Illustration 1. The subject asmalyk
The general stylistic and physical aspects of asmalyks can be summarized as follows:
Asmalyks are most commonly produced in pentagonal shape and usually in wool pile on wool foundation.
The Yomuds were the one Turkoman tribal group who produced the largest number of newer asmalyks, mainly as the lattice design examples.
The Tekke crafted some of the rarest and most attractive early asmalyks but have not maintained such trappings as part of tribal life in more recent years.
Turkoman tribal groups other than Tekke and Yomud have only rarely produced attributable asmalyks, based on data available to the author.
Asmalyks may be in other than pentagonal shape; seven sided pieces in the triangle-on-a-rectangle configuration and having a white ground are known but are rare. Tekke "asmalyks" in rectangular shape have been described, but their design and physical characteristics make attribution as a wedding trapping questionable for this author.
Illustration 2. A white field Yomud asmalyk with an "encampment" design appeared at Rippon-Boswell in May of 1985
Newer asmalyks encountered in the market are poor imitations of the earlier pieces, both artistically and craftwise. Newer production also seems to be directed to the foreign market.
From a historical perspective, the Tekke are widely accepted as claiming the rarest examples of asmalyks. These include the well-known "bird" design (12 pieces plus the Smithsonian upholstery fragment depicted in ORR, October 1982, November 1983, and p. 46 in this issue), the animal-tree examples (eight?), and several variably shaped tree of life asmalyk textiles.
On the other hand, there are very old, equally rare Yomud pieces that rival those of the Tekke: the symmetrical, mirror imaged trees of life on white ground examples in heptagonal shape1, the several "wedding procession" white ground examples2, and several white ground "jewelry" pieces which have recently been published3. These old, rare asmalyks raise a number of stylistic and geocultural questions. For example, were certain of the white-ground asmalyks older than any of the other subgroups, or were they mainly stylistically indicative of special social status in the Turkoman bride who is thought to have made the actual pieces? If no sociocultural significance can be attached to specific designs, then why are some designs rarer than others? The same would apply for shapes and structures -- pentagonal vs. heptagonal, pile on foundation vs. embroidered textile, etc. Were the oldest pieces remainders from tribal dispersals of the 19th century?
There is obviously still much to learn about these trappings and this report is concerned with some of the lingering puzzles in describing the stylistic and technical aspects of a rather rare design Yomud asmalyk analyzed by the author.
Illustration 3. This white field Yomud asmalyk in a "jewelry" design appeared at Rippon-Boswell in May of 1986
The stylized jewelry elements are clear renditions of jewelry common to the Turkoman. The five main multi-pendanted devices across the top are two forms of Turkoman pectoral plate jewelry. The center and two edge devices may be stylized armliqs4, common with the Tekke and Yomud, or they may be tumars4,5,. The two large devices on either side of the peak of the pentagon are definitely tumars. The two small demilune devices under the two large tumars are depictions of the Yomud neckpiece called the touq, or, perhaps more likely, a pair of earrings. All of these jewelry examples are wrought in silver and gold and embellished with carnelian, and all serve cultural functions. The tumar, for example, is generally considered an amulet holder and contains a silver tube across the middle. Additional decorative elements across the upper band are those encountered in other subtypes of old asmalyks, particularly those few which depict the wedding procession. In the Illustration, these include the pair of ewers and three small, scorpion-like embellishments below the peak of the pentagon.
The design elements in the vertical outer borders are an early, "floral tree" type of stacked repeat. The main ivory borders bear the archetypal, subsidiary stepped diamond, alternating with the opposed ram's horn repeat.
The main design in the field pentagon, or inner asmalyk, is the pre-Islamic ram's horn motif augmented with leaf around-diamond and a skeletal latchhook element. The latter is clearly a predecessor to the scorpion-like secondary field ornaments seen in main carpets and larger trappings of certain Turkoman groups. The chevron layout of the pointed arch in both outer and inner pentagons seems to be typical of only certain of these early examples.
The overall sense of this piece to the viewer's eye is of a symmetrical, well laid out, and superbly balanced design. The jewelry layout along the arch would seem crowded if the ornately complex detail of the jewelry elements didn't distract the sense of spacing and interplay with a white ground.
Color is used very effectively in this piece, particularly for a Yomud trapping. The creamy white background immediately sets the stage for maximum presentation, both visually and technically, of what is distinct from the somewhat somber Yomud palette. First, a wide range of reds, at least four, is used. No shade of red is allowed to dominate the design and the white ground keeps the viewer's attention away from color of design, allowing design structure to emerge, especially the jewelry and ram's horn elements. The interplay of extremes of color shades, particularly the use of brown-red with the orange-red or coral in the two smaller jewelry designs, is of particular interest. This creates an impressive effect when these reds are the only colors in this design element.
The "inner asmalyk" follows the same proportions as does the piece itself: 27.5 inches wide, 12.5 inches at short side and 16 inches at the arch.
Physical Condition Except for a small distressed area in the field, this study piece is in full pile, with a number of fragments of the original tassels. It is essentially intact.
Structural Analysis This example is wool pile on wool foundation.
Warp: wool, two yarns tightly s-plied, creamy white.
Weft: Fine white wool. two shoots of Z2S-plied yarn,BR> Pile: Two-plied wool yarns of somewhat thick ply; no cotton or silk present; wool is frosty and of moderate luster; pile depth is moderate, 3/16 - 4/16 inch. Woven bottom end first.
Knot: Symmetrical, 10 high, 16 vertical, 160 per square inch, no depression, erect.
