The Turcoman region of rug-producing country lies to the north of Persia and Afghanistan, and west of the Caspian Sea, and, for our convenience in handling the subject, may include some of the Mongolian and all of the Eastern Turkestan district. The principal places for shipping the rugs made by wandering tribes and dwellers in remote towns have in the past given their names to objects which have been gathered up by caravan and sold to dealers in Oriental markets, so that erroneous nomenclature has been obtained, and until recently little has been done to rectify mistakes.
Even now it is but very little that any English-speaking student can do to glean information that will more than carry him on to the recognition of some new error which his earnest efforts may help to eradicate.
The little that is known of the Turcoman country and Turcoman products is well known, and so firmly established in the minds those who have been long interested in the study of rugs that it is unwise to make definite statements of recent changes that have somewhat altered the ideas of advanced thinkers.
When Mr. S. G. W. Benjamin was our first Minister to Persia (1883) he wrote that in Asia the rugs always called in America " Bokhara " would not be recognized by that name in the place where they were made, but as " Turcoman rugs," made in the region " which was the cradle of the Turkish "race, and is now occupied by the fierce Turcomans, who have been at one time and another alternately subject to Persia or to the Mongols, and are now tributary to Russia."
With this information the then scantily equipped student and rug-lover proceeded to call all Turcoman rugs by that name, until returned travellers brought home the new name " Khiva " with their possessions, and we learned that the rugs were bought in the caravan town of " Khiva," in the great desert, and, although to our untrained eyes they were of various sorts they were grouped under the one name " Khiva."
A quarter of a century ago the average home boasted of few Oriental rugs at the best, and such, with the names and history given by the Occidental dealer at the time of purchase, stand to-day to confront the expert, and to serve as visible and accepted proof to the contrary, when he propounds advanced and correct ideas which differ absolutely from cherished traditions. In point of fact there are wide differences between the fabrics of middle Asia, and in them the Mongolian elements are so evident that they must be understood before the ornament which has evolved from them can be properly described.
However high the mountains that separate Turkestan from China and Tibet, and however difficult for the foot of man to penetrate the mountain passes or to force his way under protest, the thought life of the extreme East, with its accompanying symbolism, has drifted westward through the centuries, and to it we are indebted for more than at first appears.
Certain systems of adopting signs as tribal marks, and of displaying such in prominent places about the tent home, upon the garments of servants, and as brand marks on cattle, have obtained through centuries, and the custom is demonstrated in the Turcoman district with earmarks of Mongolian ancestry which differentiate it from methods of central and western tribes of like wild nature.
In our rug-chart we have yielded the " octagon " to the Turcoman division, and through it and by it we may find our way into the thought-life of the Mongolian races. Historians but meagerly concede the rights of the Chinese to any sort of precedence, because they do not figure in the march of nations toward the same sort of goal that has developed the ambition and progress of the Caucasian race. Art is at last, however, beginning to acknowledge its debt to the land where the silk loom was first reared, and the potter's wheel invented, and we are but in the beginning of our knowledge of things Chinese.
In the octagon the eight divisions of location were without doubt originally indicated, and in ancient Chinese thought these divisions were supposed to be presided over by animal deities, just as in all early calculations the points of the zodiac are represented as under the control of presiding forces. The powers of light and the powers of darkness formed the two extremes, and as such are represented by light and shade.
When a semi-barbaric art endeavoured to express this pictorially, the octagon, with its light and dark boundaries, was the result, and in early drawings the animals controlling the elements were crowded into circular and octagonal forms, and represented with great fidelity to religious belief.
To prove that this eight-sided form traces back to the " Pa-Kwa," and the " Yang and Yin " of Chinese symbolism is now much easier than formerly, as both fabrics and porcelains testify to the gradual evolution from pure symbols to conventional forms of this design. The five directions of the Chinese—north, south, east, west, and middle form the structural lines upon which the famous octagon is built.
The " Dragon," encircling the east from north to south, and the great " Fung-Hwang," protecting the west from south to north, enclose the sacred directions. In the deterioration of the pattern at the hands of weavers who did not comprehend it, the animal and bird forms became mere patches of light and shade, and in Turcoman weavings we find the Mongolian thought crystallized into a set pattern in so-called " Bokhara " rugs.
