like this one “Saryks. Who invented Symmetric knotting?” are but accessory to that story-telling.

Move over, Grimm Bros, but fear not Shakespeare Tsareva will not unseat you as the great bard.

Let’s now wade in with boots zipped up high to see not only if Tsareva can tell us who invented symmetric knotting but can redeem herself for the nonsense, tall-tale and yarn-spinning (pun intended) we have already read.

Taking credit for her work on “analyzing” the structures of some Saryk carpets offered for C14 dating Tsareva tells us they did, among other, what she calls “weaving tricks” like offsetting, ie off-set knotting.

Hmmm, does that mean they did it because as she stated in the previous chapter they could not, or did not know how to, do 1:1 ratio weaving that she claims to be superior?

Of course she does not answer this question or even mention it…but RK believes she surely should have.

But she does question this

The discovery of all these (ed. weaving) irregularities was truly illuminating, but there remained the unanswered questions of where and when the Saryk began to use these unusual knotting methods, and further, why, unlike most of the Turkoman they used the symmetric knot.

Here’s another logical question Tsareva should have discussed since she feels she can divine answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. It's one she avoided like the plague: Why are the “S” group, aka Salor, knotting their weavings on two-level warp structures with no other Turkmen group doing likewise?

We surely have an idea and it rhymes with vase-carpet, but we digress and need to keep on track here.

Prior to asking why the Saryk use the symmetric knot, she briefly detailed her “discovery” of what she calls “these irregular tricks” that are certain structural procedures, like weft packing, shared-warp knotting, eccentric wefting and the offsetting.

Funny, well not really, but in fact certain rare weavings -- mostly those that are earlier and made in all other weaving areas, not only by every Turkmen group -- use these structural techniques to help create curvilinear designs, and to round off edges to make designs more fluid.

So her “discovery” does not only apply to the Saryk or their engsi, it is a far more and wide-standing situation.

Tsareva claims she is the first to record these weaving structures in this group’s engsi. If so, it is surely not like discovering the North-west passage but we do give her credit for her work, and for telling everyone.

Plus although this information has import it doesn’t really change much. Nor is it anything but incidental, as finding such features in Saryk engsi doesn’t help us date them or in some new way redefine them.

It is interesting and ancillary, that’s all.

Most importantly what it does show is careful and detailed examination of Turkmen weaving will turn up eccentricities, which sometimes, like the “eagle” group findings, lead to redefinitions, or at least good attempts at them.

What Tsareva claims she found in Saryk engsi does not have that reach, but let’s read on and see what else she might impart about Saryk knotted products.

Here is an interesting tidbit

…some of the oldest-looking Saryk main carpets demonstrated unexpected chromatic features, with off-purple-red-grounds and two or even three shades of orange.

Earlier this year, after successfully ending our decades long search to find an early Timurchin gol Saryk MC, and studying it long and hard, we can absolutely agree with Tsareva’s statement, both about its color, which is purple red, as well as the presence of offset and other eccentric structural aspects.

RugKazbah readers will be familiar with this carpet from the extensive and provocative 7 part paper we wrote: “A Saryk MC and its progenitor”.

Here is the URL where it can be found


Tsareva is not the first to point out the glowing cherry red color of the hoffmeister, and others like it, Salor-type lobed gol Saryk MC were made in the Amu Darya region in the late 17th and 18th centuries when, according the historical accounts, the Saryk were camped there.

Unfortunately she has nothing further to add, nor did she try to tackle the reason where exactly the earlier Saryk MC, like our Timurchin with the completely different field palette, were produced.

But it is gratifying to know she noticed, while other authors have missed or ignored its import.

RK has some ideas, but for now we will demure until we can find more information to far more securely back them up.

Cat. 19, Saryk engsi, hoffmeister collection

In discussing cat. 19, the Saryk engsi above, Tsareva cannot help but trip over her shoelaces and bellyflop her credibility some more as this passage reveals

The first ensi consists of two large fragments and has heavily damaged sides (cat.19). Its structure shows widespread use of offset knotting and a high (for an ensi) knot count. It has rather blueish general tonality and comparatively restrained décor for a Saryk ensi…C14 test results suggest a wide date range between 1652 to1886. Yet judging from the palette, pattern and condition, an earlier date seems to be most probable, corresponding to an Amu Darya provenance in the second half of the seventeenth century. This is due not only to its exceptional technical features and palette, but more because of its pattern and condition. An ensi was not a mundane item, being used mainly during the cold season. For its carefully knotted and specially strengthened sides to be damaged and deformed to such an extent, it must have been pulled aside by the hands of people entering and leaving the yurt for hundreds of years.

