Arts and Crafts of the Kashkadarya Oasis in the 19th - early 20th centuries

In the 19th century artistic culture of the Kashkadarya oasis turned out to become a local center representing distinctive features of the folk arts. Production of copper embossing utensils, pottery, embroidery and carpets were among the major crafts that had developed both in the largest towns of the region – Karshi and Shakhrisabz, and in the rural settlements.

Kashkadarya was among the leading producers of metal utensils. Items produced in Kashkadarya and Shakhrisabz Kashkadarya had much in common and at the same time were bearing the trait of originality greatly distinguishing them from the items produced in other famous centers of Uzbekistan. Craftsmen mainly worked with brass. There was the plentiful variety of products: choidishi, oftoba, kumgans (type of jugs), dastushi (sets for washing), lyagans (flat dishes), tufdons (spittoons), shamdons (candle stands), chilims (smoking devices), cups and others. Applied techniques were also various: masters from Kashkadarya applied flat and relief embossing and engraving with which they were making up such patterns as madohil, mehrob, chashma bul-bul (nightingale’s eye), islimi, nim islimi, and kirmak stripes (worm). The embossed jewelry pattern in the islimi style or cut through tracery fretwork were not so popular here like in other school; the local craftsmen managed to find other methods of decoration, a little provincial but no less spectacular. Tamping was one of the specific Kashkadarya techniques (with the help of the stamps called kalybs some laid on details like medallions and rosettes) were produced; the background or the surface of the pattern was colored with the enamel or blackened with the mastic. Such insertions were usually found in the ring at the base of the jug, on the edges of the lid, base of its neck and nose. The famous Shakhrisabz master, usto Olim, used ordinary glass and placed colored paper underneath to imitate cornelian and turquoise pieces (1, p. 81). All those methods provided creation of the specific style the Kashkadarya metal utensils, a little bit provincial but integral and organic.

This type of crafts is usually characterized by narrow specialization and strict division of labor – different masters were dealing with making moulds and decoration. However, a little provincial character of the Kashkadarya School ensured one and the same master to work upon the mould and the decoration. Usto Nizomiddin (1871 – 1931) and usto Saadi (1860 – 1920), as well as Jalol Sobirov from Shakhrisabz (1, p. 74) are among such universal masters. The fact that it was Karshi that occupied the leading position in the area can be proved by the migration of many Shakhrisabz masters to Karshi in search of work. Masters from Bukhara also recognized leadership of the masters from Karshi (1, p. 75). We also know about the examples of Karshi embossing influence on the production of the masters from Bukhara which was known as the largest center of production of copper embossed utensils. Thus, in Bukhara, they were copying the Kashkadarya shapes of oftobas and tufdons, dastushes with the lid shaped as a cotton-ball spontaneously opening when the devise was lifted (2, p. 33). Under the influence of the Karshi, masters in Bukhara also used enamel tincture and insertions of colored glass and turquoise. By the Emir’s order the best Karshi masters were moved to Bukhara, usto Saadi Sharaf Asad was among them (1, p. 74).

The Karshi metal utensils are distinguished by their integrity and somewhat monumentality of the shape, laconic volumes, original style achieved with the diversity of decoration colors, application of color vanishes (red, dark blue and black) and insertions. Decorative elements were always trimmed with stripes called khashiya that also serves the distinguishing decoration principle of the Kashkadarya metal utensils. To the number of typical items we can refer kumgans without a high stand so characteristic of the items made in other urban centers (Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva and others.), with the broad steady base adding the feeling of stockiness, with the protruding circular-like trunk and cylinder neck. Simple hands of the jug had a rather primitive shape; they were not decorated because main attention was attached to the decoration of their trunk, neck and nose.

By the 20th century the quality of the metal utensils had noticeably deteriorated. Artist V.Rozvadovsky who visited Karshi in 1915 stated, “Copper products in Karshi are quite wretched; embossing is rough and the pattern is not interesting at all”. He continues, “In general all crafts in Karshi and Bukhara make the impression of something moribund, dead; one cannot see any spell or artistry, taste and the identity and vitality so much characterizing the folk arts” (3, p. 33). Le Cock echoes, “Remains of the local industry have been forced out by the European low quality goods” (4, p. 324). At the same time domestic contemporary researchers, O.Sukhareva and T.Abdullaev, consider that the decay started after 1917.

