Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >Kaitag: Valid discovery or blatant hype?
Sat, Jul 5th, 2014 10:45:33 PM
Topic: Kaitag: Valid discovery or blatant hype?

Ten years ago, in March 2003, RK wrote the first of our commentaries concerning Kaitag embroidery.

It was entitled Are Kaitags Important or Are They Airport-Art?; and, in brief, we answered that question by unequivocally saying they are the latter, surely not the former.

Since then we have written a number of other critical reviews where we put to rest anyone's opinion these folksy embroideries are anything that resembles 'important'.

They are a folk tradition, some examples probably date into the 19th century.

But most are, in our expert opinion, 20th century.

And let RK gently pry open the eyes of those who believe the absurd and ridiculous 17th century dates that appear in Robert Chenciner's Kaitag: Textile Art from Daghestan publication (1993).

Here are two

Plate 34 above, and Plate 41 below

Laughably, no hysterically, both of these are dated in the book "17th century or earlier. This is nothing but chicanery, bordering on outright lie.

If Chenciner doesnt know enough about these embroideries to realize this is fabrication to the highest level, he should not be writing a book and posing as an expert.

OK, let's recap for readers the "Kaitag story".

RK met Robert Chenciner in London in the early 1980s long before he discovered Kaitag embroideries.

At that time he had recently co-authored his first book Embroidered Flowers from Thrace to Tartary, 1981 with C. Marko.

Chenciners resume lists a number of subsequent publications, and states he is an Hon Member Russian Academy of Sciences, Daghestan Scientific Centre since 1990.

Besides that first book and Madder Red: A History of Luxury and Trade another, his other books all deal with the Caucasus.

But left unsaid in his resume is the fact Chenciner has bought many objects there and then used his publications to popularize them and create a market for them. He is a salesman, and not a true reporter, writer, discoverer, or author.

This is not illegal, but it does smell funny and appear to us unseemly.

And this is especially true with the Kaitag, where he was virtually the only supplier of these pieces to the market.

Even worse, there is no mention of him besides his name as author, no bio, nothing about his commercial activities in the Kaitag book, nor is there any indication all the pieces originally were his.

Is there any wonder why.

OK, Chenciner goes to Daghestan falls in love with Kaitags, starts buying them up for, as we have heard it, 50-100 pounds apiece and brings them to London in the very late 1980s.

This is when RK saw the first of them, but unlike just about everyone else who fell for Chenciners tall tales, at that time of early 19th and 18th century dates, we didnt believe a word.

Somewhere at this point michael franses becomes Chenciners partner and starts pumping Kaitags though his contacts, and in that rag Hali where drippingly favorable articles and mentions appear.

Boom, the Kaitag becomes the new discovery and collectors and dealers fall over themselves to get in on the act or buy them.

Then the Chenciner Kaitag book comes out and the rest is history.

In this process of moving the Kaitag from bleecher seats to those directly on the field and behind first-base suddenly there are, lo and behold, now 17th century and earlier dates being floated.

This is undoubtedly in our opinion due to michael franses, a proven over-dater and totally unreliable source when it comes to dating.

Beyond the question of how old Kaitags are, who made them or why they were made, there is a far larger and more salient question.

Why were these embroideries never known in the west? Or even in the well-commercialized middle- eastern markets like Istanbul and Teheran?

After all since the end of the 18th century Europeans commercial agents have scoured these countries for rugs, textiles and embroideries to be sold to their merchant clients.

How could these embroideries, and there are we are sure at least 200 plus of them extant in European and American dealer stocks and collectors stashes, have remained unknown?

RKs answer to this quandary is simple: Kaitags were known by some intrepid rug hunters, but because they are a late addition of the fabulous, and incredibly long well recognized, Caucasian embroidery tradition nobody before Chenciner bothered to bring them to market.

There is no doubt Chenciner and his silent partner michael franses cleverly marketed them, and their in cahoots publicity machine, that rag hali, spead the word far and wide.

And the book franses published in 1993, and then unbeknownst to anyone that he was directly financially involved, unabashedly hyped, greatly contributed to their publicity blitz and successful coup.

So RugDumbs sucker collectors and hungry to make-a-buck dealers jumped on the bandwagon.

Now a decade later the furor has died down and when kaitags come onto the market, particularly at auction, their prices, unless artificially supported, rarely if ever reach the heights of yesteryear.

We are writing this to remind everyone what a dismal story, and it aint the only one if one remembers that rag hali and gerard pacquins Ottoman embroidery discovery, surrounds Kaitags.

