One Example of Anatolian Kilim Evolution Marla Mallett




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I was asked a while back, on the Turkotek rug discussion board, to compare these four Konya kilims, and discuss their design evolution. First of all, I should say that every different kilim genre requires a slightly different kind of analysis, so that comments regarding these pieces may not apply to any other group.  I must also note that design differences which seem glaring when one is confronted by huge, 12-foot kilims are minimized greatly when the pieces are reduced to small photos. These four kilims range from the earliest piece on the left, to the latest on the right.

With this group, the first factor to consider is the relationship between the primary and secondary motifs in each piece, and the ways they occupied the design space. The most carefully considered placements are present in #1 and #2. Most of these small hooked medallions were carefully placed in pairs to fit alongside the indentations of the large medallions. They were important auxiliary design elements. By the time the #3 kilim weaver came along, that relationship had been lost and small secondary hooked medallions were just squeezed in--as many as would fit, making a busy background. By the time this major theme was adopted by the #4 weaver, any meaningful relationship between primary and secondary motifs was completely lost.

When we consider spatial relationships and proportions, most often in the earliest pieces there was a tendency for the artisan to give each separate motif plenty of room, because when weaving without a cartoon or model, it's hard to calculate their placement. When building a kilim design from bottom to top, it is oftentimes quite difficult to locate the exact proper starting point for each downward projecting design part. The weaver of kilim #1 here was  cautious and methodical; she was extraordinarily concerned with clarity and with the dominance of her primary motifs. In order to retain a sense of stability and continuity in her rather wide-open layout, she injected very small hexagonal tertiary motifs. By the time of kilim #2,  the major motifs were broadened and everything had become more compact. Closely packed parts are much easier to handle if the weaver has either experience with the design or a model on hand to copy. Very small tertiary motifs are present again in this kilim, but they were no longer so necessary for continuity or evenness of tone in the patterning. The weaver of this bold piece seems to have been far more concerned with connectivity, and the presentation of ONE large coherent statement, instead of a mere series of repetitive parts. There was a quite different attitude toward the design. Small scattered bits and pieces seem to have been inserted because such "fillers" were an "expected" part of this traditional layout, but here they seem like extraneous clutter. By the time the weaver of #3 came along, the carefully planned relationship between primary and secondary motifs was lost, size relationships changed, and the placement of small hooked medallions became arbitrary. Even half medallions were injected, simply to fill background spaces. The proportions of the parts changed and the hierarchy of these various parts was substantially altered. Instead of the spare refinement of the first piece, we find, in the third kilim, squat hooked hexagons with a busy background of fussy and relatively insignificant secondary features.

Both #1 and #2 kilims have consistent and well articulated motifs throughout. Number 1, which is assumed to be a 17th century piece, conveys a sense of restraint and elegance--with careful, rather pinched and isolated motifs that are combined with logic and clarity. I would expect there to have been a significant time gap between this first piece and #2, with its more generous forms and large, bold statement. It seems quite characteristic of the synthesis that occurred in many 18th and very early 19th century Konya area pieces. #3, most likely a mid- to late 19th century piece, displays a less logical, much more intuitive rendering of the basic idea. The same parts are present, but they were used in a more careless manner. In kilim #4, which I would suggest is a 20th century piece, all consistency and any clear logical relationships between the elements are gone. It's just a collection of separate parts and pieces plopped on a large white panel, with little thought given to any integration of the parts. It's a "traditional" piece in name only. The transition has thus run its course from a strong concept through gradually more mannered, hackneyed renditions. Though the same motifs are present in these four kilims, they are four radically different artistic expressions. The first is regal, the second  is bold and dynamic, the third is dowdy, and the most recent is disjointed and bland. The critical differences are in style and attitude--not primarily in the way individual motifs are formed.

The relationships between positive and negative space are always important in slit-tapestry design...That's more complicated to discuss with these pieces than with some other types. This goes beyond the simple consideration of reciprocal motifs.

Relationships between border systems and field are normally important in making stylistic comparisons. Here, since kilim #3 is missing its borders, unfortunately, we have to ignore this aspect.