The " Pa-Kwa," of Fuh-hi, the mythical founder of Chinese philosophy, has formed the base of a vast number of designs, and the " Tae-Kieh " has found its way into our own land to serve decorative purposes. Volumes .have been written by both Chinese and Occidental authorities regarding the " Pa-Kwa," but for our purposes it is necessary only to state that its combination of broken and unbroken lines is made with evident intent.
The unbroken lines represent the celestial and male elements in nature, while the broken lines refer to things terrestrial and the female element. By three unbroken lines reference is made to father and heaven, and by the broken lines we find mother and earth designated, and so on through the heavenly pantheon until the elements, fire, water, dew, etc., are all disposed of and distributed as possessions of sons and daughters of the Divine Parents who rule the universe. The central disc in the pattern is divided by two semicircles. This object is called the " Tae-Kieh," and, when arranged in the centre with the eight diagrams around it, is used as a charm and as decoration for all sorts of articles.
Among the possessions of many collectors there exist to-day objects decorated with these lines and signs, which until lately have been described, even in museum catalogues, as "philosophical emblems." When a sufficient amount of interest was awakened, students were addressed on the subject, and they have given information which has added perceptibly to the pleasure of those who are making collections illustrative of Chinese philosophy.
The outline shape of the " Tae-Kieh " is frequently described in design, the dividing line through the centre following the circles of the " Yang and Yin." The story goes that old Fuh-hi over three thousand years ago, discovered the marks known as the " eight diagrams " upon the back of a tortoise, and in some ornamentation we find the tortoise used as a decorative feature. Fabulous beings are sometimes represented as holding the " Pa-Kwa," such being used as charms. It is generally believed that the diagrams furnish a clue to the secrets of nature, and speculations based upon their various combinations are indulged in by believers in occult influences and geomancy.
When properly arranged, the three unbroken lines referring to the " father " are placed in the eastern position, and the three broken lines are placed in the west, so that, counting the unbroken lines as three, and the broken lines opposite as six, the number nine is the result, and -this added to the central unit (the " Tae-Kieh ") makes the sacred number ten.
So on all around the circle, counting the lines opposite each other, we always have nine, so that there are four sets of nines, each in turn made ten by adding the central unit. It is astonishing to find that so many patterns may be traced to the " Pa-Kwa," and besides ceremonial objects, ornamental and ordinary textiles are to be found, decorated wholly or in part with motifs suggested by the " eight diagrams " and the " TaeKieh."
Among the most distinctive and famous of Mongolian patterns may be included the" sceptre " or " joo-e wand," the " cloud," the " Y pattern," the " pearl," the " wave," the "trellis," the " lozenge," the "scroll," the " bat," the " butterfly," and many other forms which are frequently found in Turcoman as well as in Chinese and Tibetan textiles.
In genuine Chinese rugs we find archaic and emblematic design, but in this connection we must consider only such as avail us in tracing the ancestry of Turcoman patterns. In Turcoman textiles we find more to encourage us still to believe in the Oriental rug as a thing of tribal significance than in almost any other fabrics now made west of Tibet. The name Turcoman, once so little understood, is now used almost universally to designate the fabrics which are made by peoples who have lived for centuries in undisputed possession of desert tracts and mountain retreats in central Asia.
Octagon and circular forms can best be studied in Khiva and Bokhara embroideries, for in them the freedom of the needle enables the designer to work the most intricate details that are sometimes omitted when the patterns are woven in rugs. There are, for example, in Turcoman design, about eight different ways of representing the sun and its apparent motion. These eight forms of the circle are found most accurately rendered with small and carefully laid stitches upon cotton cloth, and in some old rugs these are reproduced and lend great value to the fabrics.