In that same line we are republishing several of the past critical articles we previously authored, which have been since remained online in our online archives, in this Best of RugKazbah topic area for two main reasons.

First because we have many new regular readers who may not have delved deeply into our online archive to find them.

And, second, to remind RugDumb of it gullibility and foolish trust in what they read in a magazine like that rag hali, or in a flawed and self-interested tome like Chenciners Kaitag: Textile Art from Daghestan.

Author: jc
Sat, Jul 5th, 2014 10:45:33 PM

I has been several weeks since "Dave" has tried, and done so in vain, to prove kaitag embroideries are far older than RK claims.

We are not surprised he has faded like the sunset over the blue waters of the Pacific. The is no possible way to disprove the apparent fact these embroideries are at best middle to late 19th century.

So while we would enjoy critiquing any further less than convincing efforts on his part, or anyone else's, we are delighted not to have to further demonstrate the futility of such arguments.

Author: jc
Sun, Jun 15th, 2014 07:02:43 AM


RK has collected our past writings on the kaitag embroidery myth from our online archives and placed them in a new Topic Area called "The Kaitag Myth Destroyed".

We have also added our latest on the subject entitled "Under Further Scrutiny: Kaitag Myths" there as well.

Author: jc
Sat, May 31st, 2014 09:46:16 AM

Here are the two archaic examples of Caucasian embroidery mentioned in our reply below.

Archetype trans-Caucasian long-stitch silk embroidery corner fragment; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic weaving of the Caucasus, 1990

Archetype, fragmented and cut-in-half-horizontally, cross-stitch trans-Caucasian embroidery with cartouche and box border, as well as most probably a large cartouche type central medallion; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic weaving of the Caucasus, 1990

Author: Dave Hayton
email: [email protected]
Fri, May 30th, 2014 11:25:27 AM

RK Replies:

Hello again Dave and welcome back.

First off please inform us, and everyone else who reads this voice in the wilderness, why you are accusing RK of being an arrogant name caller?

Did we offend you by asking you to put up or shut up? Or was it implying you are a kool-aid imbiber?

Let's not bicker over the small stuff and get right to the meat of the matter.

The carpet and textile study dating-game is a slippery slope. That said, there are some solid points one can hang a hat on and others that are even more slippery than oil on ice.

For instance, an example of both:

A painting done by an artist, who lets say died in 1800 where a kaitag might be shown is pretty good evidence in this field.

However, in fact, even if the kaitag looks exactly like one you, franses, Chencenir or anyone else owns, this does not really establish 100 percent evidence.

But a kaitag with incontrovertible museum or institutional dating records that was acquired in 1800, has remained in their collection since and is still available for viewing, is what we consider to be almost 100 percent evidence.

That, dear Dave, is as good as it gets.

Finding a kaitag with a date of 1814, or even 1600, is circumstantial evidence at best, as the date might refer to a million other reasons, not necessarily the date the kaitag was produced.

Still with me, Dave?

So, yes, you are right. RK sees little to no concrete proof a dated kaitag proves anything about the age of any other kaitag or even it, as the weaver might have put it there to commemorate many other possibilities, not just when it was made.

Taking it one step further, even if it had an accompanying inscription stating this was the date the kaitag was made, that too is not real proof as there is no way to determine if that inscription is true or false.

We can easily provide countless weavings with bogus dates, so why would a kaitag be immune from this practice?

Your next attempt to prove your contentions, and of course disprove ours, was this statement
"Recently, I was shown allegedly much older pieces by local, native collectors/producers."

We see this as but more worthless hearsay.


Need RK remind you that you said, and we believe, you are NOT a weaving expert. So how then can you substantiate someone else's claims to have "much older" examples is anything but more hot air?

Of course you can't and throwing up "evidence" like this, or the kaitag with a 1814 date, does little to buttress your position.

In fact it only enhances ours that there is no proof any kaitag is older than the 19th century, and most are late 19th or early 20th century.

We have given you two types of "proof" we, or anyone who is not drinking franses/Chenciner kool-aid, would accept as real evidence.

Let us reiterate:

1. a painting showing a totally recognizable kaitag, done by an artist who died in 1800, would be good proof that kaitags existed prior to 1800.

2. a kaitag in a museum collection with an verifiable accession date of 1800 would be even better, and just about irrefutable, proof kaitags existed prior to 1800.

But since neither of these two are available, RK will offer a third possibility to prove the seemingly smoke and mirror nonsense kaitag dating you believe.

It is called art historical analysis.

Make a continuum of examples which clearly demonstrates a time-line that stretches over many generations.

