Catalog No 82
It has been exactly 21 years since the June 1993 Hamburg Turkmen exhibition and the publication of the book that served as its catalog “Wie Blumen in der Wüste”.
The Turkmen weavings on exhibit came from a number of German private collections and were shown in conjunction with the now defunct icoc (international conference on oriental carpets) at the venerable Ethnographic Museum in central Hamburg.
RK attended and was privy to the “scene” created when a certain collector objected to the way his carpets were being displayed and minutes before the opening pulled them from the exhibition creating complete disorder and mayhem.
This collector, peter hoffmeister from Coburg, Germany, is well known to RugKazbah.com readers thanks to RK’s publishing online our disappointing history with him.
In doing so we documented how he plagiarized our work, cheated us out of the profits from the “Tent Band Tent Bag” book project we foolishly allowed him to join and then without our permission sold for $3.00 the remaining books which did not immediately sell to Uta Hulsey, a German bookseller, so he could get a bogus tax loss.
To call hoffmeister, hoffscheister, is kind and his pulling his pieces from the Hamburg exhibition at the last minute was typical behavior for the obnoxious self-interested turko-moron he consistently proves himself to be.
But even with the hoffscheister hissy-fit, the blank places where his pieces formerly had been displayed, the rather silly ‘ethnographic’ style of displaying historic Turkmen weavings inside a yurt where they could hardly be viewed, and the scattering others on a floor covered with several inches of sand in an attempt to create a “desert landscape”, the exhibition was a roaring success and the catalog remains an important one.
So with this anniversary at hand RK thought it opportune to make a critical reappraisal of some of the 127 pieces in the catalog.
While it was written only in German, and RK’s teppiche-deutsch is OK but surely not capable of 100 percent comprehension, we will not include comments on the short essays at the beginning of the catalog.
Catalog No 33
Language aside, we will focus our comments on the weavings, particularly the dating and some of the attributions the two main authors -- siawosch azadi and the Rautenstengels (Annette and Volkmar) – provided.
Unknown to most rug collectors is the fact each of these authors wrote about pieces they owned and lent to the exhibition, and then they each chose to write about others lent by various participating collectors.
As far as we are concerned this is not the best system, and it would surely have been better if they had not written about their own pieces, as this can naturally create a rather prejudiced situation.
But since the quality of a vast majority of the weavings was decidedly above average and, regardless of the overwhelming passion these authors might have had for their own pieces, this did not result in grossly unfair appraisals.
That said, we do disagree with much more than a few of the dates they assigned as well as a number of the attributions we found questionable.
Let’s begin at the beginning with No 1, a Yomut main carpet dated in the catalog 18th century or earlier.
Catalog No 1
RK knows this carpet well, as not only did we see it in the exhibition but some years later we sold it and can vouch for the fact it is the best and most beautiful dyrnak gol carpet we have ever seen. It is however not the earliest specimen, as we know one that is probably 150 – 200 years earlier.
No 1 belonged to siawosch azadi at the time of the Hamburg exhibition, and it was from him that we arranged its sale to the present owner.
But we would never date this rug as 18th century. For us it is circa 1800 at the earliest.
The rug’s beauty does not stem from its inventive, ie early, iconography but rather from its superb condition and glowing colors.
The dyrnak gol in the field do not exhibit the small, subtle, often quirky design irregularities 18th century and earlier main carpets most often display. Also the border, although expertly rendered, likewise shows a somewhat repetitive execution and the overly large, somewhat out of proportion, ‘leaves’ with curl-leaf interiors are just too 19th century to have been rendered by earlier weavers.
Likewise the elem, which are unique, have been repeated without hardly differences on both ends, again something from our long experience we do not associate with 18th century Turkmen main carpets.
The next exhibit we have trouble finding agreement is No 18 a tiny Yomut ‘asmalyk’ which is believed to have been used to cover the bridal camel’s knees.
Catalog No 18
There is no doubt siawash azadi, who wrote this description as well as a number of other ones we are going to debunk, has a well-known and deserved reputation as a serial and egregious over-dater of Turkmen weavings.
Calling this little weaving 18th -19th century is both laughable and ridiculous.
After more than 50 years in the antique rug business concentrating on Turkmen weavings one has to think either azadi is completely lost in the sauce when it comes to dating them, or he thinks pieces that are not early, really are. If so then too bad he is the sole person who knows this.
