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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Tekke Ak Juvals and Their Relatives
by Steve Price

Ak juvals are almost unique among Tekke weavings. Most Tekke bags have the typical Turkmen layout: a field of repeating guls arranged in ranks and files surrounded by one or more borders; a skirt (elem) outside the borders at the bottom; and a red ground color throughout. Ak juvals, on the other hand, consist of a series of horizontal stripes, some decorated and others plain, some with red ground and others with white, and no borders. The elem is smaller than those on other Tekke juvals, and always has a white ground (which is part of the reason that the item is called an ak juval; "ak" means "white" in Turkish and related languages). Cotton, generally used sparingly if at all in Tekke weavings, is often used for the whites in ak juvals, and many of them also have silk highlights.

It is clear that ak juvals were significant to their weavers, if only from the special materials. But there are other interesting things about them, too. The vocabulary of designs in the stripes is very limited, and there appears to be a rather rigid order in which they must be used. There are only a few variations in design in the elems. Most are similar to the one shown above. The second (property of Sophia Gates) is an unusual variant. Even what would appear to be minor elements, like the two lines of alternating blue and red segments within the uppermost white stripe, are essentially invariable among ak juvals. What, if anything, does this imply? Why are the design elements so consistent, even to what we might think are trivial details?

Most ak juvals show obvious wear, showing that they were not simply decorative items displayed on special occasions. The first one shown here still has the original hanging and closure ropes. The closure rope has clearly worn and broken from abrasion (rather than from being cut with a sharp instrument) about one foot from the end, suggesting that the bag had repeatedly been partially opened and then closed again. Although we generally think of juvals as containers for things like large items of clothing, opening only one foot along the top would not permit such items to be put into or removed from it. Rather, it is more suggestive of a container for something that cold be poured or scooped, like grain. The rope is closely sewn to the sides of the bag except in the regions of the two middle white stripes. There is discoloration and wear at the edge of the bag in these areas, as though the loops formed by the ropes were used as handles that could be grasped by two people to lift it together, each using both hands. This, too, suggests that the bag was used as a container and that it was quite heavy when full. What were these bags used for?

Although somewhat rare, ak juvals seem to be the more common representatives of a family of related weavings that include small personal bags (kaps) and donkey bags (khorjin). The kap shown here is in my collection, the khorjin is one of Marvin Amstey's VANISHING JEWELS. The decoration on the two pieces is essentially identical. I am unaware of any other size bags (torbas, spoon bags, etc.) in this family. What sensible speculations can be made on the basis of these facts? Why were no torbas, spoon bags, asmalyks, or other trappings made with the ak juval format?

Most ak juvals have a palette that includes obvious synthetic red dyes, and examples that could plausibly be attributed to a date earlier than about 1870 are quite uncommon. Ak juvals and smaller bags of the same format seem to have been made only by the Tekke, Saryk and Ersari. The most closely related weavings, kyzyl juvals, are very similar but white grounds are not included in their layouts (all stripes have red grounds, which is why they are called kyzyl juvals ("kyzyl" means "reddish" in Turkish). Although the Yomud made some juvals with striped layouts, their designs are unrelated to ak juvals. The fact that there are none among the weavings of the Yomud or Chodor suggests that the ak juval format is a relatively late Turkmen innovation. Or does it?

I apologize for the rather poor quality of the images. Some day I'll figure out how to do those right. Still, I hope you can see enough in them to warrant discussion.

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