Beyond these observations, when speculating on dates and even proper sequencing, it is immensely helpful to compare these pieces to the general aesthetic displayed by groups of other kilims from the same general geographic area.

Well, one could go on and on, and speak in esoteric terms of the "spirit" of each piece or the conceptual notion behind each composition; I've tried to refrain from that this time around. It's impossible to talk intelligently about color with just these photos, as both book plates and on-line JPEGS can be misleading. Likewise, without either handling the kilims or at least seeing excellent close-up photos, it is impossible to consider the critical relationships between weave balance and patterning that is such an important part of the aesthetic development in kilims. After all, these are WOVEN STRUCTURES, not just flat patterning. The scale of each weave element is critical in fashioning the pattern. The way the whole series of scale relationships are handled within a piece should be an integral part of one's judgment.

Within each generation of weavers there were artists, there were competent craftsmen, and there were women who simply produced kilims because that was expected of them. Considerations of artistry and excellence of design must be separate from judgments concerning age and design evolution. We cannot assume that designs always deteriorated...that quality was always spiraling downward. When copywork is involved, artistic degeneration can be expected. But whenever a creative individual produced her own fresh take on an old idea, or took off on her own, there was a good chance of superior results.

This is only a quick evaluation. With the pieces at hand, and more time, one could surely produce a better summary.
Differences in the Analysis of Weavings from Various Tribal Weaving Groups
Analysis of other tribal weavings in attempts to establish dates can vary considerably. In studying Turkmen knotted-pile pieces, for example, we deal almost entirely with production that fits within a 100-year period. When we date those pieces, or even just try to put them into reasonable sequences, we confront lots of simple copywork, and a broad set of general principles legitimately applies. Analysis becomes largely a matter of pointing out quality degeneration over the century. It is practical to speak of layouts becoming more compact (less "spacious" to use a favorite ruggy term). From almost every Turkmen tribal group the pieces becane increasingly crowded as borders and excess ornamentation proliferated. Individual motifs frequently became compressed or degraded.

With available Anatolian kilims, which span five centuries and present an extremely wide variety, the problems of analysis are far more complex. There are vast gulfs between pieces from the Northwest, Southwest, Central area , Southeast/Syrian areas, and the primarily Kurdish areas of the East. There are many different genre within each of these areas.  Brocaded cicms form almost a separate category. Thus each genre must be treated separately, and there are few general principles that can be applied across the board. It's easy to confuse quality issues with design evolution.

Normal Generational Changes in Anatolian Kilim Design
So WHY and HOW do generational changes occur in traditional nomadic kilim design? 

If we consider the rough conditions in which Anatolian nomads lived, it's quite amazing that so many old kilims have survived.  Really old pieces exist today simply because of the unique Anatolian custom of Vakiflar donations to mosques--donations often made to honor deceased family members.  These weavings accumulated  in village mosques, where they were rarely seen by women, because these were men's institutions, not normally visited by women except on special occasions. 

We should consider then, what kilims were most likely available to be seen by young and middle-aged Anatolian country women.  A girl growing up and learning to weave was surrounded by her mother's pieces. Working alongside either her mother or older sisters and aunts, the young weaver tended to copy what she saw, often with few changes, unless she had a particularly rebellious nature.  After achieving competency as a craftsman, when she married and went off to live with her new husband's family, she was suddenly surrounded by a new set of woven pieces, and she could hardly avoid the influence of her mother-in-law's work, that of other relatives in her husband's family, and that of her new neighbors.  It was quite natural that her imagery should undergo a transformation--more or less drastic depending upon how removed her new family was from her maternal home.  Thus her work changed naturally, and a blending of styles occurred.  This wasn't was normal.  Later, when her own daughters reached marriageable age, the same thing happened again.

We tend to forget that a great percentage of a nomad woman's weaving time was spent producing clothing and functional household items:  bedding, storage sacks, bands, tent panels, etc.--all this in addition to her other household chores.  So even if she spent long hours at the loom, only part of that time could be devoted to kilim weaving. In periods when significant time intervals between the production of one kilim and the next were likely, significant changes in even one person's patterning occurred naturally.
It's a much different situation for today's settled village pile-carpet artisans, who wear store-bought fabrics, make padded quilts of printed cottons, who find wooden chests more convenient than woven cuvals, who no longer must repeatedly replace worn out goat-hair tent panels, horse covers, etc. and so have time to produce rugs for the market.  More repetition in designs and layouts can be expected.

