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Three From Turkestan:

An 'S' Group Torba

by George O'Bannon

This article originally appeared in Oriental Rug Review, Vol. 8/1

A type of Salor or S-group torba which appears to have survived in greater numbers than the one Paul Mushak discusses below is shown in Illustration I. This piece is in an American collection and is one of the most stunningly beautiful Turkoman weavings we have seen. For similar examples in color, see Tsareva, Plate 12, HALI 32, p. 91 (also published by Bogolubov in black/white), or Sotheby's (New York), December 1, 1984, Lot 114 for the Black/Loveless piece, and Lefevre cover, Lot 2, November 30, 1979.In contrast to the illustration accompanying Paul Mushak's article, where the pattern elements are secondary forms in other weavings, the curled leaf pattern of this torba is primarily found on animal or yurt trappings. In addition to torbas, the curled leaf is a particularly common pattern on kapunuks of the Salor, Saryk, and Tekke Turkomans. It appears that the pattern was reserved originally for such pieces.

The curled leaf is also found as a border pattern on some asmalyks, ensis, and a rare group of antique Tekke rugs. In these oldest pieces the relationship of a vine with the curled leaf or blossom is particularly apparent. As Pinner and Franses pointed out in Turkoman Studies I, there is a "kink" in the oldest versions of the vine.
These aspects of the pattern are mentioned not only to illustrate the care with which Turkoman designs are considered but to support a circa 1800 attribution for the subject torba and to highlight the reasons for its beauty.

One notes that both the large and small curled leaves are attached to the vine. There is a kink in the vine where the small leaf is attached. The kink is accompanied by small serrated edges. In the other cited examples, the small leaves are not connected to the vine and exist more as "ashik" patterns than curled leaves. The serrated kink evolves from a straight vine with a few serrations in the Black/Loveless piece to a regular rigid form in the Bogolubov piece. It is the fluidity of drawing or absence of rigidity which makes this weaving so visually exciting and dynamic.

The main border, an "S" pattern on alternately colored rectangles, is not the most common and is flanked by two "X"/diamond borders, a mark of S-group weaving. The top and bottom borders are standard for these trappings.

Illustration 1. Salor Torba, 4'6"x1'7"

Technical Data

Warp: Ivory wool, Z2S, alternate warps moderate to deeply depressed.
Weft: Mainly brown wool, some pale red, Z2S, two shoots.

Knot: Asymmetric, open left, wool and silk, horizontal 12, vertical 19, 228 per square inch.

Colors: RED, dark red, magenta, ivory, dark blue, medium blue, dark brown, light orange, magenta (silk).

Sides: Original; right side, two bundles of warps in red wool; left side, one bundle of warps in red wool.

Upper end: Plain weft-faced weave of red wool, 1/2 inch folded under and stitched with black cotton thread.

Lower end: Plain weft-faced weave, 1/3 inch of red wool and 1/3 inch natural ivory wool, folded under and secured with black cotton thread. Along bottom width, remnants of large symmetrical knots in dark blue wool which were long fringe.

Silk is used rather opulently. It is found in 13 curled leaves, several stems and in many other small patterns in the field, borders and skirt. Except for the lost dark blue fringe, it is in excellent condition.

The piece was purchased from a European collection. According to a note attached to the torba by the owner and purchaser, now deceased, it was originally bought in Kabul around 1965 for $200. The dealer informed the purchaser that it was rare and worth a great deal more. The collection of rugs in which the torba resided contained numerous fine new Nains, Qums, Isphahans and Pakistani rugs.

Although most S-group weavings emerge from European and American estates, the fact that several have been documented as

coming from the Kabul bazaar in the last 20 years throws into question the Salor attribution. Given the location of the Salors and remnant family units in the l9th and 20th centuries, one would expect the weavings to move to the Iranian bazaars because of proximity and dynamics of the market. Their appearance in Kabul could indicate a possible origin from a more easterly Turkoman group.

Of the examples cited, only this torba and the Black/Loveless piece have been seen and handled. They make for interesting comparisons. This piece definitely has those subjective qualities of presence and soul. The reason it has these qualities is the weaver's use of connected leaves and kinks. The quality of the wool and patina which results from use also contribute to these feelings.

An Embroidered Turkmen Asmalyk

by George O'Bannon

Embroidered asmalyks are among the rarer Turkoman festive trappings. A detailed study by Michael Franses was published in Turkoman Studies I in which the patterns, embroidery techniques, materials and shapes were presented. Although Franses favors a Tekke attribution for these embroideries, they are attributed by others to the Yomuds as well.
We recently became aware of an asmalyk in the collection of the Goldie Paley Design Center, Philadelphia College for Textiles and Science, which is sufficiently different from other examples to warrant publication.

