Posted by R. John Howe on 08-25-2004 08:22 PM:

Two Disparate Turkmen Pieces

Dear folks -

Here are two pieces that I own.

The first was bought perhaps ten years ago. It is a Central Asian chuval face.

It has gauche drawing (what Wendel Swan has called an "oops" rug) and synthetic dyes, it may simply be an example of bad weaving. I have shown it here before.

The odd thing is that it had lots of appeal to me when I first saw it and I pursued it several months with a local antique dealer before encountering it unexpectedly at a flea market for the precise low price I had been offering.

And while I see its ugliness, it is still not entirely objectionable to me (although likely it should be). Elena Tzareva recoiled from her handling of it saying "this is not Turkmen." Well, perhaps so. I had thought maybe Ersari, but Eiland points out somewhere that no one has ever admitted to being "an Ersari."

The second piece is a Turkmen rug fragment I bought quite recently.

This piece is, I think, quite old (the simple, narrow borders are one indicator of that for me) and it is claimed to be a Kizil Ayak.

As you can see it is in very bad condition and I am at the moment sewing it onto a navy blue background cloth.

This piece is about the size of an engsi and the dealer I bought it from thought it might be such. I do not think it is.

It's design, though, is unusual (I have a number of pieces with compartmented designs) and (as dangerous as it is to say this) I do not know of another example of this design.

I offer these two examples to see if you can detect any advancement in my taste over the past 10 years.

I am incorrigible enough not to be entirely embarrassed if you do not. :-)

Please comment frankly.


R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 08-26-2004 01:40 AM:



How many years elapsed between your purchase of rug number one and rug number two?
It takes some conviction to buy a rug in the condition of your second piece. It is quite unusual and certainly a lot earlier than your first piece.
If you sell all of your other rugs, you could probably afford to send that second piece to Turkey for the cure.

I believe that you have saved a rather unique rug from the pillow factory or the scrap heap.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-26-2004 07:54 AM:

Hi Pat -

I bought the first piece about 10 years ago, but as I indicated have not yet entirely repented.

You are right that there are folks in Turkey who could restore a piece like the second one to a condition that would likely suggest quite clearly what it once looked like.

I once bought an old Ersari chuval fragment for $65 dollars (holes, sides missing, duct tape in places, all that) and, after looking at it for a few years, spent $1700 for it to vacation in Turkey for twelve months. I feared (because it was gone for so long) that I had lost it but it reappeared and graces our living room now in a very satisfying way. A really good repair job that I am glad I undertook.

The second piece here is in worse condition than that chuval before restoration and it seems to me best to go the conservation route with it.

It is interesting to see how condition is used by various collectors in their actual purchases. The usual advice in the literature is that condition should not be treated with high importance, but I don't know many experienced collectors who are willing to give up much ground with regard to it. One very experienced collector here shared with me recently that his line is that he will not buy a piece if he feels that the condition begins to affect the aesthetics of the piece. As you can see, I'm way over that line and several more that might be more lenient.

I HAD to give up on condition frequently, collecting primarily on a budget. I simply could not afford the kinds of pieces I wanted if they had good condition too. But it may be an acquired tendency after awhile. I find now that I am not offended by and often will consider seriously a piece that is a mere ghost now of its former self. I do not, of course, legislate for others in this regard.

One last thought about the second piece. The treatment (dark edged diamonds) of the center of the tauk naska gul in this piece is another aspect of it that seems unusual to me. I find that I see new things in it as I examine it. Of course, I have to examine it pretty closely to see much of anything.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-27-2004 12:04 PM:

Hi John,

I know, I know. Evolution of taste, small budget, and one finds himself buying ghosts…
It doesn’t matter, when they are nice and still readable like yours. Think like this: you saved a probably rare specimen from oblivion.



Posted by R. John Howe on 08-27-2004 02:06 PM:

Dear folks -

There are a couple of other features on this "Kizil Ayak" piece perhaps worth noting.

First the narrow main border is identical to that on another compartmented main carpet fragment that I own, and that Jon Thompson has said is "textbook Kizil Ayak." The drawing of the minor ornament is also very like that on some other pieces held to be Kizil Ayak.