Once again Tsareva is maker of fairy tale as her conclusion-- this ensi is 17th century -- is based on evidence that is not really evidence, hardly even hearsay.

If the sides were allegedly damaged by hands pulling on it for hundreds of years, how might we ask did the ensi ended up torn into two large fragments? Did some of those people pull to hard?

We find it laughable Tsareva concludes this engsi, which appears to us to be mid-to-late 18th century at the oldest, is 17th century because of its condition and damage.

Especially since we are sure she, nor anyone, knows its history and how the damage occurred.

This is junk dating and when C14 test results return a “wide range” they are worthless, except when someone, like Tsareva, wants to capriciously pick the early date and build a specious case in support.

So much for that attempt.

We do not wish to recount her mythologizing what the pattern of this typical, but deformed, Saryk engsi means but we cannot help pointing to this

…the zamin (‘earth’) panel at the bottom…Imagine that one of the first things the Turkoman infant sees is a door curtain with an ‘earth’ panel at the bottom. As that child grows he or she becomes familiar with all the different creatures represented in this woven picture, until in adulthood he or she is tall enough to see the image of the Heavens, and thus join in the high knowledge of their ancestors

Yesssh, pure nostalgic nonsense as is her comparing it to the “darvaza composition” because

Both icons were created by Magi of the past and given to the Turkoman as a means of passing high knowledge down the generations.

RK will not bother to ask where she got this information, for it is abundantly clear – from that vivid imagination she supposedly doesn’t have….yeah right.

By the way, RK has never seen a Saryk engsi, well save one, or for the matter an “S” group, aka Salor, we like. We have owned several and gladly passed them on to other collectors.

We can say the same for any “S” group MC, we do not like them either, but so far we have never owned one.

Why don’t we like them?

Simply put because once you have seen one, you have seen them all as the old saying goes.

They are formulaic, and though we recognize they are “pretty” rugs and quite valuable in the market-place RK is a collector of archetype and historic weaving. In our view, which we have expressed before, none of these types make it to the level we demand.

Cat. 22, Saryk chuval with Salor gol, hoffmeister collection

Tsareva then moves on to discuss the Saryk chuval and torba in hoffmeister’s collection but before we offer any comments we must congratulate her for recognizing

The third of these door curtains (cat.21)…seems to be a top-class commercial product of the Merv weavers.

Saryk engsi, cat.21, hoffmeister collection

We completely agree, but then we’d class the second (cat.20) as not much better, probably both coming from the same type of weaving environment.

Tsareva writes the Saryk Salor gol chuval, cat. 22, “…shows an attempt to copy the sacred ‘Trinity and Wheels of Universe’ composition.”, which is true but it begs the question are the “S” group, aka Salor, ones really the archetype?

We illustrated the hoffmeister one we feel is the earliest and best at the beginning of the Salor “Voices from the Past” chapter (he has three).

Sorry but while it might seem a rather moot point we’d postulate the fragmented one we used to own, published in the Tent Band Book, is somewhat earlier. Regardless, their age difference is not much, maybe a generation or two, and we well concur with the 18th century dating given in the hoffmeister catalog for his as well as ours.

“S” group chuval fragment with Salor gol, ex-RK collection, published Tent Band Tent Bag

An interesting bit of information about this fragment is the other half was owned by jon thompson, we both got them from a wonderful man, John Turner, who lived in Minneapolis, Minn.

It’s a cute story how we got our half but today is not the day to recount it.

Needless to say thompson sold his in his sotheby ‘collection dispersion’ sale and ours was sold by the same auctioneers some years before.

We also would like to add our belief the Salor gol is not really a Salor design, as strange as that might sound.

Several years ago we found and purchased a chuval we believe is the archetype, and guess what? It is Tekke!

Detail, ancient Tekke chuval with Salor gol, RK collection

Sorry for only publishing a corner but, like the archaic torba we discussed in Part II, we did not intend to make such archaic examples from our collection public.

We only do so to, as we wrote, make this review something special, and to back up what we say with documentation.

We believe this Tekke chuval with Salor gol is earlier than any “S” group, aka Salor, example we have seen, and while there very well may be an even earlier “S” group chuval with this gol it has not yet surfaced.

So until it does we will stick to our belief.

We should also mention our Tekke chuval has the same layout, three full gol in the center row and three half gol in the upper and lower rows.

