Detail of what RK votes to be the strangest, weirdest, unimaginable soumak khorjin ever; Herbert Exner collection
Reading through this latest issue of that rag hali reminded RK how this magazine tramples fact, logic and truth like a bulldozer a rose bush.
From cover to cover there are so many examples RK hardly knows where to begin. However, we wont since we no longer will spend our time making in depth critique of most of the fools gold panned in rugDUMB. We will just focus on the high-point of critiquability (at least for us) leaving alone the myriad of other as easily shutdown and out but of lesser interest to us efforts this issue contains.
But before we lop off that top we feel it necessary to mention some other equally unnotables.
At the front, after all those adverts, is ben surely not the pen evans editorial which gave us dj vu all over again, thanks Yogi. Cant evans write something that is at least somewhat different than his last excuse to mouth-off? Obviously not.
Then at the back is the auction report section, which is once more full of last years sale results and as Geritol tired as evans editorial.
Sorry but repetition, particularly when it is full of agenda oriented opinions that are stilted and say little interesting, is not RKs idea of what an auction report needs to convey.
Oh well, after losing more than 50% of it former readership over the last years we guess evans and company believe preaching to such a small tranche of faithful ruggies indemnifies them from mistakes. And frankly theyre right, as no one but RK calls them out; and now we hardly bother.
OK, this issue's high-point, a 12 page article on so-called ShshSavan soumak bags, is sandwiched in between these literary word wastebaskets.
It begins on page 62, with the title Hamamlu, a word we have never seen or heard before. More about this is a moment or two.
On the facing page a complete soumak khorjin of the famous so-called beetle type.
Hamamlu soumak khorjin half dated by Exner 19th century something RK seriously questions; Herbert Exner collection
On first glace it looks pretty damn good but on a second and then further perusal we must admit our suspicions were progressively raised a few octaves.
Though it looks right on the surface, there are a lot of subtle clues tell RK it aint right. But until we get to handle it or any of the others in this article we will let it rest there. But we are betting sure it is newer than 19th century.
Herbert Exner, the aticles aforementioned author, begins his fairy-tale presentation thats all this ridiculously flawed soumak bag myopitic can be called with the following.
Let RK quote the article and insert some pertinent comments in Dr Exners fantasy island meets the trans-Caucasus show and tell.
Khorjin (double saddle bags) are an important part of the wide variety of flexible containers made and used by nomadic pastoralists all over the Near East and Central Asia.
RK: This is most likely true for the post 1870 period but what went on hundred, or even hundreds, of years before? No one knows, surely not Exner, and to presuppose the earliest examples were domestic items is in our estimation as wrong as believing the tooth fairy and not your parents left you a silver coin for that tooth under your pillow. There is evidence the earliest soumak khorjins with complex patterned iconographies, one of the strongest bits of evidence, were anything but secular items made for daily use. RK does not know exactly what they were made for, other than status and heraldry, but we know it was not anything related to domesticity.
During the annual tribal migrations from summer camps to winter camps and back, double saddle bags carried, on donkey back, all kinds of smaller household goods, while larger, three-dimensional bedding bags called mafrash were used for bulkier items.
On the camp ground and in the tent khorjin were used as pillows or for storing household items. There were also smaller woven containers such as salt bags, spoon bags, scissor bags, bags for tobacco, bags for personal items and the like.
All the conditions and materials for their making by the tribes grandmothers, mothers and daughters were available near their tents: wool from sheep, wood for spindles and looms, dyestuffs made from roots, bark or leaves and, not least, the knowledge, skills and creativity of the weavers.
RK: Exner is dreaming out loud here. His idea there was a WalMart of materials next door to the villages and encampments where during the 19th century and early 20th, forget earlier times, these soumak bags were made is absurd. It is obvious and undeniable fact some materials, like silk, cotton and certain rare dyestuffs, had to be gotten from foreign locations and suppliers. And the idea the dyes stuffs used were made from roots, bark and leaves is ridiculousy incorrect. Thinking all of them were all locally sourced and produced is even more fantastical and unreal.
One special cluster of 19th-century khorjin with interrelated designs can be selected out of the enormous number of patterns from southeastern Caucasus.
RK: There are no enormous number of soumak khorjin patterns. There are an enormous number of carpet patterns but not ones seen on soumak khorjins, especially ones made prior to 1870. Again, Exner is just shootin the shit instead of dispensing the factual information that can quite easily counter his bluster.
Produced in an area stretching from the Moghan Steppe to the Talish region and the Savalan Mountains, they can be further subdivided into four groups of peculiar designs. Experienced old traders dubbed them Hamamlu (1).Ah ha, finally we learn what the word Hamamlu is all about. It is footnoted but RK could not find where that footnote or any other is explained, and we searched through the magazine several times. There are no corresponding footnote section but what else to expect from this poorly edited magazine.
The basic Hamamlu type can be distinguished by pattern and material details. Generally, the density of the sumakh weave is extraordinarily fine, measuring 9-12 pattern wefts per centimetre. Ground weft shoots are sometimes made of undyed silk. The reverse side has narrow weft-faced kilim stripes in brown and blue or red and blue. The individual pouches are almost square in format, and measure between 50 and 60 centimetres in length. The striped kilim bridge between the pouches of a complete khorjin can be from a few centimetres up to as much as half a metre in length. Sometimes there is a slit for a saddle pommel in the centre of the bridge.
