Home > Turkmen Rugs >Review: new hoffmeister collection book Part XII
Author:jc
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Wed, Jul 20th, 2011 10:56:55 PM
Topic: Review: new hoffmeister collection book Part XII

MAD engsi, cat. 117, hoffmeister collection

Calling the Middle Amu Darya region the “Babylon of Central Asia”, Tsareva entitles her next attempt to fill some pages with words

Middle Amu Darya.
The Babylon of Central Asia.

Rugs made in this region have of late become known by the acronym MAD, Middle Amu Darya. They also have become fashionable with certain collectors, some of whom have even taken it upon themselves to invent new names/labels for certain types.

We will resist further mention of this practice unless Tsareva joins the kool-aid party.

Directing her attention from the historical, or alleged we might add, origins of carpet-weaving in these environs she turns to the hoffmeister’s MAD rugs and trappings

This variety and richness is beautifully illustrated in peter hoffmeister’s collection, as practically every piece represents a different tribe or place of manufacture, many of them having been made by the non-tribal urban population of the Mad oases.

RK waits in wonder to see if we can learn the who and the where of all, some, or none of the illustrated examples.
Cat. 107, hoffmeister collection

About the first hoffmeister MC, cat. 107, Tsareva state with authority

Traditionally such carpets are identified as tribal, and this is true in terms of structure and gul medallions, but the gaz ayak (ed. ‘goose leg’) figures and the tavus (ed. ‘peacock’main border) belong to the urban stratum of MAD patterns. The shape of the medallion is also different from the classic Salor type lobed- gulli-gul. Thus although tribal in character, the carpet is a commercial variant of an Ersari hali, a type popular in the bazaars of Bukhara and Khorasan.
Cat. 108, hoffmeister collection

About the second, cat. 108

Its strcture, colouring and archaic Oguz-Turkmen pattern prove that the fragment is attributable to the Salor, the second major tribe of the region, who live in Chardjou district in the northern part of the valley. Early Oguz-Turkmen settlers, they moved to this area in waves, beginning in the ninth century and continuing until the eighteenth.

Sounds like more junk scholarship to us, and why Salor?

No reasons given, besides the asymmetric open left knot. But there is no two level warp, ie depression, so calling this fragment “S” group, aka Salor, is nothing but another ya just gotta believe Tsareva attribution.

About cat. 110 Tsareva recounts

Between the Salor in the north and the Ersari in the south the valley is populated by a mass of small tribal groups as well as he inhabitants of ancient local towns and settlements, also Arabs, Persians, Uzbeks and Indians. Most were engaged in carpet weaving and their diverse ethnic and territorial preferences produced a polyphony of patterns, style and technical traditions, beautiful but very difficult to attribute. Just such a piece is a haliche with the mina knani composition (cat. 109)

Well, well from the looks of the way the first three examples are described we can forget about learning the who and where of MAD rugs.

But wait, attributing cat. 110 to the town of Khalach, in the southern zone Tsareva also inform readers the design is not a cloudband but rather a serpent based on these creatures being

…much favored in the art of Bronze Age Turkmenistan (Tsareva 2005)

Guess she is going to ignore the old how did this design get from the Bronze Age to a 19th century weaver without even presenting one intermediary example, huh?

This appears to us to be another just gotta believe Tsareva fact.

Tsareva writes

Comparisons show some major differences between knotting traditions of the northern and southern zones.

But then fails to list even one of them.

She also mentions C14 dates for two engsi

The process of design deformation must have been very rapid, as two ensi with early C14 dates lack the customary yaile/sainak outer border ornament…except in cat.116.

Those two engsi with the “early” C14 dates are cat. 112

AD 1521-1567 (9.4%)
AD 1628-1683 (52.2%)
AD 1764-1806 (26.5%)
AD1478-1678(ed. no percent given)

and cat 113

AD 1633-1706 (30.7%)
AD 1714-1820 (47.1)

RK is very familiar with cat 112, as it was published it in the Tent Band book and we know the piece well having handled it a number of times. It is surely an early example of this type of MAD engsi, which if readers did not already notice is a fragment, missing the complete middle of the engsi with part of the upper and lower halves joined together.

But the C14 dates as completely useless here, as they are not nearly definitive enough to draw any conclusion.