Fully twenty years ago, when the general public had first become interested in the dull-coloured rugs affected by the highly artistic, who had revolted from the gaily tinted fabrics of the Turkish looms, rugs were sold and purchased as Bokharas which to-day we find should be called by other names. Mr. Benjamin, in 1885, wrote warningly of these so-called Bokharas, and explained that their deterioration in colour was due to the loose principles of the Russ ian government as compared with the Persian control of dyes and wearing. He thus writes :
" One of the finest rugs made in the East is called by the American dealers the Khiva,' but more often the Bokhara,' rug, probably because it first reached the West through merchants trading with Bokhara and Khiva, great marts of central Asia. By Orientals, however, the Bokhara rugs are better known as Turcoman rugs. They are made in the region which was the cradle of the Turkish race, and is now occupied by the fierce Turcomans, The colours used in these rugs are few, chiefly various shades of maroon, red, and blue, interwoven with a creamy white. The pattern is also quite uniform, consisting almost invariably of a many-angled conventional figure often repeated in the centre, surrounded by a border somewhat similar, but in smaller designs. But the variety of combinations that are evolved out of this pattern is infinite. When one sees one of these Turcoman rugs it appears as if he had seen them all, and yet no two are alike, either in design or quality. The durability of these Turcoman rugs is marvellous. They were not made originally for the market, but for the use of the tribes themselves, and are intended for .portieres of tents and to throw over temporary divans. One may sometimes see rugs of this class, fifty to seventy years old, that have been in constant use by some pastoral clan, and are still not only in excellent condition, but have acquired a velvety softness and a certain indescribable peach-bloom or sheen. To my taste there are no rugs of the East that give more permanent pleasure to the artistic eye than these of the nomads of Turkestan. It is therefore greatly to be regretted that the aniline dyes which those tribes have received from Russian traders in recent years have come into considerable use in the making of their rugs."
Under whatever term these rugs figure in the Orient, there are three names that are used in America to distinguish from all other fabrics those of the Turcoman district, these are " Bokhara," " Khiva," and " Afghan." Analytical study of objects has familiarized the student with the main features of each of these styles, which, though resembling each other, do not share all points in common.
The dark-red pile in all of them looked to us at first to be very much the same, the point of divergence being what, in handling the fabrics, appeared to be a warp in some of the dark-red rugs of entirely different nature from that found in others. A white-wool fringe soon caused us to group together another variety of rugs which seemed unlike many bearing the same designs. And so, very, very haltingly, progress was made. In the auction-rooms, where so much information is freely dispensed which is not sufficiently sifted to be taken without a grain of allowance, vast quantities of red-pile rugs with long white-wool fringes were classed as Bokharas until the garish nature of the colour suggested the " Russian trader," and great was the fall of the modern Bokhara in the estimation of the enlightened student.
Antique Bokharas were finally established as types, and wherever they are copied, whether inside the walls of the ancient city or in Russian Bokhara eight miles away from it, on the plains or in the mountains, whether we decide to call the fabrics "Turcoman " or "Tekke," they are at least at the present time known and recognized as " Bokhara."
Bokhara pattern consists of a series of squares or oblong rectilinear divisions which extend over the entire field of the rug, around the angles of which are described octagonal forms in which the Mongolian distribution of light and dark effects is clearly expressed. Star-forms more or less elaborate are found at the intersection of the crossed lines that underlie the more apparent octagonal pattern ; while between the octagons, and in the centre of the squares or oblongs, diamond, star, and small octagonal figures carry most significant motifs of ornament which are always distinctly tribal. In Bokhara rugs these smaller figures differ most strikingly, and are well worth study while still they adhere to traditional pattern.
Mr. I. W. Bookwalter, ill describing the weaving done by the Turcoman girls on the plains of Tartary, writes :
" The Turcoman scatters his tents at wide intervals throughout the country he occupies. These tents are round, from fifteen to thirty feet in diameter, and in exterior aspect are anything but attractive, being often weather-worn and dingy. In passing into it no change can be more startling. It is like the rapid shifting of a scene in the theatre, so sudden is the transformation. It is difficult to conceive anything more exquisite than the interior one often sees in the tent of a well-to-do Turcoman. The floor is covered with carpets and rugs of beautiful designs and exquisite colouring. The walls are encircled with lovely hangings and tapestries and the door shielded by portieres of richest design, all of which is the handiwork of this singular race. The women carry into advancing years the remnants of the grace and beauty that marked the vigourous period of their lives. Their costumes are of graceful design, richly embroidered, and of enchanting colouring the invariable product of their own hands.