Typical of most asmalyks - pile or embroidery - it is pentagonal, not rectangular. Stylistically, it belongs to the 5-floral-stem group. However, several features set it apart from other examples.

First, it is decidedly more open and simple than other published examples. It has two types of flowering stems. Three have open, outfacing florets and two have drooping florets. All are topped by a large upturned floret, the center stem the tallest and largest. A single border is composed of horizontally cut florets showing four petals with two bluegreen sepals at the top and bottom. The border is only on the sides and bottom. To our knowledge no other embroidered asmalyk has this feature. For this reason, the field has an openness at the top which one associates with bird and animal tree asmalyks.

Tribal attribution of these pieces is admittedly speculative. In our view the reds and especially the apricot color of this asmalyk are more in conformance with early Yomud or Sariq coloring than Tekke. The stems with the drooping florets are particularly remindful of the plant forms in Sariq ensi skirts.

Illustration 2. Embroidered Turkoman Asmalyk, 1'8"x2'2"x3'10"

Technical Data
Ground material: Handspun cotton, plain weave, warps Z2S, wefts Z1, 8 panels 6" wide stitched together.
Stitches: Basma, chain, keshdi
Colors: BRIGHT RED, brick red, blue-green, dark brown, apricot, pink (silk), dark blue.
Size: 20"/26"x46".
Sides and Bottom: Brick red, plain weave, wool band 1 3/4" wide, stitched to asmalyk with red wool thread.
Top: Flat braided band in bright red and dark blue wool. 1/2" wide, stitched to asmalyk with red wool thread.

All of the florets are in one of the two reds. The florets in the field are seen in a vertical profile showing three petals. The drooping florets indicate no particular number of petals.

The stems are in red and show clear segmented joints from which the florets and compound, blue-green leaves are attached. The joints in the center plant are embroidered in pink silk. Wool is used in the other four. Brown wool is found at the base of the drooping florets, and small dots at the base of each floret are in apricot. Four blue-green sepals surround each floret and show as two long, narrow tendrils at the base and two shorter, broader ones from the top of the floret.

The florets in the border have a circle and a cross in dark blue wool stitches at their center. A single, drooping floret marks the center of the bottom border and anchors the center stem. It also divides the bottom border into two groups of five florets to balance the five in the side borders.

Except for some random scattered leaves at the top and a red "T" form, there are no other patterns.

Although the elements of the flowering stem and florets are well drawn, we have been unable to identify the specific plant which is the source of the pattern. In other asmalyks the flowers become more plentiful, more colorful and abstract, creating a very busy appearance.

If boldness of drawing, simplicity of pattern, limited palette, minimal use of silk and relatively accurate rendering of plant elements are indicative of early age in embroidered asmalyks, this should be one of the earliest surviving examples. The first half of the l9th century is not unreasonable.

A Rare Turkoman Trapping in the S-Group Classification:

Stylistic and Technical Aspects

by Paul Mushak

One of the more interesting questions that remains in the area of Turkoman rug studies is the ethnological origin of a group of rather early Central Asian weavings which have been collectively lumped under the empirical rubric of "S-group."
Jon Thompson first used the term "S-group" to refer to a particular sub-set of early Turkoman rugs and trappings1 which he subsequently attributed to the Salor tribe and surviving remnants.2, 3

Murray L. Eiland, Jr.4 has questioned Thompson's attribution of this category of Turkoman examples to the Salor. This skepticism springs in part from the fact that the Russian reference pieces used by Thompson to make his points are actually tribally diverse and not uniquely Salor. O'Bannon5 has carried criticisms of the Salor attribution for "S-group" several steps further. There is the question of geo-ethnic specificity for the Salor, i.e., which branch or branches of the Salor produced these pieces? Other elements in the latter's criticisms include coherence of characteristics of "S-group" pieces with accepted criteria of size, structure, etc. for truly nomadic production. As did Eiland, O'Bannon also drew attention to the relative reliability of specimen identification in Russian writings and/or holdings.

To this writer, the questions of attribution are premature if the characteristics of the category of Turkoman work termed "S"-group are not sufficiently statistically homogeneous in their technical and stylistic aspects to even indicate tribal specificity.

What are the unique technical and other characteristics of "S-group" work? Referring to Thompson,3 the putative structural elements of the category of "S-group" primarily consist of:

(1) warps are ivory wool and wefts consist of two shoots of two-ply brown wool, although red wefts are encountered.