As for the jewelry art, it was not so much developed in Kashkadarya as in other largest centers of this craft like in Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva, towns of The Fergana Valley and etc. Rather modest local ornaments were made by the embossers, e.g. simple round plates “sitora” stamped with the pattern looking like flower rosettes sewed on a female dress.

Shakhrisabz was the large center of slip glaze utensils in the oasis; it was developing in the traditions of Bukhara and Samarkand school characterized of the yellow-brown color spectrum. Karshi ceramics has its own style and coloring. V. Posvadovsky writes about it the following, “Quite lately, yet in the Middle Ages the plates and dishes were painted and were very nice, at present the better crockery is brought from Khodjent. Presence of good varieties of pottery clays and everyday needs provide development of the craft, but absence of good masters and material help, completely indifferent attitude of the local bek (ruler) are keeping production at a rather low stage of development” (3, p. 32 – 33). There are only four workshops working in Karshi, in two of them burning furnaces are in the open air. They produce kuza (big jugs for water), kuzacha (small jugs), obdasta (deep bowls), kosa (cups) and the like. Lyagans, vases and ceramic jars with blue lead-tin glaze are referred to painted slip glaze crockery. Painting is done by the brush in dark blue or dark blue and brown color spectrum. Rare samples of Karshi ceramics of the end of the 18th – beginning of the 19th centuries are covered with ishkora glaze against the white angobu (a wine jug from the collection of the State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan). Typical elements of the ornamentation are presented by the “yulduz-gul” rosettes, “bahori” twigs and stylized cotton balls. Non-ornamented samples like jags, ceramic jars – mashrafa and others were covered with the dark turquoise enamel. However, more often they produced non-glazed pottery with limited ornaments of furrows and harrowing.

Karshi occupied the deserved place among the largest fabric manufacturing centers in the Central Asian region. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 19 silk weaving workshops (compared with 46 in the capital city of Bukhara) which were mainly producing semi-silk and cotton fabrics for gowns, pieces of 9 arsheens (=0.711 m) length and 12 vershoks (=4.45 cm) width (3, p. 7). Such fabrics were made for sale. Silk fabric was made for the local bek. Local fabric was also subject to export. According to E.Meiendorf’s data, at the beginning of the 19th century Karshi exported raw cotton, cotton yarn and silk (5). Exclusively aniline dyers imported from Germany were used to dye threads; they were widely spread among the local craftsmen since the end of the 19th century fully displacing the natural ones. V.Rozvadovsky, who visited the workshops, wrote that drastic and loud tones of the colors produce unpleasant impression; weavers are aware of the lack of aniline dyers and try to conceal their usage (3, p. 8). Silk used for gowns and kerchiefs was more intensively died in anticipation of fading. Fabrics aimed for kilts and curtains had a less intensive coloring.

Preserved samples of male and female clothes (gowns, frocks and etc.) were well compared in their quality, design and coloring with the recognized samples of widely famous textile centers like towns of the Fergana Valley and Bukhara. Locally made adras (a kind of a semi-silk fabric) used for gowns distinguishes by its large laconic pattern, expressive and significant combination of colors – red-and-yellow stripes with the white-and- dark-blue pattern; violet and red pattern against dark yellow background; red-and-dark-blue patterns against dark red or green background; white-and-yellow color spectrum and others. Character of the color spectrum that does not repeat in any item testifies for the creative approach of abrband-craftsmen. The ornament of the fabrics consisted of simple geometric forms – broad strips divided by a narrow border with staggered rhombs, triangle motifs resembling jewelry tumar-pendants (traditional shape of the mascot) fringed at the bottom; with drop-like motifs, flower lola (tulip) motifs, simple and stepped rhombs seeming to be borrowed from the carpet patterns and others. In general Kashkadarya adrass compared with the analogous fabrics from Fergana Valley and Bukhara possess a more laconic and large pattern. At the same time decoration of the Kashkadarya adrasses is not as laconic as decoration of fabrics from Samarkand.

