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Mini-Salon 24: A Salor ayna gul Trapping

by Steve Price

Salor trapping

This piece became a member of my family recently, and I think it offers enough food for thought to be worth sharing.  It was advertised as a late 19th century Salor torba.   That attribution is probably  fundamentally correct, although it's more likely to be a trapping than a torba.  Ayna guls usually aren't my cup of tea, but they using only 8 of them on a weaving as large as this one (3'6" x 1'7") makes the field less busy than it is on more typical ayna gul weavings (especially juvals).   It is of rather low knot density for a Salor bag or trapping; 10 x 14 = 140 kpsi (asymmetric knots open left), which is in the range for Salor main carpets.  The warps are moderately depressed; the wool is lustrous, and the piece drapes in the hand.  On my monitor, the deeply saturated colors look about the way they do in direct sunlight.  The light blue area in the third gul from the left, upper row, probably resulted from removal of wax or something similar.  The remnants of a dark blue woven-in fringe are visible along the lower edge of the pile.   There are no silk knots in the pile. 

Here is a direct scan of one side, making it easier to see the details. 

Salor scan

Here is a scan of a section of the back taken at the bottom, showing the row of woven-in dark blue fringe and the bottom finish.  I'll say a little about that later.

Scan of bottom 
There are two published pieces that are obviously related to it.  The first is plate 12 from Tzareva's Rugs and Carpets from Cantral Asia.  It is 4'2" x 1'5", and more finely knotted (241 kpsi, asymmetric knots open left) than mine is.  The color reproduction in the book is poor.  The palette includes pink silk; the colors of the wool pile are:  cherry-red, violet-brown, dark brown, blue, sky-blue, blue-green, ivory. 

Tzareva, Plate 5

The second piece is from Mackie and Thompson's Turkmen.  It is 3'6" x 1'7".  There are magenta silk highlights; the wool colors are:  red, maroon, aubergine, rose, medium blue, dark blue, dark green, tan, dark brown, ivory.  Like the one in Tzarevas' book, it is more finely woven (252 kpsi, asymmetric knots open left) than mine is.  

The knot densities of these two are in the range that is typical of Salor bags and trappings, usually 200-350 kpsi.  In both pieces, the
motifs in the field and borders are smaller than those in mine, but are formally the same.  It seems likely that the smaller scale of the design elements is related to the finer knotting.  That is, each design element is composed of a similar number of knots in each piece.  The one in the Tzareva book has remnants the dark blue woven-in fringe that is usual in Salor (and Saryk) torba size weavings.  If the piece in Mackie and Thompson's book had a similar fringe, it was lost when the ends were teased out into warp fringes.

Turkmen, Plate 12

These three weavings raise some questions for collectors to ponder.

1.  Were they woven by Salor weavers?
All three pieces fit the usual criteria for Salor attributions, although the knot density of mine is at (perhaps below) the low end of the range.  On the other hand, the vocabulary of motifs, the dark blue woven-in fringe, the palette, and the asymmetric knots open to the left are all characteristics that are not generally seen together except in pieces thought to be Salor.  The relatively coarse weave is peculiar to mine; I haven't run into another Salor torba or juval woven this coarsely.  Perhaps it is an indicator of age or of some relatively ignored Salor subgroup.  If it's age related, mine is probably younger (rather than older) than the many published Salors, nearly all of which are believed to have been woven before the mid-19th century.  On the other hand, later Salor weavings generally have relatively large amounts of silk in the pile, and mine has none at all.  I know of no solid evidence relating knot density to age in Salor work.

2.  Are they torbas or trappings?
In describing the piece in Turkmen, Jon Thompson notes that bottom finishes of trappings has the plainweave end folded under twice and sewn into position with handspun wool yarn.  The scan of the back of my piece, which includes the lower end, shows this clearly.  For this reason, I think it's probably a trapping rather than a storage bag.  The lower end finish of the piece illustrated in Turkmen was lost when the plainweave was teased into a warp end fringe, so that one may either be a torba face or a trapping.  The one in Tzareva's book doesn't show the back, but the descriptive text mentions that the bottom is a plainweave that's folded under and sewn.  Thus, it's also probably a trapping.

3.  Does the smaller size of individual design elements in the more finely woven pieces tell us anything about how Turkmen weavers memorized motifs?  That is, do they form motifs by producing sequences of specific numbers of knots of specific colors, regardless of how closely those knots are spaced?  This would be quite different from the way illustrators create their works, assuming that my understanding of how they do it is correct.
4.  Why are ayna guls called that?  The word, ayna, means "mirror" in a number of Turkic languages, but it isn't obvious what that has to do with the gul.  The particular variant illustrated by the three pieces shown here (ayna khamtos) looks as though it might be related to various motifs used in Asia and the Americas, believed to represent eyes.  It's a stretch, but it does occur to me that mirrors are associated with deflection of the evil eye in central and western Asia, so perhaps there's a connection of some kind here.  I'm reluctant to open the door to conjectures about motif meanings, but if it leads to other speculations, I'll have to accept blame for starting it.  I do ask that the speculations have some rational underpinning; mine is borderline in that regard, at best.  Perhaps the similarity of the gul to the flag of Brazil will introduce a note of caution.

Brazil flag

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