Re: Saddlebags?...and Grain Sacks

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Posted by Marvin Amstey on July 15, 1999 at 17:01:17:

In Reply to: Re: Saddlebags?...and Grain Sacks posted by Marla Mallett on July 15, 1999 at 13:22:05:

: : : : : It's been my hunch for some time that the Turkmen "ak cuval" format was originally a saddlebag format. These pieces are exactly the size and proportion of large old "hurch" (as opposed to "heybe") from Eastern Turkey. And although made in horizontal, envelope style like Central Asian torbas, mafrash and hanging chuval, the banded ak cuval always seem to have integral braided closure cords. At least the oldest examples do. These cords were actually made on the loom, between the bag proper and the hems, and were not sewed on afterwards. They represent a very subtle and nicely crafted detail. I am particularly interested in knowing how the top edge is finished on any ak cuval that seems early and actually still has its back. Does the back have a hem that seems original? And which way is that hem turned... inward or outward? Of course the earliest examples are those least likely to have their backs...

: : : : : As for grain sacks, according to reports I've read or received at first hand from field researchers, Central Asian Turkmen do not differ from their Turkic relatives in Anatolia and NW Iran in that most normally use plain, sturdy vertical sacks to hold barley, rice, wheat, etc. Strangely enough, although Turkmen nomads in Anatolia have traditionally decorated vertical sacks ("ala cuval") that are known both in the trade and in rug books as "grain sacks," nobody that I know who has spent time among Anatolian nomads has ever found them actually used for grain, but instead always for clothing or other fabric items. I have found that even in the households of prolific weavers, sacks used for grain are plain, solid-colored or striped objects. On rare occasions they may be decorated with extremely simple brocading. This is true for both black-tent and yurt dwellers in Anatolia. Though this is off the subject slightly, it seemed a good opportunity to mention a common misconception.

: : : : : It is easy to forget that most photographers (whether casual travelers, ethnographers or collectors), naturally concentrate their efforts on the "picturesque" or more "public" parts of a tent, yurt or village house, not the portion filled with drab, grubby, purely utilitarian objects. Likewise, out of any group of tents, it's the most affluent family's household--the most picturesque one--that gets documented...not the average or typical example. Thus our overall notions of nomad life get pretty distorted, and since undecorated utilitarian woven objects have never been marketed to Westerners, folks who have never visited such Asian households remain largely unaware of their existence.

: : : : : Marla

: : : : Marla, your last point about what gets observed - particularly by tourists - is the most logical thing I've read here in awhile. It reminds me of a trip to Morocco where we visted a Berber dwelling along a river on the way to the Atlas mountains. Now that I think about what I saw, in light of your comments, I'm not sure I saw the average dwelling which was probably poorer and shabier than what we saw. Thanks for keeping us all honest in these discussions. Regards, Marvin

: : :
: : : Dear Steve, Sophia, Marvin and all,

: : : I forgot to talk about the design elements when putting forth my "saddlebag origins" theory above.

: : : Most obvious, of course, is the close relationship between the banded decoration on the ak chuvals and banded Tekke khorjin. But there's another aspect that intrigues me more:

: : : First, Steve's and Sophia's very lovely bags are models of exquisite proportion. They are complete objects in which all elements of the design are in perfect balance. But if you take a look at the Tsareva bag (#53) and the one in Thompson's "Turkmen" (#33), we see pieces that evoke a different set of feelings. The overall proportions of the design elements in those two pieces are out of balance, with the uppermost decorated bands pushed right to the top so that they crowd the edge. On Steve's and Sophia's chuvals, the wide white bands that repeat at the top move the visual "weight" of the design panels downward into better position. My design sense says that the Tsareva and Thompson pieces have an unfinished, incomplete look that would be enhanced by the addition of a plain bridge and a second pouch with its wide elem at the other end. Thus I can't help but wonder if these aren't remnants of a slightly earlier version of this general bag type? A type that began, with its integral closures, as a saddlebag?

: : : Since designs and fashions change at different rates in different places, the ACTUAL ages of the bags might well be nearly all the same. Well... it's just a hunch.

: : : Marla

: : Dear Marla,
: : Is it fair to translate our concept of overall design, i.e. the aesthetic, to what the original weaver saw? Her aesthetic may differ from our Western eyes. I guess this question harks back to an earlier discussion, but it is relavent here.
: : Regards,
: : Marvin

: Well, Marvin, that opens the whole nasty can of worms again, doesn't it! Can esthetic judgements, or any parts of those judgements, apply universally? Are the rugs or bags that we judge to be superior the same ones that Asian villagers or nomads think are the best products from their communities? We will never resolve this one completely, although at the end of most such discussions, the consensus is usually that human beings nearly everywhere who indulge in artistic activities find certain design characteristics desirable: balance, variety within repetition, consistency, economy of means, etc.--basic qualities quite separate from matters of fashion, style, and literal meaning or symbolic content. People in nearly every society seem to value good craftsmanship, skill, and the ability to produce objects that are harmonious, yet interesting and not monotonous and boring. And those individuals within each culture who have the most highly cultivated sensitivity to visual art forms usually seem pretty much in accord. In every group of craftsmen or artists, however, there are sure to be individuals who are less competent, and it hardly makes sense to regard their products as any kind of artistic standard. Of course a badly crafted piece with lousy design may have immense value to its maker for personal reasons and thus have importance as an ethnographic, but not artistic, object.

: We certainly make esthetic judgements about objects from alien cultures every time we add to (or subtract from) our collections, and of course these judgements are based on our own backgrounds of experience. What else can we possibly do? We can try our best to broaden our perspectives and gain an understanding of as many diverse modes of expression as we can. Most of us do seem to think that it is possible to hone our abilities so that we make increasingly better esthetic judgements. So these are based on WHAT?
: Marla

I haven't a clue!

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