Sides: Reinforcing overcast on double selvage in brick red.
Bottom end: 3/4" plain red tapestry apron folded over.
Top end: Reinforcing overcast, may not be original.
Colors and Dye Analysis
There are 10 colors in this asmalyk:
Reds (4) brick and tomato reds, brown mahogany and an orange-red/coral; Blues (2) - blue-black and medium blue; Ivory into a light beige; dull golden yellow; natural brown but no corrosive brown/black; dark green.
Dye Analysis and Results
The reds, blues and brown were singled out for chemical testing, using methods which have been described in detail in past issues of ORR by the author6-8.
The four red shades are very interesting in their chemical composition. The mahogany brown-red is derived from heavy dyeing with madder that has alizarin, purpurin and a surprisingly significant amount of pseudopurpurin, or purpurin carboxylic acid. The somewhat flat, brick red is derived from madder with considerable purpurin and a little pseudopurpurin. The brighter, tomato red consists of madder-based alizarin and a moderate amount of purpurin, proportionately less than is seen in the darker red, and no pseudopurpurin was found. The fact that the orange-red or coral in the Jewelry elements is essentially alizarin with a trace of purpurin and no trace of pseudopurpurin is of particular interest. The mordants or dye fixatives did not seem to be as telling of colors in this piece as were the dyes.
There are two blues in this piece. The medium blue tested as indigo. The blue-black, used in a rather large amount for a blue in Turkoman work, was determined to be indigo, with a bit more indigorubin than the author has usually found. This gave a somewhat violet color to the testing agents and accounts for a navy shade reaching into black. No red components were found.
The brown, used as outlining in a number of areas, is natural and not iron-mordanted tannin. None of the latter was identified in this piece.
Green is used very selectively in this piece in certain of the pendants in the jewelry devices and in the small scattered ornaments. While not tested, it is assumed to be indigo and the pale yellow-gold, isparyk (Delphinium suiphurium; also called sachyrob).
This particular study piece has considerable age. Aside from a palette in all natural dyes, the structural characteristics jibe with those of other Yomuds known by the author to be very early. One element of structure, in particular, is the ribbed appearance of parts of the back and expanses of surface where wefts are not visible. The ribbed look derives from alternating buried fine wefts with a line of triple-shoot, heavy weft yarns. Interestingly, this conveys an appearance mainly reminiscent of early ribbed Khorasan Persian pile work. In expanses of the creamy beige ground, for example, wefting cannot be seen at all. The genesis of this is the use of two-ply, rather thick white yarn for knot tying, something which is not commonly seen by this author in more recent, though still old, Yomud work.
The origin of the various shades of red indicates a sophisticated dyeing tradition that is consistent with age. Four red shades were obtained, mainly by altering ratios of madder components rather than through overwhelming color effect with specific metal mordants.
The blue-black in this asmalyk could easily be taken for corrosible black without examination in strong light and subsequent chemical testing. The blue-black was produced by indigo with somewhat more of the minor component, indigorubin, and the main indigotin constituent. This was helped by applying it to dark brown wool. Why this approach to a black? Was it recognized that iron-mordanted tannin led to deterioration?
The sparing use of yellow/gold and greens using such yellows is consistent with what we know about early Turkoman proportions in colors. Green areas, small though they may be in this asmalyk, have not faded to blue on the face side, indicating some stability to the yellow.
Given that structural features and other criteria for considerable age are present, are the "jewelry" asmalyks earlier than other rare examples? This cannot be conclusively determined without a more careful technical and stylistic examination of the rest of the extant pieces. The use of jewelry symbolism, however, would indicate that social status was being communicated in the one form in which tribal wealth and position was readily recognized.
A lingering point for this writer is the reason for the relative scarcity of these earlier asmalyks, if indeed they were used once and then "went into the trunk" of family and clan treasures. None of the early Western geographers and travelers imply that tents were replete with accumulated asmalyks from ancestors, to the author's knowledge. Clearly, such trappings merit much more study.
2 Herrmann, in Plate 92 of the 1979 monograph, von Uschak bis Yarkand, shows perhaps the best of this subgroup. A second "wedding procession" example was also in the Herrmann holdings, see p. 27, Advertising section, HALI , Vol. 5, No. 3, 1983. One or two appeared during the 1970s in auction house sales.
3 Two pieces in addition to the subject of this article are known: Plate 91 of Herrmann's 1979 von Uschak bis Yarkand and a piece marketed by Rippon-Boswell, May 1986.
4 Several monographs describe Turkoman artifacts other than rugs and textiles. See Sychova, N., Traditional Jewelry -- Soviet Central Asia and Kazakhstan, 19th and 20th Century, Russ. Eng., 190 pp.; Schletzer, D. & R., Old Silver Jewelry of the Turkomen , 1984, 302 pp.
5 For accessible color plates of these same Jewelry inspirations, see the illustrations in HALI , Vols. 1 (No. 2, p. 170), 1978, and 3 (No. 3, p. 244), 1983, and various of the Edelmann auction catalogs, e.g., Saturday, April 24, 982, auction, Part I.
6 Mushak, P. and O'Bannon, G.W., "Chemical Analysis of a Turkoman Chuval," Oriental Rug Review : Vol. II (10): 6-8, 1982.
7 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 (4): 3-5, 1983.
8 Mushak, P. (with an acknowledgment to Lem Amirian), "An Early Resht Embroidery," Oriental Rug Review, Vol. IV (7): 8-11/277, 1984.