" Being anxious to see how the beautiful carpets and rugs were produced which connoisseurs so highly esteem as the richest product of Eastern textile art, I visited quite a number of homes for that purpose. The smaller rugs are woven in the tents occupied by the family, but for the larger ones a temporary canopy is erected near by. The ground is covered by some old carpet or other protection for the future fabric. Two poles, of a length suited to the width of the carpet to be made, are placed at a distance apart to correspond with its length. From one pole to the other the warp is extended and spread to suit the fineness of the carpet. The warp is made taut by twisting one of the poles, which are securely staked to the ground, to prevent them being drawn together and to preserve the necessary tightness. As the only remaining mechanism is a heavy metallic comb, used from time to time to drive the pile firmly together, it will be seen that the rude simplicity of their appliances is only equalled by the marvellous results produced by it. The work is done almost wholly by women, and most generally by young girls. The most astounding thing in the whole process is that no pattern whatever is used, the women relying wholly upon their memory and the eye for the arrangement of colours and development of the pattern and designs.
" It is at once apparent to any one at all versed in this art that the modern product is vastly inferior to that of the olden time. They themselves are fully aware of this ; for, when displaying a sample, if you ask them if it is an antique, they ruefully shake their heads, as if regretting to confess that they no longer create those miracles of texture and colour of their ancestors. It is well-nigh impossible to obtain superior examples of the old work here, so thoroughly have the Persian, Armenian, and other merchants searched the country.
" In Turcomania, cutting in various
directions through the treeless and almost trackless waste, are camel
trails on which, under a cloudless sky and over burning sands, can be
seen long caravans of camels plodding their drowsy, solemn way to distant
lands beyond, with which they hold a rude though not unimportant commerce.
In this long quotation a glimpse of life in a remote quarter of the globe is given, for which those who cannot travel are greatly indebted. The fact that specimens of ancient Turcoman weaves are quite as apt to be found in the Occident as in the Orient is made very apparent by Mr. Bookwalter's statements, and the obligation imposed upon the student becomes greater with this realization. The output of the district may soon, as with that of other places, come under strictly commercial control, and not only will the market be flooded with crude modern specimens, but deviations from tribal designs will doubtless also result.
One of the choicest methods of making the weavings of Turcomania still more beautiful is to throw in the high lights in silk of a rose pink, which shines out with star-like radiance from the more sombre shades used in Bokhara rugs. In antique specimens this peculiarity lends a rare charm to choice possessions, and is greatly admired and sought by lovers of the beautiful.
The name " Kchatchli-Bokhara " is given to a variety of Turcoman rugs in which the field is crossed both horizontally and perpendicularly by bands which carry designs similar to those ordinarily found in border stripes, dividing the field into four sections, which bear candelabra and plant forms. In these Kchatchli-Bokharas the designs found in embroideries to which allusion has already been made are often faithfully copied, and one intent upon tracing the migration of sun-motifs in symbolic ornament may well secure Turcoman illustrations of primitive thought.
Turcoman prayer-rugs abound, as the Mohammedan religion finds full expression in the old city of Bokhara, where there are three hundred mosques, and thirty colleges where the faithful are educated. The prayer-rug design differs from those used by the Mohammedans in western Asia, as the niche is not so prominent a feature, and the whole make-up of the design is not as largely dependent upon it as in rugs of Asia Minor and the Caucasus district.
Turcoman red is at its heaviest and deepest in the rugs known in America as Khiva and Afghan rugs. Larger figures than are outlined in the field in Bokhara rugs hold in them designs of quite a different nature from those that give individuality to those well-known fabrics. The octagon reigns supreme in both but rarely in the so-called Khiva design is the slightest suggestion of animal form in the light and dark patches that appear in their respective places at the upper left-hand and lower right-hand corners of the octagons.
A reddish orange colour used for the light shades in Afghan rugs renders them most objectionable to many who otherwise would more often purchase them, but in the main the entire pile strongly maintains an all-over red effect whatever the detail of colour may be. Afghan rugs are made of goats' hair and the fringe reveals the beautiful quality of the carefully prepared material, which even in heavy carpets is fine and silky. The lustre which some of the antique Afghans possess lends a charm which is incomparable.