Shakhrisabz was the largest embroidery center in the Kashkadarya region. On demand of the bek’s and emir’s courts local women embroidered large susannes, smart gowns and horsecloths. Shakhrisabz susannes differed by their compositions with a large medallion looking like a flower rosette in the middle of the field; much attention was paid to the abundance and richness of flower motifs and decorative ornamentation of the broad border. As for Karshi, embroidery here was limited to djiyaks and skullcaps, small items like takiya-push (a pillow cover) and ruidjo (a wedding bed-sheet) made in the Nurata center traditions where vegetative, floral and leaf ornaments.

Kashkadarya is one of the main districts of traditional carpet weaving. Carpet-making was concentrated mainly in the hands of the Arabs that had been settling in the territory of Central Asia since the end of the 14th century, and in Kashkadarya – since the beginning of the 18th century (6, p. 105). The items stood for good quality, enjoyed demand in the markets that in its turn was encouraging their further production. Production was mainly located in the kishlaks Kamashi, Khodjaki and Djeinau situated 30 kilometers far from Karshi. These were mainly the pileless carpets, famous with the local population as arabi-ghilam (an Arabic carpet), joynamaz praying carpets, curtains, bags and sacks –karchinas and kiddle bags – hurdjins, cases and small sacks for different everyday items, i.e. the whole range of items characterizing culture of a nomad stock-breeder. The loom has a broad beam frame (narrow beam framed looms were used only for weaving small everyday items). The carpets were made of wool. Sometimes a silk thread was used in the patterns. Until 1870-s only natural dyers were used, later on the aniline ones replaced them. Color spectrum is based on the combination of bright contrasting colors – red, orange, dark blue, green and black. Various methods of weaving allowed making kinds of carpets differing by technology and decoration - kohma, gadjari, tirma, besh-kashta or khurboflik (making the ornament with the additional short wire in). Ornamentation of the Arabic carpet comprises large or small geometric figures: cogged and stepped squares, rhombs and triangles alternating by colors. Chains of rhombs and squares were used as the additional elements. Weaving techniques, and character of ornamentation (prevalence of geometric motifs) of the Arabic carpets have much in common with the Uzbek’s carpets, and this has been preconditioned by the closeness of traditions of two Muslim peoples. At the same time one can notice significant differences as well. Thus in the Arabic items there are no zoomorphic symbolic signs depicting the animal following the principle “the whole by the part”. Such symbols preconditioned by totemism were characteristic of the art of the Turkic steppe peoples. Genesis of geometric ornaments of the Arabian carpets can be supposedly connected with the astral cults spread with the Arabs before Islam had been adopted.

In the Arabic carpet weaving particular importance was attached to a kyz-ghilam (girl’s carpet) prepared exclusively for dowry purposes and then kept with the family as a relic. Its ornaments had a sacral meaning as if serving to protect the young family. Among the main elements there were the stylized images of the birds – erkek murgon and urganchi murgon (a he-bird and a she-bird) serving the symbols of male and female origin and guarantor of happy family life and continuation of the keen.

Social and political transformations of the early 20th century produced a baneful influence on the traditional art throughout the Central Asian region. Many crafts of Kashkadarya have practically disappeared from the everyday life as unclaimed products and wide spread of the factory-made goods. The first to stop their work were the embossing masters and weavers. Embroidery was limitedly preserved as rural women were embroidering djiyaks (braids used to trim the bottoms of the wide trousers) and skullcaps; the same concerns carpet weaving as a home needs craft exclusively. Local rugs of the arabi type (kilims), gadjari and okenli of the Arab’s and Uzbek’s make reached 10 – 12 square meters; they are characterized by the traditional geometric pattern. Some kinds of crafts managed to outlive in modern conditions due to the integration with the industrial production area.

Strict adherence to the canon, strive to revive ancient technologies and decorative symbols serve the main direction of the processes concerned with the revival of the traditional forms of art. The century old artistic crafts of Kashkadarya are claimed by the people today; the traditional crafts products play both the utilitarian role and the role of a symbol tuning in to the belonging to a certain cultural tradition.

Elmira Gyul


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