(2) alternative warps are highly depressed and the Persian knot open to the left, is often encountered, although pieces with the Persian knot open to the right are known.

(3) the "S-group" pieces have a stiff, heavy handle and are stiff enough that damage can occur if folding is attempted.

(4) hard lustrous wool is employed along with variable use of a magenta silk; limited silk use presumably identifies earlier pieces, while lavish use is typical of more recent production. No cotton is found anywhere in these examples.

(5) the field color of pieces is not rigidly defined, but a vivid scarlet-red is often encountered. Other pieces can have field colors ranging from brown-red to purple-red. Main carpets have a deep, rich scarlet and other shades of red: orange-tan, brick red and aubergine.

(6) with respect to other dyes/colors, various shades of blue can be seen, along with a muddy yellow. Design outlining is with brown wool dyed with a corrosive black. Silk shading ranges from violet in older specimens to magenta. Areas of some examples contain wool dyed with cochineal and/or lac, with a net propensity for corrosion over time.

(7) Dye/color/material use in later pieces involves lavish use of silk and insect-dyed wool with a rather garish overall result.

Examination of the above structural criteria does not communicate a high degree of structural homogeneity across members of this group; structure can vary, as can material and dye/color use. According to Thompson, then, the only identifiers that are invariant are pieces having depressed warps and having a rather stiff handle. Other structural criteria do not convince this writer as having ethnologically diagnostic value.

Stylistically, it is claimed that a rather high standard of production was adhered to in all these examples. Smaller pieces appear to have more variety in designs than do the main carpets. All types of utilitarian and decorative/ceremonial weavings common in Turkoman tribal use are known for examples of the "S-group" with the exception of the tent bands.

The above introductory comments should serve to indicate that a number of questions remain about the "S-group" rugs and trappings. Recently, this writer had the opportunity to analyze an early Turkoman trapping which not only appears to fit in the "S-group" classification but whose characteristics permit some general commentary about these pieces. This piece and its analyses are the subject of this report. The piece was acquired through a collector/specialty dealership, Sun Bow Trading Co., Charlottesville, Virginia. The piece was represented to the dealer as an early Turkoman trapping and appears in Illustration 1.

Illustration 3. Salor Torba, 3'5"x1'7""

Structural Analysis

The various structural properties of the subject piece are summarized below:

Warp: Creamy wool, thin stranding, Z2S, tight twist Weft: Two shoots, Z2S, dark brown wool, thin stranded.
Pi1e: Lustrous, medium-hard wool; small amount of silk in the field guls; short, relatively erect pile.

Knot: Asymmetrlc knotting, open to the left when piece is oriented in direction of its making; marked depression of alternate warps, almost closed back; count: 20 high x 14 vertical, 280 per square inch.

Handle: A relatively supple fabric, but not floppy; lacks a stiff handle and is easily folded or rolled up.

Top Edge: Remnants of plain kilim folded under and woven in the main red of the field.

Bottom Edge: Some fringing out, with stubby knot remains of navy fringe.

Sides: Partially missing main and outer guard border

Colors (7): SCARLET-RED, red, magenta (silk), navy, black, purple-brown, white.
Dyes: Reds (2): madder with alizarin and purpurin on tan wool, alum mordant (Tan wool likely originally white but, due to age, dyes, and mordants, is now discolored.)
Magenta: cochineal
Purple-brown: not tested, but by reference to tested samples can be madder plus tannin, but no corrosion evident.
Navy: indigo.
Black: not tested but by reference to numerous testings is tannin plus iron.
White: natural

1. Stylistic Analysis

This example would have been classified in the past as the front of a Turkoman shallow wall bag, or torba. It is now widely accepted that these pieces are not from bags at all but had a decorative function. Smaller examples such as the subject piece were presumably used to embellish the interior of a yurt. Larger examples such as that adorning the dust jacket of The Textile Museum's monograph on Turkmen rugs served as ceremonial camel trappings in weddings,3,4 or covered the litter for the bride.
The field in Illustration 1 contains, in common with like examples, a major and minor design repeat.

The major gul in this piece is found commonly as the secondary design element in the field of early Salor carpets (see, for example, Plate 4 of Türkmen3) and also occurs as such in the rather early chuvals of the Salor (see, for example, Plates 6 and 7 of Türkmen3). There is occasional use of the major gul in work of other tribes, such as the early Tekke main carpet presented as Plate 28 in Türkmen.3 The secondary gul, interestingly, is not a free-standing element, per se, but comprises the interior of the Salor archetypal gul (Plate 6 in Türkmen3).