This, naturally, is far lower on the scale of "evidence" than 1 and 2; but one RK and others will readily accept, since carpet and textile studies rarely have the good fortune to have proofs like 1 and 2.

If the kaitag tradition goes back to the 16th or 17th century, a claim you made based on franses and Chencenirs claims, this would enable such a continuum to be easily constructed. Four hundred plus years is a long time.

And over such a long period of time such a properly constructed continuum would show distinct changes in technique, materials, dyes and iconography.

We need to mention these changes exist, and are demonstrable, in every other Near Eastern carpet/textile tradition.

But, dear Dave, this situation does not exist with kaitags where invariably the technique, the materials, the dyes and the iconography show little to any differences.

Hmmm, so what does this mean?

Is the kaitag the only Near Eastern weaving tradition and culture to have remained unchanged over a 400 year time span?

The answer, once again, Dave is No it is totally unbelievable a 400 year old weaving tradition could, or did, remain unchanged.

Please also note: RK has seen many kaitags but, frankly, we cannot remember ever seeing one with synthetic dye.

This is quite significant because it is unheard of in Near Eastern textile studies where every other type of weaving has examples tainted with a datable synthetic dye.

So was the kaitag so sequestered no synthetic dyes ever penetrated its weaving culture?

Or did it end prior to the production of synthetic dye, i.e. in the mid 18th century?

Of course not, and these questions just provide more question to an already questionable supposed 200 plus, forget 300 or 400, year old tradition.

So there you have it.

We have given you two possible avenues of proof: The first, number 1, providing real good evidence and the second, number 2, providing concrete evidence.

But since we know you cannot cite either RK has given you a third avenue to prove your belief kaitags could be 18th, 17th or even 16th century the construction of an art historical continuum.

Also, we do not need to prove they are as recent as we claim.

Remember we, unlike you Dave, have no skin in the kaitag dating game.

We do not own any, we never have ones one, we don't really care about them other than the fact they are considerably ower-dated and rated. What we write is to try and set the record straight.

Plus let us remind you we have credentials to prove historic Near Eastern weaving expertise, particularly those made outside the confines of the Safavid and Ottoman court, or those made in city, workshops.

More specifically to this discussion we have been researching and collecting Caucasian embroideries since the early 1970s, we own two of the most archaic examples, and formerly owned a number of later ones, all of which are demonstrably earlier than any kaitag you, franses, Chencenir or anyone else has.

And although this might be sneered at by you it gives us a powerful bragging rights -- we are the expert you are not.

Now we have provided you with three different parameters of proof you or anyone else needs to provide to back up your contentions about kaitag dating. We welcome your reply to do so.

However, know it is impossible and that, dear Dave, is the reason our position on kaitag dating is fact while yours, fransess, Chencenirs, are nothing but laughable fiction.


Wow, RK. You amuse me, really, whomever you are. Perhaps the real proof of my ignorance is choosing to continue such a dialogue with you. I fear it may only prove fruitless.

What kind of a documentation or 'evidence' would you accept or regard as legitimate? Please inform me. In my spare time, I'll do my best to mine it out for you (more so, for any reading public).

E.g., two weeks ago I was shown a Kaitag dated 1814, early 19th Century which you steadfastly deny. It was a part of an official, Russian government exhibition hosted at the central library in Makhachkala. I doubt that suffices as evidence for you on any level, but it's clearly not a concoction of Chenciner's. It's the position of the local government scholarly community, many of whom (due to ethnic loyalties and prejudices) would prefer to de-emphasize Kaitags if they could themselves be persuaded of evidence in the contrary.

Recently, I was shown allegedly much older pieces by local, native collectors/producers. So I ask you, what method of dating analysis would you accept as 'proof' since you apparently place zero stock in personal testimony or the collective opinion of a diverse community of local scholars and craftsmen?

Clarify for me which kind of scientific measurement or testing you demand, and if possible I will seek to employ the test locally, and have it administered independently. I am not a collector; I have nothing to lose. Kaitag's age or youth affects me in no way.

It does startle me to find a lone voice in the wilderness (yours) clambering on like so. Even if data testing were to prove that Kaitags only emerged in the late 19th Century (something that would truly surprise a multitude of scholars locally and elsewhere), I still find your overall assessment of them inexplicably lackluster.

The ball's in your court, arrogant name-caller. Do the civilized and educated world a favor: clearly delineate the manner of evidence you demand from others; and use that 'evidence' is supporting your own claims. Otherwise, this entire debate delves into a freak show of he said/she said.