In either case, azadi does gross disservice to his reputation as a Turkmen rug expert by continuing to seriously over-date 19th century weavings centuries earlier.
There is absolutely nothing about No 18 to suggest, forget substantiate, this weaving is any older than circa 1860 at the earliest.
Another azadi over-date, 17th/18th century, was hung on No 20, a Tekke main carpet.
Catalog No 20
This is a far, far better than average Tekke main carpet belonging to a small group defined by their use of an upper and lower border like that seen here.
Another characteristic is larger than average main gol that exhibit vertical design compression and minor chemche gol that become sandwiched between them in the field or the outer row next to the side borders. That is the situation with No 20.
Vertical design compression rather than more round proportions is never a feature Tekke main carpets, or those of other Turkmen groups, from the 17th/18th century exhibit.
Dating this main carpet circa 1800 is plenty early and stating, suggesting or implying it is much earlier nothing but poor scholarship or lousy guessing.
No 23, a Tekke kappunuk azadi calls a “kaplyk” is also seriously overdated.
Catalog No 23
His dating this boringly rote and stiffly executed weaving 18th century is pure dream-land.
There is not one feature one would expect to see in an 18th century one, regardless of whether it is called a “kapylk” or a kappunuk.
Here, once more, the compression of the curl-leaf icon and the complete lack of grace in portraying the undulating vine connecting them are reasons enough to be generous and date this example to the first half of the 19th century, though we placed it circa 1850.
No 25, ia Tekke chuval, is dated by azadi as 18th century and probably earlier. This is nonsense, as this Tekke chuval has a number of features that demand any author, who is knowledgeable and honest, to date circa 1800 at best.
And frankly we’d put it as first half 19th century.
Catalog No 25
The main gol are large and round, which clearly is the reason azadi got fooled.
But this combination of out of proportion, overly large, major gol and rotely repeated chemche secondary gol (notice they touch the major gol) bode poorly for assigning it great age.
Also the somewhat in our eyes goofy placement of those chemche minor gol between the rows of major gol and the borders does not resonate with us as an early treatment but rather a later ‘revival’ one.
We could go one and mention other faults but we will just add the stiff repetitive drawing of the flowers in the elem panels, above and below. Also the flowers being far too closely packed into the available space, with the upper row placed so close to the minor border, implies an early first half 19th century dating, forget 18th century or before.
A Tekke khalyk, No 29, sports another gross over-dating thanks to siawosch azadi’s nonsensical notions.
Catalog No 29
This is, no doubt, a rare design few Tekke khalyk exhibit but that does not equate with dating it 18th century or earlier.
Many, many moons ago, in fact it was circa 1978, one of this type that honestly should be dated 18th century or earlier appeared a one of the weekly furniture sales Phillips auction used to hold in their saleroom, located at the time on Bond Street in London.
Tekke khalyk sold in 1978 in Phillips auction rooms on New Bond Street, London
RK saw it in the preview where it was estimated 40-60 pounds and came to the auction ready to buy it.
Unfortunately for us Peter Bausback was in the saleroom and he purchased it, with us as the under-bidder, for 8,000 pounds plus commissions.
Standing next to us was perhaps the most genteel and upstanding old timer English rug restorer and sometimes dealer Alf Landon, who was a good acquaintance of ours.
After the bidding stopped, Alf turned to us and said “That’s a hell of a price to pay for something to hang around your shaving mirror, isn’t it.”
Needless to say that Tekke khalyk is one worthy and truly capable of being 18th century or earlier; this one, No 29, not.
However, there is no question No 29 is earlier than No 23, the Tekke kappunuk. But is it 100 years or more older? We would have to say not, and that is why we date it circa 1800 at the earliest.
By the way, the field color of the Phillips/Bausback khalyk was a deep yet luminous blue, a rare field color virtually unknown in any Turkmen woven products.
Annette and Volkmar Rautenstengel are motivated Turkmen weaving collectors, researchers and authors. And while azadi is the author of the descriptions and dating for a majority of the exhibition’s pieces, they contributed a goodly number.
Unlike azadi one could never accuse them of over-dating, in fact they are on the other end of the stick, under-daters.
No 32, an ‘eagle’group main carpet, is an amazing example, and one they are primarily responsible for attributing to the “eagle” group.
Catalog No 32
Like jon thompson’s work to identify “S” group weavings, based on their unmistakable asymmetric open to the left knot tied on alternately ‘depressed’ warps, the Rautenstangel’s found certain technical characteristics which their four groups of “eagle” group weavings display.
