Whither Turkomania?  
by Lawrence Kearney  
  This article originally appeared in Oriental Rug Review Vol 1, No. 10 (January, 1982). Copies of this issue may still be available for purchase - please consult the Oriental Rug Review website.   



 "And this was the land of the famous horsemen of Tamerlane! New Urgench has fallen on sad days, its streets filled with riders of tiny donkeys. " From "Surveying Through Khoresm", by Lyman D. Wilbur, Nat. Geog., June 1932




If you were in Washington in October 1980, and you noticed an inordinate number of glassy-eyed lost souls mumbling to themselves about Z-spun and S-spun, and if the guy in the room next to you at the Sheraton had a dozen Yomud chuvals tacked up on his wall, and if even the winos down by Union Station were stopping you and asking, "Hey buddy, ya got any Arabatchis?" then you know what it's like to be in the throes of Turkomania. And yet by November, it seemed like Turkomans had gone belly-up on the Potomac (and everywhere else). What happened?

One possibility is that truly maniacal Turkomania had peaked a year earlier - at least it had in California, according to my friend and interpreter of things Californian, Russ Rosen.  Which makes sense, when you think about California: one year it's Pet Rocks, the next year Tekke Torbas.  In other words, as Michael David noted in a past issue of Oriental Rug Review, rugs are as subject to fads and fad psychology as any other field of antiques.

But this still doesn't explain why prices and interest in Turkoman weaving has fallen so drastically.  My pet theory - and I say this with some  trepidation -  is that in their heart of hearts, most Turkomaniacs realize that Turkoman stuff is BORING,  I mean, how many million chuvals did the Yomuds weave anyway? Did they have an assembly line going in Tashkent? Were they importing them from Taiwan?

I happily admit that some (usually very early) Turkoman weaving can be exquisite, but like the good girl in the nursery rhyme, when it's good it's very good, and when it's bad it's horrid.  And there just isn't enough really old, really splendid Turkoman stuff to go around.  So, too often, what we end up talking about and dealing in are boring Yomud chuvals and boring Tekke main carpets.

Speaking of boredom, I should make mention of that triumph of humorlessness, that veritable monument to how-many-khaliks-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin scholarship, Turkoman Studies. What I want to know is has anyone -besides the editors - read Turkoman Studies cover to cover? (Actually, I did hear of someone who had finished the book. He's still in a coma.) One of the problems with the book, and with much of the literature on Turkoman weaving in general, is an excess of High Seriousness, or H-S. One of the tell-tale symptoms of H-S is the dominance of technical analysis over aesthetics.  A related, but independent symptom, is when considerations of rarity dominate considerations of beauty - and the field of Turkoman Studies is nothing if not esoteric. One example that comes to mind is work of the infamous Arabatchi. If you look in HALI, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 350, you'll see a couple of these  goodies, and read a glowing description of their charms (and of course, their rarity). What you won't read, but what you can plainly see for yourself, are two ugly step sisters, rugs so schlocky even Sears and Roebuck wouldn't dare sell them.  In fact, maybe Arabatchi work is so hard to find because it's so ugly - the Arabatchi in a fit of embarrassment over the uniform ugliness of the wool and the drawing and the color of their various chuvals and torbas may have gathered them into  heaps and set them ablaze, hoping, like the villagers at the end of Frankenstein, that through fire they had cleansed the cosmos of ugliness and moral depravity. But no! . . . Somehow, a few of their wretched artifacts escaped, and like the monster rising from the rubble of the Baron's castle, their ugliness has once again been loosed on the world.

You can see further evidence of the rarity factor in Turkomania in the prices some Yomud weavings bring. The Yomuds, of course, made main carpets and mafrashes and chuvals (Boy, did they make chuvals!) like the other Turkoman tribes, but they also wove fun little paraphernalia as well - gun covers, Bokche bags, hearth rugs, pot holders, place mats, toilet seat covers, shower curtains, etc. - that command, solely on the basis of their scarcity, huge prices.  All of which looks more like hype than anything else. (The whole issue of rarity, I think, is also what's behind the big drop in prices paid for Chaudor work: Chaudor weaving is not as rare  as previously thought. Or rather, Chaudor may still be as scarce, but Arabatchi and Imreli work is perceived as scarcer, and hence more desirable, and has pushed Chaudor work out of the limelight.)

So perhaps what is going on is a retrenching of opinion about the pursuit of the esoteric (what's rare aint necessarily beautiful), and a greater selectivity on the part of Collectors (Turkomanics being a notoriously fussy one might even say Anal Retentive lot).

But wait!!!  I have it on the highest authority that yet another previously unknown group of Turkoman weavings has been discovered. Unfortunately, neither the technical analysis nor the tribal attribution has been completed, and consequently, they are known only as X-Group. This much, however, is known: the dominant color of the field is a deep day-glo purple, and the Major gul bears a striking resemblance to a honey dew melon. In short, X-Group weaving promises to exceed Arabatchi  work in both rarity and hideousness,  an exciting prospect for the true Turkoman collector,  which, if it works out, means we'll have Turkomania - and Turkomaniacs - back with us any day now.




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