Tekke ‘gopaz’ engsi; published Weaving Art Museum “Turkmen Trappings” exhibition, plate 3; RK collection
Selecting someone intimately involved with a publication to author a ‘review’ is never a good idea. Firstly it sheds light on a possible hidden agenda and level of honesty, secondly it nullifies the idea of impartiality a reader should expect.
What mallary has written is in every other respect, save name, posing as a review despite that rag hali describing it as ostensibly something else -- throwing light on how jurg rageth, the author, “…approached the field (of Turkmen studies) with fresh eyes.
This is typical that rag hali speak, a lingo RK has consistently pointed out hides and obfuscates the self-promotion and enrichment layered in just about everything this magazine does.
Not mentioning mallary was the english editor and consultant, and is also the US distributor of the book, demonstrates another perfect example of how that rag hali speak works.
Clearly the rug world is so inundated with insider politics and maneuvering RK is sure no one else will even bat an eye at that rag hali getting dewitt mallary to write a review of jurg rageth’s New Perspectives Turkmen publication.
As the English editor and distributor for America it is quite conceivable mallary had quite large role in shaping the text, and more so to the point he was paid to do it. It is also sure mallary is making money off each book he distributes.
However, even if he wasn’t benefitting economically, it is absolutely obvious he has a vested interest in presenting a less than objective unbiased review.
Detail S group ak su design torba, cat. no.9; catalog dated 17th/18th century but RK would date it second half 18th century
And considering that rag hali didn’t even bother to select someone else from their stable of usual suspect hired hands, which is the accustomed modus operandi, no need to figure in that charade.
This is unhealthily common in rugDUMB where no peer review process has ever been proposed or attempted, and the clubby in-group of self-benefitters continues to rule the roost.
Too bad that roost is shrinking faster than a male porn star’s major piece of anatomy during a police raid.
Yes, rugDUMB is shrinking and participants are dropping out, or increasingly using their crying towels to bemoan the severe downturn in prices for almost all types of weavings.
However, rare historic Turkmen weavings -- those produced prior to circa 1800 -- like a few other genres -- early classical carpets, early Anatolian Village rugs, and certain textiles -- have so far proven immune and continue to hold their prices, and when the best of them appear noticeably top them.
So the timing of raeth’s publication is not all that bad.
For sure the hype turko-asshat mallary and that rag hali continue to stoke; hype that cannot be upheld by what’s between the covers. Anyone questioning this cannot have read any of RK’s ongoing extensive critique and review that can be found in RugKazbah.com’s Turkmen Rug Topic Area.
In his opening salvo of gushing praise mallary states rageth has produced “…a monumental work of dedicated research.” He also calls rageth an “expert on Anatolian Kilims”.
Both these opinions are just that, dewitt mallary’s opinions, because it is clear the facts do not in any way support them as anything else.
What does being an expert mean? RK is not going to try to define it but calling rageth a Anatolian Kilim expert is undoubtedly based on his hat-hanging publication “C14 radiocarbon dating and Anatolian Kilims”.
RK has never spent time to review and challenge many of the dubious statements and rageth opinions presented as facts that appear therein. We have repeatedly mentioned the questionable reliability of the results of the c14 testing it heralds. Also the fact jurg is a failed Anatolian kelim dealer should carry some weight.
We defy anyone to prove the above incorrect and will be glad to take up the issue should rageth, mallary, that rag hali , or anyone else care to try.
So much for the resume mallary and others claim rageth has brought to this New Perspectives Turkmen project.
Before we go further and highlight the major mallary errors let’s just say rageth’s Turkmen publication’s dependency on radiocarbon results is as flawed, suspect and often unbelievable as his Anatolian Kelim publication was.
While the former dwarfs in size and attempted scope the latter, big is not necessarily better and the size, weight, or any other aspect of a publication is never really a main issue – it is the content that matters.
And after our continued re-reading of rageth’s Turkmen publication we can honestly report there is little of real interest to anyone who is anything but a highly motivated collector, dealer or researcher of historic Turkmen weavings.
The main reason being the problematic nature of c14 testing for Turkmen carpets, since those results are the basis for much of rageth’s speculations, opinions and statements.
There are several pictures of Turkmen weavings from the book along with captions in the mallary review.
The first, a detail of an well published all-pile tent band cat. no 99, is one RK has harbored serious questions about from the first time we saw it at a sotheby auction.
Detail, tent band cat. no. 50
Among those are questions about its dating, which rageth now reveals is second half of the 17th century according to his c14 test result.
