TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  R. John Howe
Date  :  12-13-1999 on 07:15 a.m.
Dear folks - The first association that Steve's salon clicked for me(and I suspect for many of you)was that the use of close colors in close proximity is a feature of many Moghul rugs. There, though, this usage seems intended to produce "seen" rather than "hidden" effects. Moghul rug designers and weavers were often seen to be attempting to do in rugs what painters do in their paintings: to use close colors in proximity without intervening outlining so that the image appeared to be more rounded. Daniel Walker says in his book "Flowers Underfoot" that this usage is so frequent in European art as to tempt one to say that this might be the source of this Moghul usage. He goes on to demonstrate that there was a local Moghul tradition in such shading in other media as early as the late 16th century. It seems to me that such usages are usually for aesthetic effect (e.g. rounding, variation, etc.) and that attempts by weavers actually to "hide" aspects of their designs (even when they use close colors side by side without intervening outlining) will be harder to demonstrate plausibly. Regards, R. John Howe

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  12-13-1999 on 09:07 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear John, I don't think there's a serious possibility that the use of low contrast in the Belouch pieces is intended to give rounding, as in Moghul textiles. I agree about the difficulty of demonstrating that the intent of such things is to conceal something. That's one of the reasons I invited others to try to do so. And secrecy of one sort or another is probably pretty commonplace in tribal art (even if not in this particular instance). I'll put up some examples later on, and hope others will do so as well. Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Marvin Amstey
Date  :  12-13-1999 on 10:47 a.m.
In addition to John's thoughts about Moghul rugs, one could add Mamaluk rugs - here are rugs with three colors making almost anything one's mind can imagine. I can't think of too many tribal examples, however. regards, Marvin

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  John Howe
Date  :  12-13-1999 on 08:17 p.m.
rjhowe@erols.com Dear folks - I do not think that the Balouch who wove Steve's nice bird bagface here used close colors together to provide a rounding effect. My root point in my prior post was that I suspected that it would be difficult to show that weavers intended to "hide" some aspect of their designs and that it would be my guess that most uses of close colors in proximity were meant to be "noticed." The purpose often would seem to be aesthetic: to make the design more complex and attractive through variation of color (even subtle variation is, I think, something weavers mostly wanted others to notice). And there are other pieces that exhibit such variations, often in a similar, if not quite as subtle form, as Steve's piece. Here is the Salor that is Plate 8 in the Mackie-Thompson catalog, "Turkmen." The outside "turrets" of the center whole major gul and of the four partial major guls are drawn with different colors that their neighbors. This makes them "read" a little differently than the major guls with darker turret coloring. It both gives them a kind of ghostly aura and makes them seem smaller and slightly different from their neighors although their drawing closely examine seems identical. Plate 30 in this same volume exhibits a similar variation in color of identical elements in both the elem and the main border. I own a similar Yomut chuval that has this kind of color variation in identical designs in the elem, the main border, and both the minor gul and the center of the major gul. So this practice that Steve has pointed to does also occur in Turkmen weaving. But these examples do not seem to suggest any secret the weaver was trying to keep. These uses of color seem like those the weaver wanted noticed. I am not doubting that tribal beliefs might include secret signs and talisman-like devices that might be placed in weavings. (Not to start this specific discussion up here, but Jim Allen has repeatedly claimed that some of the animal forms he sees in Turkmen weavings are often also instances of secret things not to be read by outsiders. If so, in my own case, they have been very successful.) Here is the closest possible example I can cite of a possible "secret" device. I own an Ersari torba with only four pink knots, two pairs placed very widely and precisely in the center of flower forms on opposite sides of this bag face. Their use cannot be to be seen because I know they're there and still often have to search for them a bit. They attract no attention at all. Why did the weaver deviate so deliberately to include and to place them? I don't know but have been tempted by talismanic explanations despite my feeling that these are over-used. Perhaps these four pink silk knots point to a secret, something known only to this weaver. Political and religious differences might be the occasion for a weaver smuggling secret devices into a rug. A Christian, Armenian weaver, weaving a custom rug for Muslim clients and using it either to put a little of her faith into it in ways they would be unlikely to recognize. Perhaps some instances of such "smuggling" are famous. Regards, R. John Howe

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Yon Bard
Date  :  12-14-1999 on 09:23 a.m.
I have several Turkmen pieces in which design elements are almost invisible because of low contrast with the background. Sometimes these are stand-alone figures, such as a red animal on darker red background on the elem of a Yomud chuval; sometimes they are integral elements of the design, such as rams' horns at the apices of secondary guls on another Yomud chuval. I have often wandered whether these are miscalculations by the weaver, or deliberate attempts at subtlety. By the way, it is my observation that this occurs predominantly on high quality pieces, which suggests that their makers knew whwt they were doing. Regards, Yon

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Alan Nagel
Date  :  12-14-1999 on 12:47 p.m.
I'm wondering whether it is normally the case that the degree of contrast is constant whether looking at the pile or looking at the back of the knots. Has this relevance in the views of any discussants? Alan Nagel

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Deschuyteneer Daniel
Date  :  12-14-1999 on 02:51 p.m.
Daniel Deschuyteneer Dear Steve, and you all, Frank Martin Diehr, author of "Treasured Baluch Pieces", says in the preface of its book : "To the best of my knowledge, Carl Meyer-Pünter was the first to explain the sombre colour range of Baluch rugs with the desire to rest one's eyes from the dazzling sunlight." And in the footnotes, he adds: Many authors have tried hard to describe the tonality of old and antique Baluch rugs, "their wealth of changing colours in sombre shades (that) was rich beyond the dream of avarice", as Ellwanger(p.83) put it as early as 1903. Cordially, Daniel