In any case, under the harsh conditions of nomadic life, there was little likelihood that many weavings produced by a weaver's grandmother or great aunts survived within the family.  Nor were pieces made by her husband's older relatives.  Elderly women themselves, with failing eyesight, arthritic fingers, back pain and fatigue from years at the loom, most often occupied themselves with the simpler tasks of carding or combing wools, spinning and plying yarns. The actual presence of kilims made by a great-grandmother was out of the question--those belonged to another world.  A nomadic lifestyle, with frequent moves, did not encourage the retention of excess belongings. There would have been a limit to how many huge 12- or 15-foot kilims could be carried along on migrations. When pieces weren't damaged and discarded, Vakiflar customs allowed  for an easy and comfortable shedding of older family kilims as new items were produced.  

Since a relatively short survival rate of old kilims within a nomadic household would have been usual, there were automatic stylistic disconnects within the system.  Without old models at hand to copy, changes were incremental but continuous. Thus the coherence of an early kilim theme could easily be lost--even in a society which valued its traditions highly.  The repeated adaptations of new forms through the repeated intermingling of families assured that the art form remained vibrant, that the blending of forms was routine.  It also facilitated the periodic development of new forms. Among Anatolian nomads, mere copywork generation after generation was rare, and occurred most often in isolated areas with inbred populations. 

These circumstances changed slightly as nomadic groups gradually settled and it became more convenient to save occasional "heirlooms."  As nomads settled part of each year into village houses, they continued to produce a few kilims for their own use--mostly for sedir covers and wall hangings. Unfortunately, as Anatolian nomads settled into village life, many of the younger people turned to the production of pile carpets for the market and the ethnographic kilim tradition gradually came to an end. Increased production and rote repetition became more common as a whole new set of factors determined the direction of commercial village pile-rug production.  
Color in Early Anatolian Kilims
In trying to date or even place early kilims in proper sequences, it is very difficult for colors to be reasonably included as part of one's judgments if these judgments are based on photos or book plates.  In the vast majority of publications, colors have been routinely enhanced, with saturation considerably increased to make a more handsome product.  Other times hues are distorted.  If one is used to seeing kilims in this way, it can be a shock to visit an exhibition of early pieces.  

 The DeYoung Museum catalog from 1990 that displays the McCoy Jones collections of kilims provides one  of the most egregious examples.  The 1990 ICOC exhibition of these pieces was held in an extremely dark exhibition hall with just portions of the kilims lit with tungsten spots.  This way the colors seemed vibrant.  When viewed in natural light, in the museum's storeroom, many of the pieces prove to be a different matter entirely--some are extremely faded, mere ghostly reflections of their book plates. 

Not everyone realizes that computer monitor representations can distort reality, as the luminescence adds brilliance.  In my own experience, I have found it necessary when editing photos for the web to nearly always cut the saturation in order to represent pieces accurately.
Kilim #1 above was published as Plate number 33 in Jurg Rageth, Anatolian Kilims & Radiocarbon  Dating, 1999, Basel. The calibrated age (with 95% confidence limit) was listed as 1427-1692AD (86.4%) and 1728-1815 AD (9.8%). The radiocarbon date was listed as 320 + or - 88 years BP, (meaning before present, using 1950 as the base).  Thus the radio-carbon date estimate would translate to some time between 1542 and 1718. 

Kilim #2 above is from the collection of Horst Heinzlreiter and was posted on on November 25, 2009. 

Kilim #3 above was published as Plate Number 34 in Jurg Rageth, op cit.  The calibrated age (with 95% confidence limit) was listed as 1690-1730 AD (19.2%) and 1814-1924 AD (80.8%).  The radiocarbon date was listed as 80 + or - 30 years BP (meaning before 1950). Thus the radio-carbon date estimate would translate to sometime between 1840 and 1900. 

Kilim #4 is from Harald Bohmer's publication Nomads in Anatolia. 

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