Posted by Steve Price on 04-23-2006 11:05 AM:


Hi John

In your report on Saturday's presentation, "The Mystery of Beshir Weavings", you note that it was emphasized that there is no Turkmen tribe called the Beshir, and never was. True enough.

The speakers went on to discourage the use of the term as an attribution. I disagree. The term has long usage, and indicates a subclass of Turkmen weavings, evidently an Ersari subgroup, that was marketed through the city of Beshir. They aren't hard to recognize (usually), so the term is meaningful to most collectors as a descriptor, and it does include information about the source that is as accurate as most attribution terminology.

Using the market center through which a group of weavings emerged as an attribution isn't novel to Beshir, and is pretty widely accepted. The system is used fairly widely; the obvious example of "Hamadan" comes to mind easily.

I can't help wondering: along with discouraging the use of the Beshir as an attribution, did they propose an alternative that is more informative?

Regards, and many thanks for the considerable effort you are putting into this.

Steve Price

Posted by R._John_Howe on 04-24-2006 06:36 AM:

Hi Steve -

The panel seemed to recommend that we move to tribal names when we can. For example, they showed and discussed the various indicators that they believe let us call some weavings from this area "Kizil Ayak." There are also two specific locations on one bank of the river where Salors are known to have settled and they are trying to both characterize and distinguish their weavings and had some indicators and candidates. They said that for many of the others it might be best at the moment to call them "other Middle Amu Darya" which is close to one usage already being adopted. They said that it is important to note that these Turkmen tribes were really no longer importantly nomadic, although they may well have still lived mostly in trellis tents. One local usage in this area is to refer to them as "river people" as distinct from the folks who migrated more.

I wish my notes were more detailed but we could likely contact one or more of them asking for it.


R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 04-24-2006 10:53 PM:

"Other Middle Amu Darya"?

Hi Steve and John,

I suppose that there are some rugs for which the term "Beshir" might be a bit disputable.

But here is a rug of mine for which the "Beshir" label seems to have a long convention, and switching to "other middle Amu Darya" would be less precise.

About the rug...

The size is about 75 in x 40 in. It has dark grey wool (maybe some hair) warps and brown wool wefts. I think the selvedges are orginal -- two-corded wrapped with brown wool or hair. The knotting is asymmetric-right, 11v x 8h = 88 kpsi. There is slight warp depression. The wool is soft and lustrous, and the colours are very saturated. The handle is "meaty" but supple. I think that all of the colours are natural. The condition is excellent, with full pile almost everywhere. I think the outermost border ("big arrow") at both ends might not be original.

There are a couple of features of this rug that I would like some feedback on. First, the size seems small for a Beshir rug of this design. Most examples are large carpet size, and some of them "palace" size. So this relatively compact example seems a bit out of the ordinary to me.

Second, in addition to the usual variation in the ground colours found on these rugs, and some nice abrash, there is a type of "deliberate abrash" that I haven't noticed before on a rug. In the fourth picture below you will see a section of "brown-green" pile. This is used in scattered areas of the rug. What interested me is that this effect has been achieved by plying together green wool with brown wool of a smaller diameter. So with my very limited knowledge of weaving I am assuming that the weaver spun together already dyed brown and green wool for this abrash effect. Is this a common practice?

Any information and feedback is appreciated. Are there any clues to assess the age of this type of rug? Published examples of this type usually mention "latter half of the 19th century".


Posted by Kenneth Thompson on 04-25-2006 03:14 AM:

John, Steve

I don't have my notes on hand at this moment, but I recall Erik saying that the main message he wanted the group to take away was that there is no tribe called Beshir. I didn't get the impression that term never be used for the urban weavings sold in the city;
only that it should not be a tribal designation.

Much of the lecture was devoted to focusing on the weavings of other, as yet not clearly idenfied, Middle Amu Darya tribes, (suggested acronym OMAD).

Peter Poullada said they were attempting to refine the catch-all term Ersari. He mentioned four common sub-tribes, but I did not have time to write down the names legibly in the dark. (My wife and I both took notes. I will decipher them and write them up this week. )

Peter said they looked for common characteristics of a number of diverse "Ersari" weavings from the mid to late nineteenth century. He believes that many were woven by the Ali'ali tribe, aname that was certainly new to me.