Their publication “Kulture Der Turkmen” 1990 is an exemplary work and can easily stand as a model for any other authors trying to solve the mysteries of Turkmen rugs and their iconography.
This same main carpet appears therein and is credited to the Wher collection and “eagle” group 1, but it is undated.
In the Hamburg catalog it is dated by the Rautenstengels as 18th century, and we disagree considering there are a number of known examples of this type and this one is surely one of the earlier.
In our estimation it deserves an early 18th century date, though we are uncomfortable with any earlier one.
This rug was then later published as part of the hoffmeister collection in the book "Turkmen Masterpieces of Steppe Art" 2011 authored by elena tsavera, plate 88, where it is inferred to be circa 1700 or earlier.
Regardless of its distressed condition, the proportions of border to field, the proportions of main gol to field, the rhythmic motion the weaver was able to capture in the use of white in the field, as well as graceful three-dimensional character of the main border, are its strong points and those which equate with an early 18th century date.
There are several earlier, particularly one belonging to siawosch azadi published in "Kulture Der Turkmen" pg.75, that set the standard higher for this group. We would date azadi's circa 1600.
For comparison, see and compare No 32 to this rug of the same group, No 35, which is dated in the catalog “early 19th century”. We place it somewhat earlier circa 1800.
Catalog No 35
It is patently obvious to us, and should also have been to the Rautenstangels, there is at least a century time span between them.
On principal, RK has always taken exception to those who claim differences, like those seen in this comparison, are not the result of when a rug was made, only weaver expertise.
They would claim both main carpets were made around the same time but the weaver of No 32 was just a better one than No 35.
This logic misses the boat completely. It shows a generous lack of understanding the strict cultural factors under which a weaving like No 32 was made, and then how those restraints degenerated to produce an example like No 35.
No matter how it happened, or why, No 32 could never have been made around the same time as No 35, and Rautenstengel’s dating circa 50 years apart is way, way, too conservative.
No 33, a tentband the Rautenstengel’s assign to “eagle” group 1, rests not on as secure ground for this assignation as does No 32.
Catalog No 33
However, this is not the issue for us; rather it is, again, the too conservative dating.
This is a remarkable and extremely early tentband. All of its features -- the narrow size, 21cm, the crystal-clear drawing, the XXL large size but still perfectly proportioned representations of a limited but key iconic elements all tentband strive to emulate – prove it extreme age.
Regardless tentbands are one of the most mysterious, and impossible to securely attribute, type of Turkmen weaving, a large enough corpus of them presently exists to judge them and to create historic comparison continuums for each specific type.
Doing so with others of its type easily demonstrates No 33 as one of the earliest, if not the best, of its type and leads us to completely discount the end 18th century – early 19th century date in the catalog and place it circa 1700 or earlier.
There is a good comparison here as well with No 43, another ‘”eagle” group tentband with almost the exact same iconography dated “19th century” by the Rautenstengels.
Catalog No 43
This is an old tentband for sure, but No 33 is not only circa 50 years older than it, try 200 or more.
The somewhat larger width size, 23.5 cm, and the addition of a several panels filled with a 19th century style of crowded jam-packed little floral elements should be enough evidence to support our position.
One more is the inability of No 43’s weaver to capture the animated quality No 33’s was able to embed in the nine panels with single kotchak topped trees and five waving branches.
These are subtle but significant differences, and ones due to age difference and definitely not weaver expertise.
By the way, we would date No 43, circa 1800.
Assigned to “eagle” group III, the large format torba, No 46, was dated in the catalog by the Rautenstengels 19th century.
Catalog No 46
We know this torba well, having seen it several times since the Hamburg exhibition, and it is definitely not a 19th century Turkmen weaving.
Adding a century or more would be more correct based on its rare form, rich non-19th century coloration, perfect proportions and superb execution.
Comparing it to another “eagle” group large format torba, No 45, which is also dated “19th century” affirms the fact even if No 45 was made in 1880 and No 46 in 1800 there is still not enough time-span to explain the obvious differences.
Catalog No 45
While there are differences, mainly the introduction of a set of four animals surrounding the minor gol, notice first the proportions.
No 45 appears far too crowded, thanks to the addition of another row of major gol. This destroys the visual impact these diamond-shaped gol create and is a typical do-nothing and better left undone, ‘improvement’ often seen in later Turkmen weaving.