Second, Azadi talks somewhere (I don't have the cite, just the indication from someone that this is the case) about Kizil Ayaks sometimes having unusual knots. If you look at the image of the back of this "Kizil Ayak" fragment, you will see that this piece has some knots that seem to deserve this description.

If you look just above the lower of the two double lines of blue knots you will see a row of knots that are wider than the others. The knots in this piece are asymmetric open to the right. These wider knots are made over four rather than the usual two warps and so are of the "jufti" variety famously used to save time and to lower quality on many decorative carpets (Edwards spends a great deal of time in his book castigating and regretting what he saw as an epedemic of adoption of the jufti knot in decorative carpets at the time he was writing.)

But this usage cannot be of that sort since it is so exceptional and is surrounded on every side with knots made on two warps.

This leads me to ask our assembly whether anyone has heard that unusual knotting is one indicator of Kizil Ayak weaving and/or whether jufti knotting of the sort this rug displays is the sort of thing to which Azadi was referring?

And regardless of your answers to those questions what is your conjecture about why this sort of knotting was used in this piece? Could these rows (I can no longer see the entire back since I've completed my sewing of a backing onto this fragment and now have only one panel of the back exposed in one place) serve as marker knots, something the Turkmen are sometimes said to do? Finally, has anyone seen such jufti knots on other Turkmen pieces?


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 08-27-2004 10:35 PM:

Dear folks -

I have been trying to track the "unusual" knotting that appears in my "Kizil Ayak" piece and in part wrote Marla Mallett asking if she had seen this kind of usage and why it might be resorted to. She has in the last few years analyzed a great number of Turkmen rugs and textiles.

She has kindly responded as follows:

"I like the rug very much. I'm not remembering at this moment in just which pieces I've seen such isolated rows of "jufti knots", but the purpose has usually been the same: it's been done to thin out the pile and straighten the weaving. The weft which follows these knots can be packed a little tighter, and thus the rows straightened. In Yomut and Saryk weavings the opposite approach has been taken: the weaver has often overlapped knots in rows to create more dense pile.


My thanks to Marla,

R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 09-03-2004 11:06 PM:

Your choice?


Steve has asked us:

I simply ask that folks present pairs of related pieces from their own collections, one of which they consider to be much better than the other, along with their reasons for thinking so.


Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-04-2004 06:38 AM:

Hi Patrick -

I thought I had done that, although perhaps to eliptically.

I think the second piece (the carpet fragment) is (despite its very tired condition) considerably better than the first.

I think so for the following reasons:

1. I estimate the second piece to be more aesthetically attractive than the first. It's drawing is crisp and its rendition of traditional Turkmen design devices is very correct for me. The drawing of the major guls on the chuval have a "foreigh" look, some Central Asian weaver using a particular type Yomud chuval goal as a model, but blowing it way up and losing lots of its original character (albeit not, for me, in a totally unattractive way). The drawing of the minor guls on the chuval are nearly chaos. If I have a complaint about the drwing on the second piece it is that the combs on the "tauk naska" animals in the major guls are not quite as fully articulated as they are in another piece that I own. I think the drawing of the borders on the second piece have a little larger scale and a crispness that make them very satisfying to me.

2. I think the second piece is considerably older than the first. I estimate the second piece as before 1850 and it might well be toward the earlier part of that century. I estimate the chuval at turn of the century and it could be first quarter 20th century.

3. I think even the remaining colors visible in the second piece are superior to those in the synthetic onces of the chuval. The red ground in the second piece is far superior to that of the chuval. The use of navy in the second piece gives it a richness lacking in the parallel use of black in the first one. Neither has much range of color and the chuval has some yellow, a point in its favor.

4. Although we are not entirely clear about what it is, I think the second piece has a clearer pedigree as a classic item of Turkmen weaving. The first piece could well have been woven by non- Turkmen Central Asian folks (although I don't see that an Ersari attribution would be absolutely barred). But the pedigree of the first piece is clearly more uncertain.

Is that better?


R. John Howe