He said their pieces employ an unusual chemche gul with an dominant diamond shape in its center. The main guls have small "c" or half-moon smarks in their central quarters. I took some digital pictures, put I don't yet know whether they show the marks. If they do, I will send them in a separate email.

John, you were great at ACOR 8. You mastered the Harry Potter temporal spell of being in several places simultaneously. You were actively involved in every aspect of the conference, attended multiple sessions, took photos and still found time to type away at your laptop. It was really amazing. And you definitely added flair to the occasion with your robe and turkmen cap. We all have reason to be grateful to you.

Best regards,

Ken Thompson

Posted by R._John_Howe on 04-25-2006 07:58 AM:

Hi Ken -

Really good to see you folks at ACOR 8.

I have $6,000's worth of hearing aids and still don't hear well. So I can readily get things wrong. Please do get up your notes.

I thought that these speakers said that while there was a town of Beshir, there was no weaving there, sort of like the position often taken with regard to the "Bokhara" usage of the past. Ironically, they seemed to me to say that for some larger more citified seeming pieces from this area an attribution of "Bokhara" might actually be best, something Mackie and Thompson proposed in their 1980 volume. They offered examples they felt fit into that category.

Do be careful in those "Vermont winters."


R. John Howe

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 04-29-2006 10:18 PM:

Hi James

Nice rug. That said, it reminds of a large engsi-like contraption I encountered some time ago in a department store. Some 5' x7', it had hanging straps on either side at the top, and this same "exploded" herati interpretation found on the ground of your rug. I thought the drawing respectable and the colors, although I doubt they were natural, good. It was discribed by the salesman as a "purdah" or divider curtain. I suspect your rug is of similar, modern origin.


Posted by James Blanchard on 04-30-2006 07:45 AM:

Hi David,

You and other Turkotekkers know that I am no expert, and I don't want to be defensive lest it inhibit my learning. But I am puzzled by your assessment.

I have seen several similar examples with this adapted Herati design on an irregularly coloured field published on the web and in rug books. A published example is in Eiland & Eiland's "Oriental Carpets: A Complete Guide" (plate 234). It is referred to as a "Beshir rug, 19th century". Brian MacDonald's "Tribal Rugs: Treasures of the Black Tent" shows one with a somewhat different pattern, but very similar palette and octagonal gols (colour plate 23, which is listed as "Ersari Turkmen of Beshir, mid-19th century). A very similar example, though larger and reportedly in quite poor condition, was listed on Van Ham in 2004 and is shown on the Jozan website ( It was listed as an "Ersari Beshir, 19th century". (see below)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have noticed that many of this type tended to be in much larger size, and wondered if this somewhat smaller format was unusual. The size of mine is more in line with some of the "Beshir" rugs that have the "cloudband" pattern on an irregularly coloured field. (My teenage daughter says that the use of colour in these types of "Beshir" rugs reminds her of Monet paintings...).

I was also interested in the "abrash" effect that was created by spinning together wool of different colours (brown and light green in this case).

Moreover, I would like to hear others' views on the attribution (and age) of this rug. I have been mistaken before, and will certainly be again in the future! But if this one turns out to be a modern department store rug, then I think I might need to reconsider this hobby, or start shopping more in department stores.



Posted by Steve Price on 04-30-2006 08:13 AM:

Hi James

If that's a department store repro, I'll eat my hat (I really should say, I'll eat another hat - it would't be the first). I won't guess at the age, but I don't see anything inconsistent with a 19th century origin.

If my recall can be trusted at this hour of the day, the documented fake rug presented at ICOC or ACOR a few years ago included some areas where the pile had two different color plies twisted together. It's the only instance of that peculiarity that I remember. I'd avoid calling it abrash - the word has too many meanings already.


Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 04-30-2006 09:14 AM:

Hi Steve,

You have expressed my views more strongly than I feel that am qualified to do.

I have seen a number of this type of rug/carpet in person. Although they don't appeal to me so much from a "tribal origin" perspective, the use of colour is quite pleasing to me. We ended up purchasing this one because we liked its more compact size and found the use of colours to be particularly appealing. The aesthetic is quite different from almost every other rug type that I have encountered. Here is another picture that perhaps illustrates that better.

On another minor point, notice how the weaver changed the inner minor (yellow ground) border. I have seen both of these minor border designs on this type of rug.



Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 04-30-2006 09:22 AM:

Hi James

As the old saying goes, never say never, and I am far from an expert on Beshir weaving. Don't get me wrong, this above mentioned Purdah was an attractive rug (It was at Wooward & Lothropes " going out of business" sale, and here in Washington, D.C., Woodies carried some upper end merchandise), and I would have bought it myself if I had the cash. Half price sale (they had a nice Quashgai too.)

What gives me pause are the colors as depicted in the close up images.

The red ground color, and the brown of the selvedge, both remind me of modern ersari work, as does the "finish" or texture of the ends of the pile fibers. And this abrash effect you mention
is seen in a lot of modern rugs. I am not saying it was made yesterday, could have been made sometime within the last sixty years, as the above mentioned factors give me pause. Granted it could be an old rug in new condition, but that wine red ground color looks suspiciously familiar. I could of course be wrong about this.


Posted by James Blanchard on 04-30-2006 09:48 AM:

Hi David,

I agree with your "never say never" axiom, but I have to say that this rug has all of the hallmarks of the "genuine article" to me. I think that the colours depicted in digital pictures might be deceiving, and perhaps therein lies the rub. In real life, this rug has what I consider to be very good colours. There are a few shades or tones of reds, and abrash in almost all of the different colours. To me, none of the colours look much like even the better modern rugs.

Beyond that, there has been considerable care taken in the irregular placement of colours that strikes me as genuine, rather than rote production.

The selvedges might not be original. As I mentioned in my first post, the outer "arrow" borders at both ends have been rewoven.

If there is a modern supply of rugs like this one, then I would be delighted to find them, especially if they are selling at 50% off!



Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 04-30-2006 10:38 AM:

Hi James

You believe that workshop production of Ersari carpets has changed so much over the last 100 years? Or that modern examples of same said production are somehow less authentic? I have seen some preetty good modern stuff out there.


Posted by James Blanchard on 04-30-2006 11:33 AM:

Hi Dave,

Those are interesting questions, and I can only offer rather subjective responses.

First, I should say that I own some modern production Turkmen rugs (i.e. within the past 40-80 years) and I also find some of them very pleasing indeed.

I don't know much about how Ersari weaving has changed in the past 100+ years. From some reading I am aware that these "Beshir" rugs were woven for "the market" which is probably why they contain so many "Persian" influences. As I understand it they are a specific class of rugs that were woven in a particular area over a certain period of time but didn't have the same tribal specificity or roots as other Turkmen weavings made in the same general vicinity during the same time period. That would make these "city?" Beshir rugs akin to many types of rugs woven in the near East going back several centuries which were made primarily for commercial purposes. Obviously, that "market orientation" continues to this day among "Ersari" and other weaving groups, though some have returned to using more traditional designs and methods. So I guess my interpretation is that there hasn't been much change in terms of the purpose of production in the last 100 years.

The question of "authenticity" is multifaceted. If one is interested only in "age", then an "authentic" rug is an old one. Modern reproductions or fakes are therefore unauthentic in this sense. If by authentic you mean "traditional", then this is a much more nuanced question. One way of looking at "traditional" is the continuous heritage of a weaving tradition handed down from one generation to the next. Over time, new materials, new colours, new designs and new methods are adopted and influenced by the changing environment. As a result, there is bound to be a degeneration of traditional or authentic weavings over time, and this will be accelerated by social disruption, commercial pressures and new technologies. I don't really know what the "Beshir" weaving tradition consists of, or when it began. So it is hard to specify how "authentic" a particular piece is. Suffice to say, the older a piece is the more likely it is to be connected to the tradition. In my view, the modern revival of old designs and methods long after such weaving had ceased might not be "unauthentic", but it does represent a qualitatively different notion of "traditional".

I am not a serious collector, and we (our family) buy rugs to spruce up our living quarters. In the end, for me unless a weaving is truly "traditional" ("non-commercial"?), then the main concern is the aesthetic appeal and quality. In that sense my general subjective viewpoint is that antique weavings are aesthetically superior to recent ones. Of course there are exceptions, but I find that antique rugs tend to exhibit better materials, better colours, and better designs than modern rugs. So I own antique rugs that I like, not primarily for their "authenticity" or "investment value" (I have never sold a rug). I use the same approach for modern rugs.