It is highly interesting and totally indicative of the dubious nature of Turkmen carpet c14 results that this tent band’s show: AD1664-1686(42.1%) AD1744-1757(2.9%) AD 1767-1808(43.6%) AD1942-1959(11.4%). Those % are confidence. Yet rageth ignores the largest %, AD1767-1808(43.6%) in favor of the slightly smaller, but decidedly earlier % AD1664-1686(42.1%).
This is not the time or place to begin extensive debunking of the c14 results rageth reports, or the way he interprets them.
But the fact the last bracket, AD1942-1959(11.4%) shows up at all demonstrates the effects of contamination, in this case from the testing of nuclear bombs which began in the early 1940’s. This also shows the decontamination procedure was not entirely effective and therefore the results cannot be.
Another illustration, an S group torba with the ak su pattern cat. no. 9, has a caption that states: “…Tested for insect dyes. Both structure and the way insect dyestuffs are used in the design indicate a clear Salor attribution. Asymmetrically knotted open left.”
S group ak su design torba, cat. no. 9
RK has increasingly felt it necessary to repeat over and over, and not only in rageth’s direction, there is not one shred of evidence to document any pre-19th century weaving to any specific Turkmen group.
There is, however, 100% positive evidence based on structural analysis to assign certain weavings to specific groups of similars, like S group or two of the best defined eagle groups.
But assigning a torba like this to the Salor tribe is nothing but stale hot air. Is it S group, definitely. Is it Salor, no one really knows, nor are the reasons jurg rageth presents able to prove it.
Through structural analysis it is easy to determine it is S group, ie a weaving with a two level warp and an asymmetric open left knot, and to group it with others exhibiting these same uncommon technical features.
So is rageth, or anyone, who calls a historic weaving Salor, Tekke, Arabatchi, Yomud, Chodor, Ersari, Beshir, etc wrong?
From a strict and exacting sense, and quality research needs to be strict and exacting, the answer is yes, it’s wrong because there is not one iota of proof available to prove any and every such name-game provenance.
To facilitate discussion it is perfectly logical and plausible to make what is called ‘operational definitions’, ie using established Turkmen tribal group nomenclature to refer to weavings.
But rageth goes way past this by presenting far less than positive proof this torba, and a number of other illustrated weavings, are in fact definitely made by the Salor.
Stylistically, and technically, we all can appreciate his calling it Salor, an operational definition, though S group would be far more precise. But for rageth to think he has ‘proven’ it is Salor, which he makes clear he has supposedly done, should be seen as nothing short of ridiculous.
This is one of the main problems RK has with rageth’s work, it rests on his continual presentation of opinions, some of them dubious others questionable, like they are facts.
Fact is no one alive today can attribute, provenance or ascribe any historic weaving to any known or unknown Turkmen group.
That is why the identification of S group and two of the eagle groups has been so important for Turkmen studies. It clearly and exactly outlines a 100% replicable and provable definition.
So much for the validity of rageth’s alleged Turkmen weaving identifications based on oujji board quality interpretations of c14 and dye data analyses.
From the starting gate mallary’s self-interested, prejudicial orientation is painfully apparent.
“In 1997 Jurg Rageth organized a symposium in Liestal, Switzerland presenting his findings on the radiocarbon dating of Anatolian kilims.”
Those findings, just like the ones in his Turkmen book, are nothing but parlor game quality science. And for mallary or anyone else to claim contrary is nothing but plain nonsense.
“At that symposium, leading Turkmen carpet collectors Hans Christian Sienknecht and Peter Hoffmeister asked whether he could coordinate an experiment of radiocarbon dating some antique Turkmen carpets from their collections.”
And so the seeds of rageth’s New Perspectives Turkmen publication were planted.
RK knows both these alleged ‘leading Turkmen collectors’ well. Long time readers know why we call peter hoffmeister, hoffscheister, and for those new RugKazbah.com visitors who don’t here is a link:
RK has also reviewed hoffscheister’s collection publication authored by elena tsavera, the leading Turkmen carpet fairy tale spinning raconteur.
The first part of that review can be found here:
and the rest listed in the middle of this page under the title “new hoffmeister collection book”:
Unlike hoffmeister, who published a book of his collection, hans christian sienknecht, a retired banker and gay blade who lives in Hamburg, Germany, has not ventured into the Turkmen book publishing arena…yet.
Nor has he appeared in print, except for a few brief instances of little stature.
So we know both these turko-schmucks well, well enough to categorically state the only criteria that makes them ‘leading collectors’ is their former propensity and willingness to open their wallets stuffed with daddy’s money to acquire Turkmen weavings. Both have now cooled out and are less enthusiastic, only buying bargains when they can.