The main border of Illustration 1 is found in a number of early, published Salor trappings. Plate 11 of Türkmen7 depicts such an example. On the other hand, such a border has been reported on putative Saryk work, such as Figure 171b of Eiland.4. Please note that the main borders on the short sides of the piece are partly removed. The simple, single guard borders consist of an open, running "S" repeat, typical of like guard borders in numerous Salor examples in print.3, 4, 6

Subsidiary borders are also stylistically characteristic. The top edge retains the repeat band of "Agali horn" devices that invariably are found in Salor trappings (see, for example, the chapter on the Salor, Türkmen3). The bottom edge encloses a broad subsidiary border consisting of a speckled diamond repeat alternating with "X" devices in alternating colors. This border is encountered in early Salor trappings more often than in any other group.3,4,6,7 Across the bottom edge are the remnant knots of what was once a long fringe, of the type seen in complete examples.6

The overall visual impact of Illustration 1 is that of a rich, warm red but not one that is particularly vivid or clear.

A detailed search of the extensive Turkoman rug and textile literature for published stylistic and/or structural reference examples produced but two specimens, indicating that this particular design family is rather rare when compared to others already published.

Loges7 describes a rather damaged trapping identical in all its stylistic and visible physical features to Illustration 1 and identified as an early Salor torba, dated to no later than 1800. A second example, in apparently perfect condition, is pictured by Tzareva.6 This example is lodged in the holdings of the Russian Museum, Leningrad. This latter piece, like the reference in Loges, is identical in all its visible aspects to Illustration 1. Tsareva attributes this piece to the early "S-group" period of the Salor production. Surprisingly, no pieces with different border patterns or secondary gul forms from Illustration 1 were found in the "torba" category.

A number of the structural characteristics of Illustration 1 are consistent with the category of "S-group." Alternate warps are deeply depressed, the knotting is asymmetric with opening to the left when the piece is oriented as per Thompson and there are dark brown wefts. Other properties, such as the type of wool and the handle of the subject piece, are not particularly diagnostic of "S-group" examples. There is lacking the rigidity and stiff handle widely ascribed to these pieces. The wool is not particularly harsh but is highly lustrous. Pile height is not especially "S-group."
The color scheme and visual impact of this piece are not especially remarkable, although the main field red imparts a rich glow. Some part of this effect is also due to the high quality of the wool, however. There is one madder red and the limited areas in silk have the typical magenta appearance of cochineal.

Although there is partial removal of the side guard and main borders, the piece is in quite good condition in terms of pile wear and corrosion.

The knot count in this example is high, but is not particularly exemplary compared to certain of the Tekke pieces widely and commonly published.

While the top and bottom ends are not complete, enough remains of the finishes to indicate that a long, navy blue fringe was once present and that the piece was not originally a shallow wall bag, or torba. A decorative function was probably intended.III. Commentary

What can we conclude about this piece on the basis of stylistic and technical examinations? Is it an early Salor example? Is it reliably assigned to the early, sub-set of Salor pieces called the "S-group"?
On the basis of direct stylistic examination, we can conclude that this piece is a reasonably rare example of Salor production: two reference pieces are identical to this one, but only two pieces. In addition to rarity, it would seem that this group, identified by both Loges7 and Tzareva6 as Salor torbas, was made to rigidly defined crafting criteria. In other words, one either finds a piece identical to Illustration 1 or nothing near it. There is little that is stylistically in-between for these small torbas/decorative trappings.

The information in these reference works uniformly indicates a very early date. The example of Loges is attributed chronologically to the late 18th century and no later than 1800. The reference plate of Tsareva (Plate 8) does not specifically date the reference but all of Tsareva's examples are argued as being early, "S-group" Salor examples. Tzareva6 makes the reasonable assumption that what we term "S-group" comprise Salor work prior to 1830 or earlier, being the year when their cultural identity was sundered badly from attacks and massacres by the Persians. Continued fragmentation was assured (from historical sources) by diasporization by the Tekke and Saryk. A return to weaving crafts occurred around 1880 and these later productions are quite stylistically and artistically inferior to the pre-1830 craft tradition.

Additional stylistic evidence helps establish an early Salor origin. Main and secondary guls in the piece are derived from Salor main carpets and the field elements of early Salor chuvals. In fact, the secondary decoration in the field of Illustration 1 is based on the interior element of the archetypal gul. A number of the borders seen in the subject piece are generally only found in early Salor work. This includes the speckled diamond/"X" repeat across the bottom of the trapping.