The borders, which are so distinctive and important in Persian rugs, are less noticeable in those of Khiva ; but they are of great significance, because, as in all Turcoman weaves, they are of tribal import. The introduction of blue and green greatly enhances the beauty of the colour schemes in Afghan and Khiva rugs, for, though the prevailing hue is always red, when diagnosing the pattern it is found that there is almost a kaleidoscopic effect about the details which lends an indescribable charm to the whole.
We rarely find an Afghan prayer-rug, though, when occasionally we do, it proves entrancing because of the colour scheme, which excludes every colour but black from the tree pattern traced in bold outline on a field of solid ruby red. Tall and straight, without vestige of leaf or blossom, the tree and its many branches are unlike any other that appears in woven fabrics, and one might readily believe that the poplar of the oasis, as probably it was, gave inspiration to the designer.
A feature that distinguishes Turcoman rugs from all others is the wide webbing which extends beyond the pile, and through it lines of another colour find their way from side to side. Glossy, lustrous, rich in tone, and with heavy pile, Baluchistan rugs are never confounded with other fabrics.
When first they came to America they were called " constellation rugs," for in very many of the antiques, upon dull bluish red, were easily traced white stars that followed well-known constellations in pattern by tying, here and there, pure white wool knots on the dark surface of the field. The seven stars of Ursa-Mayor were among those most frequently represented. At the present time, even in modern fabrics, occasional white knots are tied, but it is never possible to detect in them any definite intention or significance.
Erroneously, but very naturally, Baluchistan rugs have been called " blue Bokharas," for, though a predominance of blue distinguishes them from other Turcoman fabrics, the general colour red prevails, which has given style to the rugs of the entire district east and north of eastern Persia. Under the name "blue Bokhara " these rugs have been marketed in towns far north of their place of manufacture, and we have yet to discover whether we owe the name to some enterprising agent or thoughtless Occidental.
However much at fault the individual may have been in giving the name to Baluchistan rugs, he succeeded in so impressing upon the imagination an idea of what these heavy blue-red fabrics were that many who despair of ever knowing anything about Persian or Turkish rugs will select Baluchistans from among a host of other rugs and call them " blue Bokharas."
Rugs distinctly Turcoman in colour, and yet showing Caucasian elements that none could dispute, have become known through trade classifications as products of the Yomud tribes who live to the east of the Caspian Sea, and whose designs show a mixture of Turcoman and Caucasian motifs. These fabrics exist in large numbers in homes where they are called " yellow" or " brown Bokharas " by those who, recognizing their kin to the rugs made in central Asia, have not yet been disturbed by the strong Caucasian elements in the border stripes.
The plum-red of Yomud rugs is one of their charms, and a blush that seems at times to partake of the nature of a shadow gives them a rare quality which is very beautiful. Designs vary so much in these rugs that it is misleading to fasten upon any one feature as indicative of a special style, though it is safe to say that elongated diamond forms more often appear than the octagons which are more truly the property of the Tekke Turcoman weavers. Pile, warp, and woof of Yomud rugs are of fine hair or wool, and they invite consideration and admiration.
With an ever-increasing demand for reliable information, it is most satisfactory to observe that buyers in the Orient are classifying much more definitely than ever they did the rugs that they are collecting, and new names are constantly finding their way into trade vocabularies.
Through the products of Samarkand, Yarkand and Kashgar we are led into the Far East, and there we find an entirely new style of rug to analyse and locate in the product of the Chinese loom. Weaving is considered in China not only an accomplishment, but a necessary part of a woman's duty. " When a woman weaves not, some one suffers cold," is written in the sacred instructions of Yung-Ching (1723-1736) and long years and centuries before his time the cultivation of the mulberry-tree and the breeding of silkworms was advised by an early empress whose memory has always been revered and has served to stimulate others " to give to the nation an example of a thrifty wife."
Legend has given to Chinese art and ornament representations of the star goddess known as the " spinning damsel," who, when sent to earth on a mission, fell in love with a cowherd. She was recalled to the sky and her earthly husband died of a broken heart. He had, however, lived so good a life that he was changed into a star and given a place in the heavens ; but between him and his wife stretched the Milky Way, over which only once a year was a bridge formed by magpies. Over this bridge the spinning damsel crossed to the cowherd.