Both have large collections, sienknecht’s the far the larger rumored to contain 700 plus Turkmen weavings. And both are not nearly as knowledgeable or as Turkmen rug savvy as many believe thanks to that rag hali and turko-sycophants like dewitt mallary dishing out glowing rapture at any mention of their names.
Fact is sienknecht’s credited being a contributor to rageth’s book; however, it’s in name only as there is not one word with his name attached.
This says much about what sienknecht knows, or is it doesn’t know, about historic Turkmen weavings.
It’s easy to think you’re buying one if your knowledge base is limited, far harder to say something cogent and original about them.
“So began a project that was to consume almost two decades of Rageth’s life..”
RK has said this before, and we will say it again, this almost two decades did not consume rageth’s life but rather supported and paid for it.
Yes, that’s right, jurg rageth has supported himself through soliciting, and receiving, donations from a number of people and companies, as well as making commissions on all the c14 datings, and we believe also from the dye testings others have paid for.
After failing to succeed as an Anatolian kelim dealer, rageth morphed himself into a symposium organizer, then a c14 expert, and eventually as a carpet-world scholar.
Don’t make RK laugh any harder if you believe a failed dealer could ever become a scholar. And only in rugDUMB could a transition like this be possible, and be questioned by no one other than RK.
But back to mallary’s review.
“As the tests continued and as he selected and arranged photography of the pieces for the catalogue, Rageth’s immersion in the details of Turkmen carpets stimulated his interest in some of the open questions and some of the ‘prevailing wisdom’ about the sources and evolution of their designs.”
After reading this book, and working on our ongoing review, we can honestly say rageth’s immersion in Turkmen studies was no baptism, rather we’d say an almost drowning.
The importance of this rageth publication, as any reader of our review has been shown, is nothing but a hype, his supposed life’s work falling far short of anything that could even prosaically be called an opus.
Turkmen carpet studies desperately needs scientific investigation, and the dye analysis part of rageth’s project is worthy but considering the almost 20 years, and who knows how much money expended, in comparison the New Perspectives Turkmen publication has contributed very little to remedy that need.
And, please now, all you RK haters jumping to accuse us of being jealous, or you bleeding hearts who feel sorry for rageth, who is rumored to be very ill, give us a break.
What we have written and will continue to about this book, and jurg rageth, is all fact and we welcome mallary, rageth or anyone else to try and disprove our statements.
RugKazbah.com has an open discussion board, so let’s see someone try.
“Over the same period, his knowledge of the history of Central Asia increased. Concurrently, new historical and art historical data appeared, as did more and more apparent connections between the designs of Turkmen carpets and the art of the ancient Near East.”
RK published our Weaving Art Museum online presentation “Animal Pearls and Flowers: Synthesis of Turkmen Iconography” in May 2009 wherein we outlined much information concerning this very topic. It can be found here:
But as interesting as the relationship of Turkmen carpet iconography and that present in the ancient Near East and western Central Asia is, and the many parallels that can be found, nothing exists to answer the pertinent question: Which was source.
It is patently obvious rageth follows the old, stale, paradigm Turkmen iconography is derived from that of the Near East and western Central Asia.
But this is far from proven considering they both might very well have developed from a yet undiscovered earlier common source, which is the thesis of our Weaving Art Museum exhibition.
And since absolutely no one knows exactly the origins of the Turkmen who wove these historic products, or how far back in time those origins might go, it is impossible to believe they are only indebted copyists.
In part 4 of RK’s RugKazbah.com review of the rageth book we wrote the following which is pertinent to repeat here:
There is no doubt the Turkmen weaving style and certain specific iconographic figures are related to both these traditions but to not recognize the possibility they all developed from an even earlier, yet unknown, cultural tradition makes no sense.
And, in fact, any idea this was the case can be supported by the specifics of the complex abstract diversity the earliest Turkmen weavings display compared to the totally predictable naturalistic – flower, plant, tree, shrub and animal – iconography used in western Central Asia and Safavid Persia.
It is this symbolic content that imbues the best and earliest Turkmen weaving with an appearance that seems far more ancient and archaic than the pretty flowers and heraldic animals gracing the best and earliest Safavid and western Asian weavings.
RK cannot prove our assertion but rageth’s old, worn-out, adherence to the long held but absolutely unproven paradigm Turkmen weavings are nothing but trickle down descendants of large scale society, ie Safavid and western Asian, cultures is even more unlikely.”
“Turkmen Carpets, A New Perspective” mallary writes “ is the ultimate result of a 20-year pursuit of these three strands of enquiry: radio carbon dating, dye and mordant analysis, and historical/art historical investigation. Though the new scientific data adds to our factual information about individual objects, it is really the combination of cross-referencing of the various data points that Rageth feels gives us a new perspective in our understanding of Central Asian carpet weaving.”