Author: jc
Tue, May 27th, 2014 08:06:15 AM

Over the past week RK has received several emails from upset fans of the kaitag.

Seems these collectors were foolish enough to swallow the bait and are now hooked into owning kaitags at far more than they are worth.

These people are annoyed with good reason but instead of writing to RK and complaining about what we wrote we believe they would be better put to go complain to whomever they got them from, or go directly to address their disappointments to michael franses or Chencenir.

And if readers are upset with what RK wrote how about trying to disprove with evidence to show what we have written is incorrect.

There is little doubt: The kaitag is a late Caucasian folk-art and no matter how you slice it they are mostly later 19th to early 20th century.

Forget about 18th century examples, and laugh your head off at anyone who talks about 17th or even 16th century ones.

Author: jc
Wed, May 21st, 2014 03:48:30 PM

RK was pretty certain Dave was not going to try and take up our challenge to document the nonsense idea any kaitag embroidery is 18th century, forget about his ridiculous assertion there are 16th century ones.

In the end poor dummy Dave is but one of many victims Chenciner and his partner michael franses have pumped and dumped into believing such deceitful kaitag dating drivel.

In the final analysis dopes like Dave deserve it.

After all franses, Chenciner, that rag hali, and the several other authors of kaitag books have not provided one shred of actual evidence to support their early dating claims.

Only a fool would fall for the hearsay and less type of evidence these carpet-bagging kaitag profiteers have used to create a market built on the quicksand of their greed and the dreams of gullible dumb rug collectors.

Author: Dave Hayton
email: dav[email protected]
Mon, May 19th, 2014 05:01:27 PM

RK Replies:

Greetings Dave and welcome to RugKazbah.com.

While your post below shows you know something about Dagestan it surely does not show you know anything about textiles, weaving, or specifically kaitags.

And while you admit you are "not positioning...(yourself) as an expert" this does little to support the contentions about kaitags you make, or excuse you from making them.

For instance you wrote "there is ample proof of early 19th Century production of these textiles, and very strong indications of certain pieces' origins to even the late 16th Century" but then failed to even supply one sentence of proof to document such unsupportable ideas.

By the way, you are not alone. Neither Chenciner, franses, that rag hali, or anyone else alive or dead has been able to demonstrate them either.

That being the case, RK doesn't need to challenge you, Chenciner, michael franses, or anyone else to demonstrate with even a beyond the shadow of doubt proof any kaitag is earlier than the end of the 19th century. But just for drill we will do it anyway.

Slinging around undocumented and unsupportable contentions is typical for rugDUMB and you, Sir, have fallen down into that deep well of mired miasma.

You also can, likewise, stand accused of misinterpreting RK's words as well as putting your own in our mouth and then pretending they were ours in the first place.

For instance RK did not base our disbelief any kaitag is older than the end of the 19th century on the fact they were not discovered until recently, but only mentioned this as one other questionable question surrounding these textiles.

The fact Dagestan lies on the silk route, well close to it, and eager for business traders looking for goods to trade in were plying those pathways for centuries bodes poorly for any argument the kaitag could have remained undiscovered until Sherlock Holmes Chenciner appeared.

And by the way we have no "beef" with him, only the ridiculous dating he and his partner michael franses have concocted. And by the way, where is the "beef" in the fast-food style hamburger you claim chef Chenciner serves up?

And your statement "It is not hard to imagine an eruptive flurry of such bizarre, alluring, solar-centered, talismanic amalgamations of images and shapes and deliberately asymmetric patterns as we find in the Kaitag Textiles" is both silly and ignorant.

As, and let RK teach you something here, those "images" are nothing but gross and unsightly reproductions of the genuinely earlier ones which appear on the two types of textiles, those with cross stitch and those with long couched stitch, called Caucasian embroideries. Kaitag designs also, for instance, re-use images from other textiles, like those of the Ottoman Court.

You would be well put to do even a modicum of study before trying to bray about the "alluring" patterns you believe kaitags display.

After doing such an honest study RK would find it impossible for you not to agree with our analysis: and to repeat, that is those images are nothing but distorted and grossly rendered versions taken from the cross and couch stitched embroideries, and other earlier textiles as well.

It is said "ignorance is bliss" and you, Sir, must be in blissful heaven to make the following statement: "The quality of materials and craftsmanship is undeniable and really has no historic precedent or equivalent (if you leave aside Matisse's paintbrush-ed plagiarism)."

