‘Treasures of the Turkomen’ Exhibit Opens at McClung Museum January 18

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Elaborate silver, gilt jewelry, carpets, and textiles from the Turkomen tribes of Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan are the focus of a new exhibit, which opens January 18 at the Frank H. McClung Museum.

First worn by a woman at her wedding, amulet breastplate jewelry is common across all Turkomen tribes. The tube portion of the piece is hollow to hold written prayers or other sacred objects.

The exhibit, Splendid Treasures of the Turkomen Tribes from Central Asia, runs through May 12. It features more than fifty objects hand-crafted by the semi-nomadic Turkomen peoples, jewelry made of precious metals and semi-precious stones, and woven rugs and colorful textiles created in the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.

A free program for families will be held at 1:00 p.m., Saturday, February 23.

Originally from Mongolia, the Turkomen are one of the major ethnic groups of Central Asia. Traditionally, they were semi-nomadic, migrating with the seasons to find pasture and fertile land. This lifestyle meant wealth had to be easily portable. Jewelry and textiles represented a form of wealth and were used for special festivities as well as daily adornment.

The designs are drawn from Turkomen mythological interpretations of the natural world, as well as Islamic art, and are an important window into the world of tribal identity.

Jewelry served as a marker of social position. Headdresses, ornaments, and other pieces were given at significant occasions such as weddings or births and were often worn to indicate marital status. Jewelry also served as a talisman—some ornaments were purported to have special properties to keep the wearer safe.

Turkomen dress was frequently noted for its rich, decorative qualities—clothing was often decorated with exquisite embroidery and made of hand-woven silk. When combined with the lavish use of jewelry, it created a striking effect.

Textiles played a diverse role in Turkomen culture, serving not only decorative and utilitarian functions in the form of pillows, floor coverings, and doors, but also ceremonial and religious purposes. Weavings were not only light and transportable, but were made of readily available wool from their own flocks of sheep. Later, these rugs and weavings became an important source of income as they became popular in Europe and Russia.

These bracelets are made of silver and gold and inset with carnelians, which are thought to protect the wearer from disease and bring happiness.

Today, Turkomen jewelry and textiles continue to be celebrated for their quality, distinctive colors, and decorative patterns.

UT’s exhibition was organized by the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida, and Florida State University. The exhibit’s jewelry was collected by Stephen Van C. Wilberding when he was a senior advisor to the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency and donated to the Ringling Museum of Art.

The McClung Museum has complemented the jewelry selection with textiles and rugs from Knoxville collector Judy Stewart and the Persian Galleries.

Splendid Treasures is sponsored by UT’s Ready for the World initiative, BarberMcMurry Architects, and the Aletha and Clayton Brodine Museum Fund.

The museum is located at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Free two-hour museum parking passes are available from the parking information building at the entrance to Circle Park Drive. The museum’s hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information about the McClung Museum and its collections and exhibits, visit the website.

CUTLINES:

Amulet Breastplate: First worn by a woman at her wedding, the jewelry is common across all Turkomen tribes. The tube portion of the piece is hollow to hold written prayers or other sacred objects.

Pair of Bracelets: They are made of silver and gold and inset with carnelians, which are thought to protect the wearer from disease and bring happiness.

CONTACTS:

Catherine Shteynberg (865-974-6921, cshteynb@utk.edu)

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)

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