Posted by R. John Howe on 09-18-2002 07:29 AM:

Too Much of the Same Thing

Dear folks -

One complaint that some make about Turkmen weavings is that they are all basically too similar. All basically red, with medallions and such pasted all over them. Boring in their similarity.

When we first talked about the Turkmen exhibition for ICOC X [that's Easter/Passover weekend, 2003, here in Washington, DC; and you (y'all) should all come] a number of "themes" were proposed.

Now I'm not a big "theme" person (although Walter Denny's just opened exhibition of classical Turkish carpets is a wonderful demonstration of the advantage(s) of a theme approach), preferring usually instead simply to look about for the best pieces we could find. I'm not offended by the eclectic approach.

But those more experienced than I felt that a theme or some themes were needed and so we collected some possibles. Once these potential themes had been assembled we consulted with still more august authorities in the world of Turkmen expertise and the consensus was that an "engsi only" exhibition was by far the most interesting and superior theme of those that had been proposed.

Well, I'm working on it diligently and as a Turkmen collector myself, obviously don't buy the basic notion that the sameness of Turkmen weavings makes them boring, BUT, it did seem to me that this criticism might have more weight when we restricted ourselves to engsis alone.

What do you think of the notion that most engsis are so similar as to make an exhibition (or a salon like this one) restricted to them largely pointless and boring?

Vincent Keers says that he's staying on the Show and Tell board for the duration of this salon because he finds the engsi "too fashionable." I'm not sure what that means, but I talking about "boring because too similar" here.



R. John Howe

Posted by Steve_Price on 09-18-2002 08:49 AM:

Hi John,

I just looked at the Forums heading page, and it appears that your Salon has generated over 180 posts in, I think, 13 threads. As you know, my opinion is that the number of posts isn't a direct measure of the success or failure of a Salon, but a lot of posts must at least mean that people didn't just fall asleep over it.

Bob Stloukal, from whom I haven't heard in a long time, once told me that he thought he was a Turkmen collector until he discovered that he just liked brown rugs. There's no doubt that Turkmen weavings belong to a rather easily identified tradition, with a fairly rigorous grammar and a limited range of variation. Turkmen collectors focus on the variation, and it isn't surprising that they (the collectors) are seen as people who are obsessed with detail.

The ensi has a grammar that makes them a genre of themselves. By this, I mean that they don't share the format of many other utilitarian Turkmen weavings (a field of rows and columns of one or two kinds of gul, all surrounded by one or a few borders, the borders then surrounded by an undecorated extension of the field). That makes them interesting. And having an opportunity to see many at once lets us focus on the details of the grammar. That's happened in the discussion of your Salon, although there are entire elements that have received almost no attention at all. The elem, for instance, and the horizontal band that separates the upper two fields from the lower two fields in the hatchli format.

If the people writing the catalog do a good job of it, the ensi exhibition is likely to be memorable and important. If not, it will just be memorable.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-18-2002 09:20 AM:

Steve -

Those in control of ICOC X have indicated that they want the introductions in the catalog to be just that and have explicitly said that they do not want them to attempt to be articles of the sort that might be appropriate for OCTS. The limit is 3,000 words.

In draft, the contributions by three authors to the introduction of the "engsi only" portion of the catalog seem to me unremarkable.

It may be that someone will decide to write and to present an OCTS article on the engsi (in fact, this is an invitation for any brave and knowledgeable soul who might feel tempted) but I do not know of one such at the moment.


R. John Howe

Posted by Sophia Gates on 09-18-2002 04:40 PM:

Anything But Boring!

Hi John,

I think an ensi exhibition, like your salon, would be fascinating. The ensis are in and of themselves pretty complex, both in terms of design and iconography; and they show significant variation within tribal groups, let alone among them.

Turkmen rugs are subtle, not boring!

Posted by Sue Zimerman on 09-19-2002 12:41 AM:

Dear John,
Where do I sign up to buy your engsi catalog?! My wish list for it is big close ups, and real old ones, lots of them. Black and white photos, (except for the old ones), would be fine, don't you think? The detail would show up better and it would cost less. Sue

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-19-2002 04:52 AM:

ICOC X Catalog

Sue -

The catalog that will include the photos of the "engsis only" exhibition from ICOC X will become available next Easter/Passover weekend, during the conference itself, which will be held here in Washington, DC.

At this writing, the engsi only exhibition will contain about 25-30 rugs and a 3000 word introduction by three expert authors. The photos will likely be one to a page and will be in full color. No close-ups planned, although folks with the catalog can scan images and likely produce details of these rugs that are quite close up, as Filiberto has done here.