Also No 45’s slightly decreased width of major border and increase in the width of the minor borders destroys the brilliant balance of field to border proportions No 46 creates.
All in all dating No 45 early 19th century, which is completely plausible, would then comparatively date No 46 to 1700, which is likewise completely plausible, and far more realistic than “19th century”.
Before leaving this rare type of large format torba’LFT’, as RK has some time ago christened Turkmen storage bags of this over-sized category, another example begs mention.
published in “Kulture Der Turkmen", Rautenstengel, plate 26, page 97.
Here is the patriarch of the group. What a remarkable weaving that surpasses No 46 by leagues.
This is one that unfortunately got away, a miss we still feel though it was 30 years ago.
We believe we have already told the story here on RugKazbah.com but no matter how many times a good story is told it remains a good story.
Several days before the 1986 icoc conference in Vienna and Budapest RK was in Vienna and we visited a high profile dealer who had this large format torba hanging on the wall in his private office.
He showed it to us, quoted a price and we immediately agreed to buy it.
He wanted to be paid in cash and agreed to allow us three days to transfer the money so we could accommodate his demand.
We successfully negotiated the transfer and arrived at his office with the payment in hand only to learn he had “sold it to a good customer” right after we had seen it.
We never forgot his breaking his word and did not speak with him again until recently, when he embarrassingly acknowledged his mistake and failure to keep his word.
Anyway, regardless of who has ownership this LFT is a champion, not only of its type but also of all Turkmen weavings.
As good as No 46’s proportions appear, when compared with this example, the shine immediately comes off that idea.
Here is a perfect weaving, and an exceedingly ancient one.
We have no qualm to date it pre-1700, ie 17th century or possibly earlier. Its a major gem from a period very few Turkmen weavings appear to have been made and even less have survived.
The single row of very large central gol and two rows above and below of equally large but halved ones create an aesthetic that we believe is the original archetype for all torba shaped Turkmen storage bags.
Notice the weaver did butt the upper and lower half gol directly against the minor borders, as well as at both sides. Usually this implies later work but since there are no hard and fast rules in oriental rug studies, every historic weaving must be judged on its own.
We believe the weaver knew the extreme large size of the major gol, the likewise large size half gol above and below the central row of whole ones and the perfect spacing in which the minor gol have been inserted would all both balance and benefit visually from not leaving any appreciable space, other than one row of knots, between the gol placed at the sides and ends.
Study this carefully and you will see the logic. Also notice placing these three large format torba in a continuum and studying them comparatively documents all the points we have raised.
No 49, an engsi, is attributed in the catalog description written by azadi to the Turkmen group called the Igdir. This is as mythical as his dating it 18th/19th century.
Catalog No 49
Both are judgments we can only politely call questionable.
It is well known a group of Turkmen called the Igdir did exist and presumably produced weavings. But since neither azadi, nor anyone else, has definitively or even almost conclusively defined the characteristics of their woven products attributing any weavings to them it nothing but pure guesswork.
This type of folly is epidemic in oriental rug studies and RK has throughout our career as a researcher always avoided the pitfall of making statements which lack reasonable documentation and proof.
We would prefer to call this a Yomut group weaving and if more detailed nomenclature was required we would guess this engsi was made by the Karadashli, who like the Igdir are known to have been in the loose Yomut confederation. But at least there are some established characteristics for Karadashli weavings.
The symmetric knot and the striking light blue color are both prime ones and therefore attributing No 49 to them has far more substance than to the totally undefined Igdir group.
RK has also expressed serious doubt weavings like No 50 are, or ever were, engsi.
Catalog No 50
The old expression “if it quacks like a duck it’s a duck” comes to bear on this question.
Since the major defining characteristic of engsi are a quartered field, known as ‘hatchli’ according to Dr jon thompson, and this example like many others pundits have called engsi does not, RK believes it is not an engsi.
Plus the idea that engsi are commonplace ‘door-rugs’ is open to great debate, since there is no mention of them being so used for domestic purposes prior to the middle 19th century.
Deciding if a rug like this is an engsi cannot be compared to whether or not assigning a date of 18th/19th century is realistic, as azadi did in the catalog or Werner Logis who called it circa 1800 and an engsi when he illustrated it in his “Turkmenische Teppiche, plate 41.
