Symposium on Central Asian Textile Art III, 2 June 2012 Leipzig

Category: Fairs and conferences

The train ride from Frankfurt set the mood, an evocative mixture of culture and history represented in the train stops. Early medieval towns: Fulda, Gotha, and Erfurt, all nearly contemporary (8th century) with the Sassanian and Soghdian textiles from the Al-Sabah collection in Kuwait that Dr. Friedrich Spuhler would soon reveal at SCATA.

My trip terminated in Leipzig another richly historic city with a most singular population notable for their courage. The station was surprising, and puzzling at the same time. It is a literal shopping mall. So many shops of such great variety that it seem as if a person could almost live there. I grabbed a very good cup of coffee there and headed off to the Grassi Museum where the other early arrivals were gathered for dinner. Little did I know that this cup of coffee would be the last exceptional cup that I would see until my return to the station for the journey back home.

That evening I met Thomas Noack, the organizer of this affair. Thomas was quite a bit younger than I anticipated. Having organized an event or two myself I was quite impressed with his vision and chutzpah. Success for these type of things requires not only the ability to plan extensively, deal successfully with a wide spectrum of personalities (mostly crotchety old geezers like myself), delegate intelligently, attend to a thousand different details, and have the foresight to anticipate the inevitable surprises that pop up. Thomas did not seem the least bit intimidated. By the end of the symposium I quite understand why. The whole thing came off without a glitch. While on this subject I would like to mention one innovation that Thomas introduced that perhaps ICOC might note; we were given laminated name tags that hung from the neck (no pin holes in expensive clothes) with our names in large print (back to the geezer demographic) and the lecture schedule printed on the back (no lost bits of printed paper).

Thomas Noack (on right)

On the subject of impressive young men, I was pleased to meet Tim Steinert, editor of a new collectors’ magazine, Carpet Collector, now in its second issue. I mention this for the benefit of Jozan’s American readers whom might not know of this new periodical. It is published in both English and German.

That evening’s dinner and the subsequent lunch, coffees, and dinner on Saturday were catered by the Hotel Michaelis. I have to say that it was first rate and in perfect harmony with the venue. Meals were taken in the Grassi café while coffees were served in the adjoining foyer.

The next morning, after rejecting the coffee at my hotel I set out on a futile search for something better (cafes and coffee shops that open at 10 seem to me to be a bit unclear on the concept). Leipzig was eerily quiet with very few people out on the street. The only person that I encountered in the vicinity of my hotel was Michael Buddeberg out walking his dog!

Peter Hoffmeister was first on the podium Saturday morning. His lecture on collecting described how this path has enriched his life including the milestones that led to the accumulation of his collection, the subject of the recent publication TURKMEN CARPETS, Masterpieces of Steppe Art, from 16th to 19th centuries, The Hoffmeister Collection, by Elena Tsareva, Stuttgart, 2011.
For the majority of the audience (once again, note demographic) this was a trip down nostalgia lane. Peter took us on a photo journey that ranged from Marin County to Turkmenistan, Robert Pinner, Ben Fernandes and Simon Crosby  to Elena Tsareva, and from Arabatchie to Yomud, with points between that spanned his forty years of collecting Turkmen weavings. One image even displayed the president of Turkmenistan with his arm around Peter shaking his hand. This must have been quite inconceivable in 1971 when Peter acquired his first Turkmen rug. Peter’s discourse also included the present deplorable handling of weavings and the necessity for correct conservation and cleaning. I’m sure that his daughter, Eva (a conservator) was quite pleased with this inclusion.

Michael Rotherg, Marin County
National Museum, Turkmenistan
Robert Pinner, London
Ben Fernandes, Singapore
Simon Crosby
Hoffmeister and Tsareva