This catalog can be ordered from the ICOC X site after the conference. Here is the link. Note the "books" section.

I should also mention that this catalog will in fact include the rugs from most if not all of the exhibitions planned for ICOC X. There will be exhibitions on:

Turkmen (engsis only)
Kurdish rugs (many that echo old classic Persian designs)
South Persian rugs
North Persian bag faces (at the George Washington University gallery)
Kaitag embroideries
Uzbekistan weavings (at the Uzbekistan embassy)
And the Textile Museum will have exhibitions on Spanish and Mamluk carpets.

So this will be a sizable catalog. I don't have a projected price at the moment.

Of course, the ideal thing would be to come to the conference itself. You can then, not only buy this catalog at its first availability, you will be able to see these pieces as close-up as you like (no touching, of course) "in the wool."


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 09-19-2002 09:08 AM:

Hi John,

Having three experts collaborate on a 3000 word (about 12 double spaced typewritten pages) blurb for an exhibition of 25 or 30 pieces sounds strange to me, especially if it is to be a general introduction, not a work of scholarship.

Is there some rationale for having a three person committee do what I think is a modest one person job? Does it really take three experts to produce a general introduction to ensis? If so, why?


Steve Price

Posted by Tracy Davis on 09-19-2002 04:42 PM:

Hmmm. I don't know that I'd consider such an exhibition "pointless and boring", but for what it's worth, I *do* find engsis a bit... well, tiresome. I'd be more interested in seeing an exhibition of juvals and torbas; in fact most of the other proposed exhibitions from ICOC X sound better to me than this one, although I'm sure that I'll meet the MOST INTERESTING people in the Turkmen exhibit. (Whew! Did I get myself out of that one?)

However, since there's never, to my knowledge, been an exhibition devoted strictly to the engsi, what better time and place to have the definitive exhibit? Possibly the "too similar" argument was made against an exhibit of Baluch prayer rugs in 1980, too (although, to be fair, there's more variety of color and design in those).

You asked for opinions....

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-19-2002 05:28 PM:

Tracy -

I suspect an number of folks either do or will share your view. I'm glad you spoke your mind.

But some of the "gods" of the Turkmen rug world believe this to be one of the most important themes we could fashion.


R. John Howe

Posted by Tracy Davis on 09-19-2002 05:36 PM:

From a scholarship standpoint, the gods are probably right, but that doesn't mean the exhibit might not be a bit tedious to non-Turkomaniacs. But that's okay - people bored to tears aren't likely to be competing with you to purchase desirable pieces, right?

Posted by Tracy Davis on 09-20-2002 10:28 PM:

John, I've been thinking this over for a day or so, and upon further reflection have changed my mind about the engsi exhibit.

I'm a color junkie, which is part of the reason Turkmen weavings aren't my favorite genre. However, when I closed my eyes and tried to imagine an exhibition of two dozen engsis representing the different tribal groups, I realized that the very "sameness" of the engsi theme will highlight and illuminate the small (?) differences between each piece, and the difference of the various interpretations of the theme would be accentuated. The exhibit has the potential to both delight Turkmen collectors and (perhaps) help the rest of us understand some of the appeal.

You may be gratified to know that I was influenced in my thinking by staring at one of my Yomut torbas and realizing that I would love to see a handful of examples of two-large-kepse-gul pieces like mine, just to compare details.

There's hope for me yet.

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-21-2002 01:56 PM:

The Utility of a Type Restricted Exhibition

While it is probably true that an exhibition of Turkoman rugs, restricted to a specific type as proposed, would bore a general audience and lack the diversity to entice the sustained interest of the less focused collector, such an assemblage of rugs would represent to the serious Turkmen collector a fortuitous opportunity. One could accomplish, it could be argued, that which pouring over numerous volumes and hour upon hour of leg work could not ; a concise survey of the range of design variants which constitute the mass of Turkmen Engsi weaving and a chronology of the development of the design across time and Tribe.This approach would reflect the temporal activities of collectors in general and Turkmen collectors specifically, for after viewing a goodly size representative sampling of rugs, naturally occuring categories and groupings suggest themselves and emerge, and constitute a progression of design or developmental framework indicative of a chronology. This approach to an exhibition would would address many of the limitations imposed by much of Turkmen scholarship, and the real problem of assembling a large body of Type specimens from which assess the breadth and depth of the body of weaving. In short ,both a great opportunity and idea.- Dave