It is surely not as old as either of those two authors state because there is not one shred of evidence it is any earlier than middle 19th century, circa 1850.
And while the twice-repeated design in both elem is a rare one, and might have influenced them, the fact it is repeated twice or rarely seen does not make this engsi any older.
Plus below is an 18th century version of that elem iconography.
Detail from an unpublished Yomut group engsi; 18th century; RK Collection
There are other signs No 50 is middle 19th century, perhaps the two most convincing are the compression of the vertical proportion of the ashik motif in the vertical parts of the white ground major border, as well as the stiff, two dimensional, pseudo-totemic spacers between each of the too larger ashik in the horizontal lower and upper major border.
Design errors like these do not exist in the 18th century and earlier when Turkmen weavers had the required skills and close attachment to cultural tradition to create an animated icons like that which appears in the elem detail published above.
Boksche are small storage bags made up of four triangular pile woven front sections attached to a plain colored flatweave back.
Three of the pile woven sections are sewn together edge to edge while the four one is left unsewn and functions as a top or lid.
Examples dating before 1850 are considerably rare and No 55 is a very good one; however it is not 18th century as siawosch azadi wrote in the catalog, nor do we agree with his calling it Igdir.
Catalog No 55
Although both it and the engsi, No 49, are woven with a symmetric knot, the catalog states No 49 has an sy1/sy2 configuration and No 55 an sy3.
The sy1 is the common symmetric knot; sy2 is explained in the catalog’s diagrams to have the left warp raised; and the sy3 the right warp raised.
The fact these weavings do not have identical structure seriously discounts they can be grouped together.
Granted this is a minor difference, but it is these minor and subtle technical characteristics which have always been the best documentation to use for grouping Turkmen weavings.
Failure to notice them and class accordingly is a major mistake azadi has committed.
No 55’s design is incredibly rare but there is another, and that example is one that can rightfully be called 18th century. Fact is we would date it beginning 18th century or earlier.
Yomud group boksche; 18th century or earlier; published in “Turkmen” mackie&thompson page 170; Textile Museum Washington, D.C. collection
This is the archetype No 55 copied, and it is interesting to note in “Turkmen” it is dated early 19th century.
Also interesting it is the only illustrated weaving that received no discussion, or even mention, in the catalog.
Plus it was not on view in the exhibition and RK only by chance had the opportunity to see and handle it when we visited the Director of the Textile Museum and discovered hanging on his office wall!
This is why we know the piece and can vouch it is an impressively old and wonderful boksche, the earliest and best we have ever seen or know about.
Comparing the two is really no comparison as the far superior use of color, the better proportions, the scintillating spiral helix the weaver worked into the design and the unique border which frames each triangle-section are some of the unmistakable signs great Turkmen weavings with considerable age display.
Abdal is another Turkmen tribe known to have existed within the Yomut confederation and, like Igdir, has become an attribution used by a few authors, primarily siawosch azadi.
Just like Igdir, azadi has not been able to summon up enough criteria to really make an Abdal provenance convincing.
This main carpet, No 58, like the engsi No 49, has the normal, most common, symmetric sy1, as well as the brilliant light blue coloring. Is it any wonder we prefer a Karadashli attribution rather than the still far from documented Abdal one.
Catalog No 58
We also take exception to azadi’s 18th century date, one we think more than just a bit too early.
For us a first quarter 19th century is much more realistic and reasonable.
There is not doubt this carpet is a pretty thing with a ‘unique’ version of dyrnak type gol. However, its stiff, abbreviated, too spacey skeletal main border and boringly rote ‘running dog’ minor borders belie any possibilities of azadi’s earlier dating.
Another azadi Abdal provenance is placed on No 59, an engsi which he also dates 18th century.
Catalog No 59
Both are ideas we cannot swallow and as far as who made it we would have to come down on the side of the general Yomut confederation, or family, name. Mainly because of the common symmetric, sy1, knot and the deeper coloration.
We have not mentioned but feel it pertinent to get this in: We do think azadi’s ability to assign the region where a weaving was produced in Turkmenistan to be his strongest contribution to Turkmen studies.
It was azadi who first proposed the particular subtle shade of a Turkmen weavings coloration is a concrete sign showing where that weaving was made.
And since introducing this idea in the early 1970’s siawosh azadi has continued to refine this work. He deserves great appreciation and admiration from all Turkmen carpet collectors for this important research.
