plate 1

illustration 14
On first glance this gol from an archaic period chuval might appear less articulated and complex than the previous but this impression fades away after careful examination.

The same four boxes, without interior color juxtaposition, appear in its four radial arms but only on the horizontal, as the vertical axis has only two. This is a significant feature; one seen in no other known, published or unpublished examples. While the following is speculative we believe this feature carried specific and proprietary tribal identity.

Another is the unusual orange emblem with a single black kotchak in the central octagonal hub. Could it represent a tick or some other small insect, and is it also a tribal identifier? Regardless such small features, we call markers, are not merely extra-added ‘decorative’ touches because they only appear in the archaic period, later weavings are entirely void of such unique and idiosyncratic iconography.

When this gol is compared to the early silk textile below, which is Spanish and dates to the 14th century, a number of significant parallel become apparent.

illustration 15

For instance the use of colored triangles at the ends of the Turkmen gol’s radial arms replicate those on the textile and while the textile has an eight-pointed star in its center, which is surely quite different than the octagonal orange marker in the center of the gol, the fact they both have octagons in their central hub and, what we might call an eight-spot design within, again is more than coincidence – it demonstrates relationship and common root.

To continue: those triangles at the end of the radial arms of the gol bear some further discussion. The fact some are white and others red might seem circumstantial, however, on closer inspection this is questionable. Notice at the top of the gol’s vertical arm there is a red triangle flanked by two white ones while the lower arm’s are reversed – a white one flanked by two red.

We could interpret this as another dynamic balance of opposites reference, but because this occurs on the vertical, and not on the horizontal arms, this interpretation appears to be less than likely.

Another interpretation might suggest the triangle are woven semaphore -- colored flags used to send messages across long distances. This practice is well known from times long before the invention of the telegraph, and while we do not know if the Turkmen communicated by this means, this surely is a possibility worth consideration.

The use of colored triangles on this gol have always reminded this author of semaphore or optical telegraph. This possibility, along with the presence and variations in the boxes on the radial arms, could very well have conveyed some emblem of cultural affiliation and group identity.

This idea becomes more relevant when the entire chuval is examined and the numerous variations these minor gol display are noted.

illustration 16

Again this deliberate manipulation does not seem to be decorative or accidental, especially considering the apparent proscribed and dedicated nature of archaic period Turkmen weaving.

The silk textile’s grid-gol format, as well as pseudo-pearl border delineated by the eight small ‘flower’ designs placed around the design unit are also pertinent. Once again, the subsequent repetition of these features in other early silk route textiles and Turkmen weaving seen alone might not seem significant but when viewed ensemble an unmistakable pattern emerges, one that is highly relevant for our thesis.

Here are two other early textiles with strong similarity to chemche. The first is another Stein textile in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

illustration 17

The second is a Coptic textile that dates to the fifth to sixth century AD. Interestingly this woolen textile has several features that possibly can be interpreted as archetypes of the pearl border, as well as a far stronger expression of an archetypal version of the chemche gol.

illustration 18

This illustration, number 17 and the others have been referenced not to prove they are the source but rather to demonstrate how they and a Turkmen icon like the chemche maintain strong historic relationship to even earlier, yet unknown, root iconography.


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