Additional information consistent with an early time of making is the rather limited use of silk, found only in parts of the field guls, and the absence of cochineal-dyed wool elsewhere. It is generally held in Turkoman studies that silk use becomes more lavish with increasing youth of the example. This springs, presumably, from settled status and the mercantile availability of silk for rug making. Pieces with much use of silk would accord with Tzareva's post-1880 assignment for later examples.6

Overall, we can say that this example is early Salor work and simultaneously meets criteria for inclusion in the "S-group" classification. The latter is based on the presence of depressed warps, Persian knots open to the left (when the piece is correctly oriented for examination) and the presence of dark brown wool wefting. The subject piece also is stylistically consistent with those torbas/trappings identified as "S-group" pieces by Tzareva, presumably based on direct structural examination of Russian museum holdings of the examples.

On other counts, however, this trapping is at odds with putative "S-group" criteria. The wool in the pile is not particularly harsh nor does the piece have a stiff handle; it is relatively supple. The color palette is rather uninspiring, although the main, field red is a glowing scarlet and apparently in the color tones of the two reference pieces of Loges and Tzareva. Part of the rich visual impact of the red is the high luster to the wool in the pile. Dye analysis, using approaches the author has amply described elsewhere8,9 indicates a madder with alizarin /purpurin on tan yarn for the main and virtually sole red shade. The brown-purple border may well be madder plus tannin on iron mordant, based on many testings by the author. Overall, there is little technical data to provide diagnostic chemical criteria for specific dye use in the "S-group" compared to any of a number of examples early as to date and springing from non-Salor origins. Bausback10 extols the subjective impact of early Salor colors, as do other authors, but this does not readily translate into laboratory distinctions.

Using the present example to provide useful data, we can safely speak of at least three sub-categories subsumed under the rubric of "S-group." First, of course, are the early Salor main carpets. These have been well studied and they yield up much of the data presumably typical of the "S-group" designation. This includes the distinct field coloring, the structure, and the stiff handle. A second sub-set are the archetypal or turreted gul Salor chuvals which also have been rather well described. These, also, meet most if not all of Thompson's structural and stylistic criteria for "S-group."

The third and final sub-classification are the small trappings typified in Illustration 1. Several of these have been designated "S-group" specifically.6 These small torba faces/decorative trappings are rather diverse in field design, but rather invariant in dimensions, dimension ratios, borders, and net color scheme. Design-wise, this third sub-group divides into lattice-based designs or the relatively rare gul repeat that describes Illustration 1. A measure of the distinction in visual and stylistic impact between the early Salor chuvals and small trappings such as this specimen were evident when examples of the former in the holdings of a local university museum were compared side-by-side by the author.

If one compares these small "S-group" trappings in their entirety with other members of the classification, it can be argued that these trappings are more consistent with purely nomadic function. They are smaller, more supple for ease of frequent manipulation, and rather sparing in the use of scarce and/or expensive silk. Also, the fact that the only known examples of Illustration 1, three in total number, are remarkably identical in all of their visible features suggests a period of maximum expression of craftsmanship early in the history of their making.


1 Bogolubov, A.A., Carpets of Central Asia, Engl. Ed., Hampshire, U.K., Crosby Press, 1973.
2 Central Asian Carpets, Lefevre and Partners, London, 1977.

3 Mackie, L.W. and Thompson, J., Türkmen: Tribal Carpets and Traditions., The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.

4 Eiland, M.L., Oriental Rugs, A New Comprehensive Guide, Boston, New York Graphic Society/Little, Brown and Co.

5 O'Bannon, G.W., "S-Group Diagnosis Reconsidered: A Second Opinion," Oriental Rug Review, Vol. III, No. 11, pp. 450-452, 1984.

6 Tzareva, E., "Salor Carpets," HALI , Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 126- 135, 1984.

7 Loges, W., Turkoman Tribal Rugs, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., Humanities Press (Engl. Ed.), I980, 204 pp. (see Chapter 4 on Salor rugs).

8 Mushak, P. and O'Bannon, G.W., "Chemical Analysis of a Turkoman Chuval," Oriental Rug Review , Vol. II, No. 10, pp. 6-8, 1982.

9 Mushak, P., "A Technical Dimension to Color Esthetics in Old Armenian Weavings: Chemical Analysis of an Antique Karabagh Long Rug," Oriental Rug Review Vol. III, No. 4, pp. 3-5, 1983.

10 Bausback, P., The Old and Antique Oriental Art of Weaving, Mannheim, FRG, Franz Bausback, 1983, pp. 141-146.

Copyright 1988 by Murray Eiland. Original text and photographs appeared in Oriental Rug Review,.
With thanks to
Oriental Rug Review, Ron O'Callaghan and Murray Eiland for permission to reproduce this review here.