Our next lecturer was Dr. Elena Tzarava from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Her topic was a review of the aforementioned book, TURKMEN CARPETS. The lecture was in English while, with the exception of perhaps two native speakers, the audience was primarily European mostly from German language countries. Most of the lecture dealt with comments, questions, and criticisms from various experts abroad. Regrettably most were American and none were present for her answers. Perhaps this can be dealt with in print someday. Most of her explanation fell into three categories; 1) the text restrictions placed upon her by the publisher (maps and pages were severely limited) 2) many of her references and sources are Russian thusly not easily accessible to the rest of us 3) the Hoffmeister Collection is not comprehensive so there was no occasion to write an encyclopedic treatise on Turkmen weavings even if the pages were available to her. Elena did take the opportunity to show us a number of maps portraying tribal movements at different time points.
Several other issues were brought up. Perhaps the most relevant one here was the question of dating. Some critics felt that Elena was too generous in this area. (This reviewer does not agree by the way). For the most part Peter sought out and acquired the oldest examples that he could find and though 19th century examples were not ignored he made it his purpose to gain the best ones only. Elena’s answer was quite logical. Given the population figures of the Turkmen then factoring in the average number of years + time in a day that a young woman could devote to weaving, the number of weavings that are presently assigned by conservative daters to the 19th century (pre 1880) are grossly disproportionate to the first three factors. If one takes the time to carefully consider the obvious conclusion is that she is right.

After a very pleasant leisurely lunch break Elena took the stand again to deliver a lecture appropriately title “BABYLON OF CENTRAL ASIA. The Middle Amu Darya (MAD) Carpet Weaving: Symbols, Myths and Interactions. She began with a nine millennium history of the area from the original agricultural inhabitants through the arrival of the Sakas, then the Arabs, followed by the waves of Turkic tribes while touching upon the symbology and mythology of each group. At the risk of being too simplistic, but for the sake of brevity, I conclude the lecture with this: out of this complicated milieu Tsareva proposed three iconographic classifications for MAD weavings: pre Islamic/Turkic, Turkmen, and a blend of these two.

Next up was Dr. Friedrich Spuhler with a slide show of the samite textiles in the Al-Sabah collection in Kuwait. The lecture began with images of garments worn by personages depicted in rock relief at Taq-i-Bastan and Naksh-i-Rustsam during the time of the Sassanian King Khosrow II (591-628 A.D.) with a focus on those that appeared to be typical samite designs. The assumption, put forth by early scholars such as Friedrich Sarre, Alexander Upham Pope, and Kurt Erdmann, that these samite textiles were produced in Iran and dated from the Sassanian dynasty was challenged based upon current knowledge that some of these textiles dated as late as the 9th century. It was then postulated that Sassanian designs and style assumed a post Sassanid life of their own and enjoyed wide distribution through Soghdian traders and workshops from Iran to China.

Then the real treat, a photo viewing of the Al-Sabah collection, most of which was collected around the turn of the century. The variety of animals depicted in the collection bear the imprint of a true collector. Of the 19 animals presently known in samite textiles, 17 are in the collection. The example depicting the mythical flying creature known at the Senmurv or Semourgh was especially fascinating.

After another coffee and cakes break in the foyer a short impromptu discussion of cotton elems in ak chuval tabled by Dr.Michael Budderberg, Dr. Heinz Geib, and Martin Tischer preceded a timely (audience demographic again) “podiumsdiskussion” on recent advantageous changes in German inheritance law concerning the disposal of collections titled COLLECTIONS IN OLD AGE-SELL-BEQUEATH-DONATE. The thrust was strong advice to plan well.

We then adjourned to the adjacent main hall for show and tell. Wonderful Turkmen weavings were pulled from bags and suitcases then individually place on a large table under strong lights for discussion and appreciation. In addition, Dr. Spuhler and another attendee regaled us with nearly a dozen more Soghdian samite fragments.

Show & Tell
Martin Tischer and Kerstin Noack
Soghdian Samite fragment

Dinner that evening, once again in the Grassi Café, was exquisite. Naturally the company was great, subjects of conversation were plentiful, and all co-conspirators were in the best of convivial moods.

Early the next morning I once again left my hotel in search of a good cup of coffee. The town was even emptier than the day before. Dr. Buddeberg was once again out walking his dog and Eva Hoffmeister flashed by in a fast jog. Starbucks was open but I kept walking. I finally found myself at the train station. What a revelation! It seemed as if the whole town was there! Shops, restaurants, and other activities were hopping. I finally got my cup of coffee. Having solved the puzzle of the train mall felt like I had found the key to Leipzig. It seemed o.k. to go home now. How convenient, all I had to do was hop on a train.

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