Same for the ones published with cat 113, a engsi that also appears early but surely not as old as cat 112 or the C14 dates given for it in the catalog. These are even less convincing than the ones for cat 112.

Tsareva continues on the engsi in the catalog

This (ed. cat. 116) is the only example that can be given a precise tribal attribution, to the Kizil Ayak, a sub-division of the Ersari. Four others can only be put into the general Ersari group, while the last two could be from either the central or northern zones.

RK continues to wonder why Tsareva makes claims, like “ practically every piece represents a different tribe or place of manufacture.” and then completely ignores trying to demonstrate this in her descriptions. This is poor scholarship in any terms.

By the way, in our opinion the most beautiful MAD engsi in the catalog is cat. 117, which is properly dated to the early 19th century.

RK should add the dating in the catalog is by and large quite correct and we congratulate Tsareva for not having over-dated, a practice many recent rugbooks have fallen for.

Reading Trareva on asmalyk it is rather confusing because the provenance information she is relating is not given any dates or time-period.

The items she is writing about are surely middle 19th century and a bit older but is the info she supplies contemporary or, as it seems to us, quite a bit later, ie late 19th and 20th century.

However, examination of several different types of ‘tribal-looking MAD items suggests that some were made by professional urban weavers for nomads, most probably in payment for wool or other pastoral products.

RK is glad Tsareva makes this observation about MAD weavings, as we have been championing it for many other types as well for a long time

But we are not so positive these weavings were only made in exchange for wool and other pastoral products, as we are sure nomad groups, especially those who were wealthy and mobile enough to have weavings made for them, had other forms of payment to exchange – for instance livestock, horses, and even silver and gold.

But this is a small moot point and Tsareva is one of the few authors we have read to acknowledge certain, might we say many, 19th century Turkmen rugs were factory and workshop products made for foreign, local markets or for Turkmen and other nomad groups.

We also agree the quote below was true in the later periods of weaving but surely not in the earliet ones, when the weavings RK is interested were made

With Turkmen pieces there was a direct dependence: the longer a tribe lived in an area the stronger the local ‘accent’.

This idea is completely opposite to the concept of proprietary iconography RK, and many others, have come to believe was the case with indigenous Turkmen tradition and weaving culture.

This is a very important point and one which we are surprised Tsareva drops, and drops in such a pseudo-innocent manner.

Oh well, par for the row she is hoeing.

Here’s another point of disagreement

…pieces of the so-called Beshir type from the central zone have ikat patterns inspired by the Bukhara market…

This may not, and we believe surely isn’t, the case as those ikat patterns may have earlier and older origins that brought them to Bukhara, as this detail from the earliest one we know demonstrates
Archaic period Beshir chuval with unusually non-symmetric iconography, RK collection, published Weaving Art Museum exhibition Turkmen Trappings

To back-up our dating take a look at the unique and ancient elements in the elem panel and scattered in the field, as well as the single border. These are signs this chuval is, as we claim, a rare Archaic Period survivor.

Just compare our chuval to cat. 129 and 130 to see how it’s iconic pattern became deformed and degenerated into a regular, standardized and rote reproduction.
Cats. 129 and 130, hoffmeister collection

We end our critique with the following which we find rather remarkable for its the naiveté

How is it possible that in the depth of the Moslem world at least 10 centuries after the victory of Islam in Central Asia, there is still flourished a style that glorified ancient animistic and totemistic ideas that had otherwise disappeared without a trace from representative arts of this region? Neither the poly-ethnic character of the local population, nor political factors, can explain the reasons for such enduring popularity. The answer may perhaps be hidden in spiritual-religious conditions, notably the lack of any single official belief during pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods.

Simply put: There was an indigenous Turkman weaving culture long before Islam came into Turkmenistan, and after its arrival only certain groups and their woven iconographies were affected.

Other groups avoided and resisted change, and the earliest weavings that have come down to us clearly demonstrate this fact.

And because some, like Tsareva, have difficulty recognizing those early examples they miss the boat on so many related and equally as subtle factors.

Mind you, it is very difficult to recognize the archetypes and archaic examples and Tsareva, hoffmeister and many other serious collectors are in the same boat.

But even the most unaware of them, we believe, see the difference when good strong comparisons, like those we have presented in the past and endeavored to include with this review, are put in front of their eyes.

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