Turkmen Carpets

I recently reviewed a book on Turkmen carpets for Selvedge Magazine’s winter issue. These carpets are quite spectacular when you stop awhile and appreciate them.

Chuval Large Tent Bag, Front Panel 145 x 73 cm South Turkmenistan. Salor Late 18th Century © Greiner Studios GmbH, Neustadt

Turkmen Carpets: Masterpieces of Steppe Art, from 16th to 19th Centuries – The Hoffmeister Collection. Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2011, $95

Peter Hoffmeister’s first encounter with a Turkmen carpet in the early 1970s, whilst searching for beautiful things to furnish his home, struck a chord with his “sense of great art to the full”. During the ensuing forty years he has collected these textiles with a passion, inspired by their beauty, their nomadic creators and the historical roots of their design.

The excellent, high-quality photographs in this book allow you to get a real appreciation of these carpets. Spend time pouring over any of the images and it is hard not to become absorbed by the stylised geometric tribal emblems or göl at the heart of the Turkmen carpet. The book’s author, Dr Elena Tsareva, head of textile research at the Kuntskamera Museum in St Petersburg and an expert on Central Asian textiles, reinforces this feeling, describing how “Ornaments and colours are among the most ‘talkative’ of ‘visual texts’, serving as a kind of lingua franca able to carry age-old messages, irrespective of when and by whom they were created.”

In a departure from other books on the subject – and there are a large number – her text takes the form of twelve stories, some applying a broad brush, others deeply focused, with subjects ranging from the carpets of different tribes to a particular type of knot.  Throughout, the book is tinged with a certain kind of magic, although I can’t put my finger on whether that is a result of the passionate eye of the collector, the profound and interesting knowledge of the author, the carpets themselves – everyday usable repositories of tradition, lore and pure beauty in a sandy, desert world – or a combination of all three.