RK: According to these distinguishing charasterists any such group would include all the soumak bags RK has ever seen, read or heard about. These characteristics are so general and unspecific they are meaningless facts that surely do not define any specific group of soumak bags one could hang the name Hamamlu on.
Hamamlu khorjin typically have the following design traits in common: 1. One of several characteristic central ornaments, varying according to group, in a 4:1 composition with additional smaller-scale ornaments in each corner of the field; 2. A blue- or green-ground main border that contains either one element only, often an eight-pointed star, or alternating with a second element that Wertime calls a cloud collar motif; 3. A single narrow guard stripe, usually decorated with a simple zigzag line, on each side of the main border.
RK: Again these design characteristics belong to such a great number of examples that are clearly materially different it precludes them all having been produced by the same or related weavers in the same or generally same locations. Again Exner is not defining a group but lumping all known types of soumak khorjins into a one size fits all category. Surely this is not valid or valuable research.
In general, the weavers of all four groups are bound to these traditional elements of the pattern. However, they are free to fill small voids with tiny human figures, birds, fantastic animals, stars, blossoms or the widely used decorative element resembling a dice with five dots.
RK: This is about the only statement we can find agreement that weavers were bound by tradition. So far all the rest is nonsense, and any magazine that claims to be an arbiter of knowledge should demonstrate far more editorial awareness and control. But expecting this from that rag hali has long ago been shown to be expectation in vain.
The article cthen ontiues to describe four groups of khorjins defined by their designs. However, this classification, like the rest of this show and tell, is both undocumented and therefore meaningless. We know of a number of similar (design) examples for all four groups that defy Exners mix-master approach to try and create an overview order to a subject that is far too complicated to be so glibly organized.
Go read Exners article for yourself and see if you disagree with RKs commentary.
We will now illustrate two examples from the 16 Exner offers. We have chosen them for what we think are obvious reasons they are so unusual words cannot describe them properly.
The first is the curious concoction below that presages, or does it really, the picture in picture type of TV screen made popular thirty some years ago.
Soumak khorjin half; Herbert Exner collection
We have never seen anything like this and it immediately made us very wary of the where it was made, the who produced it, and the why it was produced.
Described as Shahsavan sumakh khorjin (front and back), Hamamlu group 1/2 transition, MoghanSavalan region, southeast Caucasus, 19th century. Warp: natural wool, Z2S; weft: silk, 1 shoot; pattern: wool and silk, 12/cm; 0.60 x 1.32 m (2' 0" x 4' 4")
One khorjin provides a link between the first two groups (6). In one quadrant of the main turtle ornament, the front of one pouch has an integral miniature insert of the primary cruciform ornament of group 2, which is characterised by crossed arrows on a red rectangle. Here we see group 1 and 2 standing side by side. The central octagon of the turtle ornament is woven in yellow silk. The kilim back of this remarkable khorjin is peculiar as the brown and blue kilim stripes remain in modified form near both edges, while the centre is occupied by a wide band with strongly enlarged repeated elements of the Hamamlu main border.
We have serious doubts it can be 19th century, as well as if the Hamamlu designation here or anywhere else in this article has any meaning at all.
RK does not know what to make of this quizzical khorjin but we seriously question it being dated to the 19th century. One major obstacle for such a date is the serrated rather than stepped weaving technique used for the flatweave center panel and back. We have never seen this in any old, pre-20th century, soumak khorjin, and while this does not assure it could not have existed it surely makes the odds of it being 19th century slim to the point of almost impossibility.
There are other design characteristics which likewise raise serious flags, but again until we have the opportunity to examine it and the others in Exners collection we will refain from absolutely declaring them anything other than questionable as described by him in this article.
The second and almost as curious khorjin he illustrates is this one below
Soumak khorjin half; Herbert Exner collection
It is number 9 in the article and described like this: Shahsavan sumakh khorjin face with a red crossed arrows design, Hamamlu group 2, Moghan Savalan region, southeast Caucasus, 19th century. Warp: wool, Z3S; weft: light brown wool, Z2S, 1 shoot; pattern: wool, Z2S, 9/ cm; 56 x 61 cm (1' 10" x 2' 0"). Even stronger border variation can be seen in (9), a detached bag face in which the ivory field contains the traditional central crossed arrows on a red rectangle with cloud collar motifs in the centre, and a 4:1 composition. The border however was fully left to the creativity of the weaver.
RK: The generous use of white cotton, the wide flatweave blue band that surrounds the paterned part of this khorjin make us believe it is from the Baku area, which is well outside that described as Hamalu country by Exner. Also the inclusion of slit-tapestry to attach this blue band to the soumak part is another feature we have never encountered in any soumak khorjin.
The only safe conclusion we can draw is that most of the examples illustrated by Exner are post 1900 creations, and as such are nothing but later day reflections and copies of the earlier khorjin that interest RK, both for collecting and research.
The fact Exners illustrations appear to have good natural dyes demonstrates their use well after synthetic dyes were available.
They also illustrate the longevity of certain iconographic aspects and how the weaving culture preserved and transmitted them over generations of weavers.
We will have to circular file, ie toss in the dustbin, the term Hamamlu until Exner or anyone else can make a better case based on definable characteristics that are far more specific and individual then the grossly general ones in this article.
BTW: After reading this article RK called and spoke with Herbert Exner, who said he is willing to allow us to examine the khorjin in this article, as well as others in his large collection.
Though he did say this was if he could find them among the many weavings he has managed to collect over the long years he has been collecting.
We hope this is not an excuse for avoiding our seeing themtime will tell.