But when it come to dating, and often assigning a Turkmen weaving’s group attribution, azadi’s opinions are very often questionable at best.
This is unfortunate as these erroneous opinions detract from the really significant research he has done to formulate a valid system to place a Turkmen weaving geographically based on their subtle but identifiably different coloration.
RK has not mentioned this before because while we have often listened to azadi’s ideas in placing various weavings to different places where Turkmen groups were known to have formerly existed, we have absolutely no way to validate, or invalidate, them.
We believe but do not know might be the best way to describe where we are at, and therefore we are unable to offer any commentary or discussion on that topic.
We do know calling any weaving Igdir and Abdal is far from positive and believing an engsi like this to be 18th century equally as implausible.
For instance, the heavy handed style of depicting the seven full ‘trees’ and halve ones at each side in both elem are perfect reminders this engsi is a 19th century product.
Compare them with these elem ‘trees’ from an engsi, which is not only 18th century but one we feel no hesitation dating a century or more earlier.
Detail double elem panels with ‘trees’; 1700 or before; unpublished; RK collection New York, NY
No 61 is another weaving we know well after first seeing it in 1984/5 when it was hanging on the wall in an American rug store that now no longer exists, Adraskand.
Catalog No 61
This was when Adraskand was still in its original location in Point Reyes Station, California about 60 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
At that time, prior to its repair and fairly extensive repiling, its condition was decidedly challenged but its rare major gol, now called by azadi and some others the Karadashli gol, and unique minor gol made it well worth appreciation.
We have never considered it beautiful or pretty but such judgments are not really ones we consider very important.
In the catalog azadi attributes it as Karadashli, a provenance we believe was decided based on the major gol and liberal use of that special brilliant light blue color (more on this attribution follows below).
But dating it 17th/18th century is where we break rank.
To explain our dating to circa 1800 we point to several important facets of its design.
First is the stiff main border and repetitious pair of rote ‘running dog’ minor borders.
Then, again, the repetitious use of the same icon for both elem surely does not show the traditional yet inventive designing Turkmen main carpets need to demonstrate for RK to date them 18th century.
Lastly, and perhaps most significant, is the somewhat strange, and repetitive, central medallion within each of the major gol.
We have never seen this configuration before, and that uniqueness as well as the complete lack of ‘animal or bird heads’ that appear in the earliest examples of diamond gol seriously discount a pre-19th century date.
Detail Tekke torba diamond gol with arrows pointing to animal/bird head icon; 18th century; formerly RK collection
We do think No 61’s small tertiary field icons are a masterly touch but they alone are not enough to convince us this rug is 18th century.
It is worth mention No 61, like the boksche No 55, has the sy3 knot, which does complicate the Karadashli provenance as the symmetric sy1 is their characteristic knot.
Also, although azadi has renamed it Karadashli, this gol was formerly known as the ‘diamond gol’, a term we prefer since there is no evidence it belonged at any time to only the Karadashli group.
One last point is the just mentioned strange, totally uncharacteristic for Karadashli, central medallion within No 61’s major gol is perhaps another sign this main carpet was made by another group, and not them.
Another weaving azadi calls Karadashli, No 63 an engsi, also appears to be a problematic based on the sy1/sy3 knot and the absence of that brilliant light blue coloration.
Catalog No 63
We also point question to dating it 18th century as azadi’s description in the catalog states.
As far as we are concerned this engsi is at best second quarter of the 19th century, believing it 18th century nothing but unsubstantiated over-dating.
The early full pile tentbands are extremely rare and No 80, is one of only a few known. It is also another of the exhibits we know well having owned it for more than 10 years.
Catalog No 80
We purchased it in 1978 from an ex-west coast rug dealer who moved to the east coast and in the process became a major competitor on our home turf.
But we remained good friends and one day he offered to trade us the tentband, which he had acquired for a song in Boston, for a beautiful, meaty early 19th century Kazak we had just discovered in a northern New England antique shop.
Although a large hunk of the center of the tentband is missing, the remaining almost 30 feet, 1010 cm, provides a good enough idea how the iconography in the missing panels all tentbands are divided into might have appeared.
When we published it in our Tent Band Tent Bag book, plate 1, we wrote the knot was asymmetric, as2, unlike the symmetric knot used for all the other known tentbands .
This kicked-up a major storm of criticism led by Annette Rautenstengel’s claims we were wrong and didn’t know what we were talking about.