Subject  :  The Belouch Palette
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  12-14-1999 on 03:53 p.m.
Dear Daniel, That the dark, somber Belouch palette reflects "the desire to rest one's eyes from the dazzling sunlight" is an interesting and romantic conjecture, but not a very compelling conclusion. There are a number of equally plausible explanations, and an almost unlimited number of alternative ways to "rest one's eyes from the dazzling sunlight." To me, at least, it is about as convincing as it would be to say that the extensive use of white cotton in NW Persian and Caucasian weavings was a way of expressing gratitude for the wonderful things the sunlight provides (warmth, plant growth, and, of course, dispelling the danger of darkness). Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Stephen Louw
Date  :  12-15-1999 on 09:55 a.m.
My vote is for Steve's first option, namely that the use of white/contrast was done simply for aesthetic effect. The Baluch bag with the birds arranged in a 3 x 3 pattern is a good example. I have seen a pair of bags woven in this design. Each bag differs in the arrangement of the birds, as well as the way in which the white outline is used to highlight particular birds. This produces a stunning effect in the most simple possible manner, whilst retaining the essence of the basic design. When looking at the two bags together, the use of contrast has a second function. Working from within a culturally limited/defined design pool it helps distinguish one rendering of this image from another, and by justapositioning them, leaves an artistic imprint. Like artists in different cultures and working in different time-periods, the weaver's aim was to present a fairly commonly used pattern or image in a novel or interesting manner. I cannot see where the secret in this is, (although, to be sure, if it were a secret I would not be expected to see it would I?). Stephen

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Alan Nagel
Date  :  12-16-1999 on 09:21 a.m.
John's and others' concerns for talismanic or other such meanings of hidden elements and Stephen's appeal to keep the aesthetic effects in mind together map much of the territory here. Shouldn't we also keep in mind equivalents of current artists' motivations to do something simply for technically-oriented reasons, e.g. preferring to have a piece of the canvas or lithographic stone left untouched (or a patch of plainweave), adding one detail made available by new dyes or pigments, 'violating' the pattern in a way the artist/artisan just feels is right? Two issues here, I think: 1) habits of very much egocentric satisfactions (granted they must fit somehow into the cultural system, but they needn't bring much if any additional value like 'meanings' separable from the pleasure) 2) purely formal innovations, e.g. when an unconventional design violation gets accepted, is propagated widely, and thus becomes an innovation. The 'weaver's eye' constantly deserves our attention (cf. Beck's story--in her NOMAD ...-- of the design woven by the cousin of the interviewee who could have seen Beck's notebook cover only for seconds--but that was enough). Alan

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Marla Mallett
Date  :  12-16-1999 on 03:20 p.m.
marlam@mindspring.com Two thoughts on CONTRAST in weavings or other works of art: There's a tendency for an artisan to use more subtle color relationships the better the light in which he/she works...i.e. if one works in good outdoor light, one tends toward subtleties, but when working in poor light one compensates by using stronger contrasts. This brings to mind a comment by one of my painting professors years ago when I tried to excuse my lackluster production by complaining that the studios were too badly lit for effective work at night. His retort was that those were ideal conditions--since most gallery lighting for exhibiting finished work was rarely any better. As for the white cotton in weavings, you understand that usage clearly the first time you leave bright sunlight to enter a dark, murky nomad house with tiny windows or no windows at all...Or a black goathair tent. Before your eyes have adjusted, you see the strong white patterns on storage sacks, then only gradually, as your eyes adjust, does the full range of rich colors appear! It's a very clever design device! Marla

Subject  :  RE:Hidden Design Elements
Author  :  Tom+Cole
Date  :  12-19-1999 on 06:08 p.m.
Following this discussion, I was waiting for someone to bring up this aspect of Turkoman rugs, and has Yon has mentioned, this subtle use of color is encountered in Turkomans of the highest quality. For what reason? I can only guess, as the others here discussing this topic are doing. Clearly, Marla's comments make the most sense. As Ronnie Newman mentioned at Chicago ACOR in his talk on Chinese rugs, often the most mundane and simple reason is what accounts for the "mysterious" whatever it is that is being examined and dissected. If there was a real reason for having done something like this use of color, those reasons will remain obtuse to our 20th (and soon to be 21st) century minds. Our experiences have been so different, the average western mind cannot grasp the inner workings and motivation of the eastern mind, especially one removed by a century or two, or three even. But I come back to Yon's statement, it occurs only in Turkomans which are of extremely high quality for other reasons, ie. age, rarity, artistic impact, etc. The Baluch maintained many traditions, in both design and palette, well into the 19th century, longer than the Turkoman groups for example. As I have written elsewhere, Baluch rugs are like a window into the past, a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of a much older aesthetic and artistic tradition executed in a 19th century rug. This use of colors which do not contrast, the juxtaposition of these colors with no defining color (ie. white on a dark ground or vice versa) is an older aesthetic, evident in some of the weavings attributed to Seljuk period Anatolia. While in the Islamic Museum in Istanbul, I noticed more than one Seljuk rug which looked like a Baluch and at least one rug which looks like a Turkoman. Gives one pause for thought. Hidden secrets? I doubt it. Artistic impact? Sure, why not.

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