Again, go study the early cross and couched stitch embroideries from the Trans-Caucasus and then if you cannot see they provide the historic precedent, forget about their being so far superior in every regard, RK can only believe you have drunk far too much, and in fact drowned in Chenciner and franses kool-aid, to be saved.

No, no, Dave you are lost man, and your diatribe against RK is bogus as calling someone like Chenciner anything but a profiteer and carpet-bagging hyperbolist who used a late folk tradition to try and hoodwink RugDUMB into believing a Walt Disney worthy fairy-tale.

Therefore, RK welcomes your trying to prove, with even circumstantial evidence, any kaitag pre-dates the late 19th century.

The ball's now in your court and it's put up or shut up time for you, Dave.


I was deeply disappointed to come across this unprofessional and severely ill-informed article bashing Kaitag Textiles. Your review was neither irenic, documented, nor constructive in any way.

I've lived here in Dagestan for over five years as a freelance ethnographer and writer. I'm currently a contributing editor to EthnoTraveler Magazine, as well as a post-grad student in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester.

I'm certainly not positioning myself as an expert, but I can assure you that there is ample proof of early 19th Century production of these textiles, and very strong indications of certain pieces' origins to even the late 16th Century.

Your questions and assumptions about why Kaitags hadn't been discovered or celebrated earlier betray a deep ignorance of Dagestan. The historic, ethnic, and cultural mysteries of Dagestan are manifold: Kaitag embroideries are but one (stunning and exquisite) manifestation of a Pandora's box of intricacies and wonders.

With forty-eight noun cases, Tabassaran (one of Dagestan's 30+ indigenous languages) is considered by most linguists to be earth's most complex language in the noun category. More Olympic medalists in wrestling and MMA sports hail from Dagestan than any other corner of earth. Few other regions on the planet, if any, can boast so many individual ethno-linguistic groups, cohabiting such a small area, with verifiable roots back to the Bronze Age.

The history of religions, world conquerors, and global migration/trade come together in such a narrow and geographically inhospitable place, like nowhere else in the world. A Silk Road detour, not thoroughfare, passed through here. Travel never was, nor is, easy in or out of, nor through Dagestan. Mountains, rivers, the Sea, and wars or enemy tribes or forts or castles or towers or garrisons (check points in our day) inhibit free movement and ensure surveillance.

Even so, the story of Dagestan involves global cross-pollination: Scythians, Goths, Greek colonies, Roman generals, Huns, Khazars, Arabs, Persians, Mongols, Viking expeditions, Venetian merchants, Ottomans, Russians. Armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Peter the Great, Nader Shah, and many other sultans and shahs and emirs and czars, all marched over this land, most to stunning and surprising losses, defeats, and incalculable delays and casualties.

Dagestan's pre-hisotry was animistic/shamanistic, influenced by aspects of Zoroastrianism. In the 4th Century it became part of one of the very first Christian kingdoms on earth, Albania. The first Muslim armies arrived (642) merely ten years after the Prophet's death, firmly establishing Islam along the urban coastal areas within decades. Medieval Christianity via the Serir Kingdom (Avar) and neighboring Georgians later also contributed to a rather folk Islamic outlook that pervaded the Dagestani worldview.

All of this is just the tip of the ice berg in attempting a brief sweep of the complexity of the dimensions of Dagestan's history. It is not hard to imagine an eruptive flurry of such bizarre, alluring, solar-centered, talismanic amalgamations of images and shapes and deliberately asymmetric patterns as we find in the Kaitag Textiles. The quality of materials and craftsmanship is undeniable and really has no historic precedent or equivalent (if you leave aside Matisse's paintbrush-ed plagiarism).

Whatever beef you have against Chenciner ought not to detract from the central questions and considerations of the Kaitags themselves, which you heretofore have abysmally failed to do. I don't know the man, nor can I pass judgments on his economic interests. I have read his books, and I do find most of what he was written about Dagestan to be compelling, spot-on, and illuminating.

You say that he's not even a writer? Rubbish! "Daghestan: Tradition & Survival" is surely among the best ethnographies published in the late 20th Century! Your seeming vehemence to attack Chenciner has blinded you to the obvious. And it has certainly poisoned your outlook on the quality of Kaitags.

Whether or not Chenciner deserves to be challenged or questioned or more critically reviewed is quite beside the point for me. You are attacking not just an eccentric British scholar/traveler/writer/collector...you are attacking Kaitag Art in a baseless way. And by doing so, you are assaulting the honor and integrity of the Kaitag community itself.

If history tells you anything, it cautions you loudly against ill-founded attacks on Dagestan!


Dave Hayton

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