However a few years later when a German collector, who bought it for a ridiculous bargain basement price at the disastrous Tent Band sale sotheby’s bill “the schmuck” ruprecht poorly handled and to this day we believe did so purposely, showed it to Rautenstengel she realized it does have an asymmetric knot as we had written.
In this catalog, at least, Rautenstengel got the structural analysis correct; but she completely failed to understand the age.
This tentband is not 19th century, as she wrote in the catalog description, but 18th century at the least.
Another age quibble we could easily prove the Rautenstengels wrong is the 19th century date they proposed for No 82, a pretty amazing kaplyk or as we’d prefer to call it kappunuk.
Catalog No 82
We also are leery of the Pseudo-Chodor attribution, another azadi promotion that like Igdir and Abdal needs more documentation.
In the top panel there are four of the tallest kejebe icon we have ever seen, and while size is no indicator of age or quality, when you see large motif with perfect proportions both to each other and to the rest of the pattern you can be assured you are looking at something that is circa 1800 or before.
That’s the case here. The balance the weaver of this door-surround was able to create and maintain throughout the weaving is exemplary, way beyond the skill Turkmen weavers were able to wield in the 19th century.
The main kotchak border, above and below the kejebe in their niches as well as filling the center of the two arms emanating down from both sides of the central panel, is also extra large, which works perfectly in tandem with the over-size kejebe.
A minor border of the “S” icon, flanked by alternating white, red, purple and blue chevron stripes, is both beautiful and unusual.
What is also unusual is it appears only besides the major border in the arms, a simple half chevron also of the same alternating colors replacing it in the upper panel.
Equally noteworthy is the unique motif inside the box, and half box, between the kejebe niches. This simple double leaf design is very similar but less complex to a similar icon seen in the central medallions of the earliest Saryk Timurchin gol main carpets.
Lastly how could one not marvel at the colorful and perfectly rendered radiating diamonds, made up of tiny multi-colored square boxes, at the end of each arm?
Designing and weaving like this could never be achieved by a 19th century weaver, and for all the reason above RK is incredibly surprised the Rautenstengel’s were unable to realize this kappunuk is among the earliest known, forget about is eminent charm and pure unadulterated beauty.
Although surely not the earliest “S” group chuval we know, Nos 100 and 101 actually an original pair, are absolutely earlier than the 19th century date the Rautenstengel’s have given it in the catalog.
Catalog No 100
The big, round main gol are a bit too large, better proportioned are the diamond, aka karadashli, minors. The typical, for Tekke torba and most “S” group chuval, double kotchak and spinning central rosette main border are placed on a dark purple-brown ground, which is a feature of the specific group of “S” group chuval to which this pair belong.
So are the rows of small flowers in alternating colors of light red, light blue and dark blue in the elem.
RK finds it impossible to believe these chuval are 19th century, and not as we’d date them mid-18th century.
Both technically, color and design-wise chuval like these are masterful weavings, ones done when the weaving culture had yet to experience the deterioration that was to characterize 19th century weaving in south-west Turkmenistan.
In our review of “Wie Blumen in Der Wüste” we have mentioned numerous examples of over-dating but none is more blatant than siawosch azadi dating No 108, a Saryk engsi, 17th/18th century.
Catalog No 108
We know this engsi well after studying it in azadi’s gallery more than a few times.
The engsi is his, and were it his only over-dating mistake we might ascribe it to overzealousness on the part of a weaving’s owner to properly gauge his piece.
But that is not the case here and azadi can be rightfully judged a serial over-dater with this as the crown jewel.
RK has trouble believing this Saryk engsi is even first half 19th century.
Yes, the engsi exhibits clear drawing but its proportions give it away and provide convincing evidence it is as we claim probably middle 19th century.
Notice the synak outer border, which is so compressed and jam-packed the important engsi icon is hardly visible.
Then the super wide border with an ascending procession of ‘bird heads in a tree’ icon could only be called weak and frail for producing such an unbalanced skinny ‘tree’ laying lost in such a wide open meadow.
The white four niches or mirhab placed just under the upper main border appear as nothing more than an afterthought, they have no real synergy or relationship with what is happening under them.
The lower elem panels and borders read poorly thanks to the lack of intelligent color definition and combination. They are an excellent example why contrast is such an important and critical component of masterpiece Turkmen weaving.