Notice the borders on our piece, three different designs, all incredibly well articulated. Also notice the change of design in the outermost. Aspect like these are signs, but not guarantee, a weaving is an early one and well worth collecting.

At the bottom a small portion of the Tekke tree elem icon can be seen.

We could write paragraphs about this chuval but end it here by saying the all the materials -- warp, weft and pile – appear on close examination to be the same as those we have seen in the earliest “S” group examples.

Needless to say this chuval is an amazing survivor…..one we feel was not made in the Amu Darya area but west, in the Balkan mountains.

OK, we digress, so back to more mundane matters and the Tsareva text.

Saryk torba fragment and complete chuval, cats.25 & 27, hoffmeister collection

In Tsareva’s attempt at answering the where are earlier examples of Saryk knotted pile weavings question she proposes the following

There are two items in the collection that may answer this question: a large chuval with multi-gol composition, and a fragment of a torba (cat. 26, 27)(sic; ed. should read 25, 27), which we date to the second third of the eighteenth and the early 19th century respectively.
We consider these pieces to be survivals of an ancient archetypical model…Radiocarbon dates on a piece with similar patterning in the Bogolubov Collection in St Petersburg gave a range of early dates(6)…

Here are those dates

REM coll. #87-33
1643-1891(80.0%); 1648-1688 (27.5%), 1734-1812(53.7%)

While we agree with Tsareva’s feeling the torba fragment, cat. 27, is the earlier, we do not agree the comparison dating she publishes helps at all to establish it.

Nor do we agree publishing comparison dating, no matter how similar the pieces might be, is a valid procedure.

Plus, the date-ranges are too wide and, of course, the percentages are way to low to base any confidence.

This is weak scholarship and junk science.

Perhaps her idea these two weavings, with one unitary gol repeated as major and minor and not the incorrect multi-gol term Tsareva used, are a surviving form of an earlier period of Saryk weaving.

Yet, this is far from conclusive and, at best, nothing but another guess – this time one with which we agree.

Again, this is opinion presented with questionable or non-extent documentation, something Tsareva’s text and this hoffmeister publication succeeds at doing excellently.

RK also looks askance at the following supposed collaborating evidence Tsareva voices

Subsequent field research confirmed our assumption, while introducing for comparison items of Karapalpak origin with similar designs (Tsareva 2003)(7). It is interesting to note the Karapalpak use of irregular knotting methods is indistinguishable from those of the Saryk described above(8). Another important feature shared by Karapalpak and multi-gol Saryk wevaings(sic) is their purple ground color."

Where to start? Someone really needs to teach Tsareva how to present evidence with documentation and not just dribble along like she is the Almighty and we all should just believe what she states.

First off, the analogy she draws between Saryk, Karapalpak weavers and their weavings seems incredibly far out to us.

These are disparate peoples, living in territories that are no way conjunct.

Also the “irregular knotting methods” Tsareva is talking about really have few variations, they are fairly if not extremely stable and limited in that regard.

So if Tsareva did find variations and pecularities that are unique to these weavings she should by all means have mentioned and illustrated them.

By the way, RK sincerely doubts she did.

Also, unless Tsareva did intensive dye analysis on these Saryk and Karapalpak weavings to find key markers both contain her conclusion is worthless.

Again we doubt she has such data and only sight-compared them.

More junk science and poor scholarship.

But she goes further

All this data leads us to secure assumption of a common origin for both Saryk and Karapalpak systems of knotting, basic skills that must have developed before the ancestral Saryk were ‘transported’ from the Aral Sea area to the Caspian zone and beyond.

Oh really? A secure assumption? Is that like a definite maybe or a genuine imitation? Sounds rather oxymoronic to us…

But on she goes, even worse, without missing a beat

As to when the knotting technique come(sic) to the Aral Sea region, we assume that it entered Central Asia during the Bronze Age, carried there by migrants from Mesopotamia to the ancient Murghab Delta (Tsareva 2009). I will have more to say about this subject when discussing Turkmen tent bands, but it is clear that the technique was spread by Scythian-type early nomads of Northern Eurasia, among them the forefathers of both the Turkoman and the Karapalpak.

Wow, and double Wow but, we are sure Tsareva has not one shed of evidence to back up her statements.

We will, though, have to give her another pass until we read and review her tent band discussion, which is at the end of the book.

Once more, we must say Tsareva the story-teller is doing a great job. But Tsareva the oriental carpet scholar isn’t.

Incidently, this is where she ends her “Saryk: Who invented symmetric knotting” chapter.

Scans of the entire text and all the Saryk pieces in the hoffmeister collection are below for reference.

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