" On the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month Chinese women offer sacrifices to the spinning damsel and pray that she will vouchsafe to them skill in needlework. Then they go to the upper story if there be one of the house, and endeavour to thread seven needles with coloured thread by the light of the moon. If they succeed, it is understood to be a favourable omen from the goddess.'
Traditions have been carefully preserved and given to the world at large about all of the domestic arts practised by the women of China, and still very little definite information can be secured regarding the earliest methods of making pile fabrics. Though velvet has been made for many centuries in both China and Persia, it has not yet been determined to which country it owes its origin.
Though Persia claims the invention of the knot-carpet as her own, yet no other country has handled wools with more individuality than China in the production of carpets. True to traditional patterns, Chinese weavers simply used knots to form a background for the outlined ornaments and symbols that at once designated for whom and for what purpose the fabrics were intended. Painted upon vases, woven in tapestries, and embroidered upon silks, the same patterns are found that appear in rugs, and a hundred years ago every one of them had absolute meaning, and garments, hangings, and rugs were easily read.
When Chinese rugs first found their way to the Occident they were classed as Turcoman if their colours suggested fabrics of middle Persia, or as Japanese if of blue and white without any regard to weave and materials. Eventually blue and white woollen rugs were found to be Chinese, while most of the cotton and jute rugs turned out to be of Japanese origin.
Later, through close examination of the patterns in rugs that claimed to be Chinese, brought to this country by those who had purchased them in China, experts began to identify fabrics as Samarkand and Yarkand which had hitherto been classed as Persian or Indian, and Chinese rugs assumed an importance in western markets that until then had not belonged to them.
Covering the field with a network of " grains-of-rice " pattern in dull white through which a pinkish: brown ground colour is seen, many Samarkand rugs reveal their origin by their designs. Adherence to belief in the sacred number five caused early workers to break the fretwork which covered the field with five medallions, one in the centre of the rug, and one in each corner, bearing either dragon and animal forms or symbolic floral designs. When, later, the field of Samarkand rugs was left plain, a floral vine tracery took the place of the honeycomb effect formerly produced, and scrollwork based on cloud and joo-e forms were finally disposed upon the field with little reference or fidelity to Chinese symbolic pattern.
In blue and white woollen rugs made in China there has never been sufficient deviation from significant and meaningful designs to cause any confusion in the minds of intelligent observers. Though represented conventionally, peonies, chrysanthemums, and lotus blossoms are easily distinguished from each other, and the citron, known as Buddha's hand, and the peach of longevity, with varieties of fungus growth, are distributed over the field either singly or in groups.
Bats and butterflies hover over and between circular forms of the character Fuh, or happiness. There are several ways of writing this character, and it very often appears in rugs, as does that which represents good luck and is known as Show of which there are a hundred forms. The two forms of Show that most often appear in rugs are found in all-over decorations of porcelains and as embroidered designs on silk. Five bats figure as emblem of happiness in the central medallion of rugs which are bordered with narrow stripes bearing conventionalised butterfly designs.
Of the designs in no other part of the Orient can as truthful information be obtained at the present time as of those that decorate Chinese objects, and knowledge of Turkish and Persian ornament in no wise helps one to interpret Chinese patterns. Cloud, flame, dragon motifs, and frets built up on the Swastika, the knot , of destiny, and the T and Y forms figure largely in the decoration of Chinese rugs, just as they do upon the porcelains of the empire. In some Yarkand fabrics the field is of a solid-coloured tan which very strongly suggests camels' hair upon which blue and white designs are most intricately wrought.
It was thought at one time that the western influence noticeable in Samarkand rugs was not to be found in either Kashgar or Yarkand rugs, nor in those made in China itself. The appearance, however, of old Chinese designs in fabrics said by connoisseurs to be, strictly speaking, of Samarkand weave, leads us to believe that antique specimens were more apt to adhere to typical Chinese designs than those made later.
The appearance of the fillet in Mongolian ornament is frequent and of great interest. Surrounding, as it does, all sorts of sacred objects, its meaning is the same as the halo in Christian art, though it is used in China to refer not only to gods, goddesses, and saints, but to the emanation from any object of its sacred and beneficial properties. The power to shed abroad radiance, healing, intelligence, or attributes of any kind is typified by the fillet.