Perhaps discounting the above, one could be charmed by the center of this engsi with those two tall niches containing the same ‘tree’ forms as those to its left and right, as well as the archaic-looking pairs of bird heads outside the vertical bright white “S” icon inner border and vertical peikam-like outer side borders.
And what about the center panel with typical the trefolated flower usually seen in the center of the gulli-gol?
Or the lower elem panel’s flowers that remind us of those on a well-known type of embroidered Tekke asmalyk?
Let RK disabuse siawosch azadi, and anyone else who thinks these features are anything but poor copies of earlier work produced by the just mentioned Turkmen groups.
They are copies, and this engsi is in our judgment nothing but a very expertly done, high class later 19th century revival.
The two-dimensional appearance it cannot help but give, the errors in proportions, the lack of contrast, and design brilliance are just few of its shortcomings.
Dating this to the 17th century is preposterous nonsense. Period. End of discussion.
Another Saryk weaving to receive a generous dollop of over-dating thanks to azadi is a chuval, no 110.
Catalog No 110
This one might be circa 1800 or slightly later, but on no day when the sun rises in the east could it possibly be considered 17th/18th century as stated in the catalog description.
The most obvious reason is the far too large size of the typical Saryk-style major gol, with their central equilateral cross icon, and their equally over-sized chemche minor gol.
Big is good, bigger even better but without correct proportions size becomes a degenerative detriment. And that’s the bottom line here, one no 18th century or earlier weaver would mistakenly produce.
The articulation of the typical weepy flowering trees in the elem panel is good but they have been too jam-packed into the available space to suggest anything but an early 19th century or later weaving style.
The main border is likewise capably rendered except for its ungainly proportions by making the lines of the large orange and black X’s too thick and the crosses nestled between them just a bit too large. This makes them compressed vertically and destroys the floating effect they have when this border is masterfully, and successfully, rendered.
This chuval, unlike the engsi No 108, is a very worthwhile weaving nobody in their right mind would kick out of bed but it just ain’t a 17th/18th century one.
The last catalog entry and exhibition exhibit we have chosen for comments is the Kizil Ayak main carpet, No 113.
Catalog No 113
It is dated by azadi 18th century, something we view as an impossibility. This is nothing but a nice middle 19th century main carpet.
The far too many, far too small, squishy, tiny major Tauk Naska main gol set up a situation where only a cutesy chemche minor gol could be squeezed between them.
The over-powering far too large major border surrounds them like a horse corral that was built to never allow escape.
This aesthetic would be abhorrent to any genuine Turkmen and is the antithesis of Turkmen cultural aesthetic.
The remaining original wide broad kelim at both ends are its most redeeming feature.
There is no doubt dating pre-commercial period Turkmen weavings is not an exact science, actually it is impossible.
But thanks to the large number of published examples it is possible to create historical continuum for each specific type of Turkmen weaving to relatively date them.
This comparative dating, which is not directly linked to calendar years can be fairly well correlated with them. But there are still many obstacles in trying to accomplish this.
For instance: A weaving generation is most probably 25-30 years, so in each century there most probably were three, maximum four.
But weavers lived longer than 30 years, so let’s say in 1750, for example, there were at least two generations of weavers producing woven products, maybe even three.
This is one of the variables making real dating in years impossible to calculate, as the older weaver could have been privy to certain nuance a younger would not necessarily have learned, and this would make her work appear older today when we are so far after the fact.
Yes, it is sure until the early 19th century there was incredibly strong cultural tradition associated with the production of complex patterned weavings like those discussed here. And it is those traditions which acted against one weaver being better than another until the entire cultural complex of weaving traditions began to disintegrate.
What we are trying to get at is the difficulty to date any pre-commercial period Turkmen weaving or the critique what someone else believes.
RK is not the dating-god, nor do we think our ideas on the subject are absolutely correct or unassailable.
That said, we feel our dating and attribution ideas are far superior to those made by many others because we can, and always do, provide support and documentation, something forgo or are just incapable of doing.
This separates us from those who throw around dating and attributions like they were darts in a pub game.
Sorry but without support and documentation opinions are worthless.
This review rests on our present knowledgebase of Turkmen weaving research, and while we surely know more than we have written here our objective is not to prove what we know, rather it is to prove how little others do.
We have supplied considerable supporting information to prove our statements and although we know how afraid readers are to reply in public, not only to RugKazbah.com but to any website or other media, we welcome questions, intelligent objections or thoughtful criticism.