Comprising a significant part of the Museum’s rug collection is a large group of carpets and rugs, storage bags, tent bands and animal trappings woven by women of the nomadic Yomut Turkmen people of Central Asia between the late 1700s and early 1900s. These fine weavings were meticulously acquired by collector Robert Upfold over some 20 years and donated to the Museum in 2012. Culturally expressive and skilfully executed, they capture the essence of a fiercely independent people and their lost way of life.
The ancestors of the Turkmen are said to have moved westwards into Central Asia from Mongolia in the 10th century. Mostly tent-dwelling pastoral nomads who moved themselves and their sheep, goats, horses and camels with the changing seasons, the warlike Turkmen were grouped into separate tribes. The Yomut were the second largest after the Ersari and the other main groups were the Tekke, Chodor, Saryk and Salor. The Yomut were themselves divided into two groups, one group inhabiting what is now southern Turkmenistan while the other lived east of the Aral Sea.
The mobile nature of Yomut life demanded housing suited to nomadism, and the demountable timber-lattice yurt was ideal. In addition to storage bags and tent and animal trappings, the Upfold gift included six superb carpets (khali) and eight smaller rugs (engsi); these are the focus of this set of objects. Khalis typically measure around 2m85 in length and fitted within the dimensions of the yurt. Their designs are largely symmetrical around both vertical and horizontal axes and their major motif is often the octagonal form (gul), which is generally interpreted as a tribal emblem. Of these five khalis, one has octagonal major guls, while the others display tauk noska , dyrnak, C-gul and kepse guls. Engsis typically average 1m65 in length and are believed to be door hangings; their design is characteristically divided into four compartments with a deep lower border (elem).
Two small design motifs are found almost exclusively on Yomut weavings, the erre gul and the bovrek motif. The erre gul is roughly diamond-shaped and saw-toothed, and is mostly found on storage bags, but makes a rare appearance in the elems of the C-gul khali . The bovrek motif is roughly kidney-shaped with a small finial on top and two splayed feet, and is strongly represented in six of these engsis.
Fine wool from their flocks was always available for the women. Yomut weavings are mostly of symmetrically knotted pile construction, with warps of goat hair or wool and two weft rows between each row of knots. The rich reds that characterise Turkmen weaving were easily obtainable from local dye sources. Yomut weavings however show a strong relationship with those of some Caucasian groups west of the Caspian Sea in the brighter reds and blues than are usually preferred by Turkmen weavers.
Christina Sumner OAM, former Principal Curator, Design and Society, Powerhouse Museum, 2021