As a personal learning project for jurg rageth this publication might be judged a success but does it reach any of the lofty goals detwitt mallary, and rageth himself, claim?
Sorry, the answer is a big fat No.
RK has read the whole book and we are continuing to refer to specific parts to delve as deeply as possible in our attempt to ascertain just what exactly are, if any, the additional understandings and additions to any factual data that already exists.
So far we have read nothing to change our position c14 dating of historic Turkmen carpets is unreliable, and in fact a waste of money.
As for the 200 plus dye and mordant tests rageth initiated? At least these are reliable but the primary achievement – the identification of Mexican cochineal as the leading dyestuff in many of the weavings tested – is noteworthy on its own but it does not help to unravel any of the pertinent questions facing Turkmen carpet studies – the Who made them, where and when, questions.
We are not going to comment on the third leg of rageth’s book’s inquiry – the “historical/art historical” investigation. – as this will be done in a subsequent part of our RugKazbah.com review.
Suffice it to say in a few words rageth’s attempts to do this cannot be seen as providing anything worth describing as major discoveries or new perspectives.
It’s amazing but mallary also offers the lame excuse “ none could be found” to explain the use of the miserably inadequate 40 black and white illustrations that follow the 127 color ones.
Come on. After 15 years rageth could not get it together to organize better photos?
A Tekke engsi, cat. no. 50, is also illustrated in mallary’s review and the last we will disucss.
Tekke engsi, gopaz group, cat. no. 50 dated in the catalog 18th entury but RK would place it later into the first half of the 19th century
This is a very rare version of the far more common Tekke engsi. It is known as the gopaz type on account of the stacks of lyre or candelabra icon in the two main side borders as well as the smaller version placed side to side in the upper border.
The caption states: “Tekke Turkmen ensi, 18th century. Arguably the most beautiful and clearly drawn of the surprisingly small group of Tekke ensi(tent door rugs) with the ‘candelabra’ border, this piece is a virtual catalog of designs with apparent roots in the ancient near east…private collection.”
We are not sure who wrote this caption but it echoes what is said in volume two where it is cat. no. 50 and discussed in more detail.
Since this is a commentary on mallary’s review and not the book itself, RK will turn our attention to what is said there in a future installment of our book review.
For now we can say this engsi is not nearly the best of type and anyone trying to argue that point would be quickly disabused of that idea.
Here is the example that is the best and earliest.
Archetype Tekke ‘gopaz’ engsi; published plate 3, Weaving Art Museum “Turkmen Trappings” exhibition
There are many easily determined reasons why cat. no. 50 is an inferior, later and derivative weaving, perhaps the most obvious the lack of third dimension drawing, particularly the lyre, candelabra, gopaz, icon and the ancient style of the complex comb icon in the upper elem.
This is apparent in the comparison photo below, but far more so if seen in the flesh.
Side by side comparison of the two gopaz group engsi; Left cat. no. 50; Right: RK collection
Suffice it to say these two engsi are a perfect example of an archetype and a later copy.
We should also mention it’s about time the established idea engsi were just ordinary ‘door rugs’ was put to rest. Clearly this was the case in the 19th century when a mountainous proliferation, especially of Tekke examples appeared, but before then we sincerely doubt it.
The very fact early, pre 1800, engsi are exceptionally rare and perhaps the rarest item made by seemingly all Turkmen groups, is one good starting point to begin to realize this need for revision.
RK has suggested the engsi was originally the curtain hung in front of the entrance to the shaman’s yurt. We have been looking, with no success so far, for more concrete evidence to support this idea and refer motivated readers to study the latest published information we have compiled in the discussions of the engsi in the “Turkmen Trappings” exhibition (the first four plates).
By the way, all those, except the Arabatchi, are still in RK collection along with several other ancient examples that are as yet unpublished.
There are a number of items in mallary’s review, more in the book itself, that are easily questioned but it is the peremptory and presumptive attitude and underlying tone which RK finds both irritating and totally unwarranted.
There is no doubt rageth’s New Perspectives Turkmen book is grossly over-rated and does not come close to delivering on the hyperbole and claims being made.
Is it worth buying?
RK has to say unequivocally yes. But only for those who are deeply involved in the pursuit of deciphering the origins of the Turkmen carpet.
This book is not for general readers, most of the color plate are already published elsewhere, many multiple times; the text makes far too many errors in presenting opinions as facts; the c14 results are not reliable; the dye studies important only to a very small percentage of highly motivated Turkmen carpet aficionados, collectors and dealers; and lastly the two volumes are poorly organized from a readers point of view and convenience. And of course there ‘s the not inexpensive price...