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Artistry of Turkmen silversmiths is celebrated in exhibition of tribal jewelry at Metropolitan Museum
Crown, 19th–early 20th century. Central Asia or Iran; Teke. Silver, fire-gilded and chased, with openwork, decorative wire, and table-cut carnelians; cotton lining, 5–1/4 x 7–1/8 in. (13.3 x 18.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf, 2009. 2009.530.11© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
NEW YORK, NY.- Using a limited set of materials—silver accented by gold, carnelian, turquoise, and colored glass—and relatively simple metalworking techniques, skilled Turkmen silversmiths from Central Asia have attained dazzling effects for centuries. A selection of 43 outstanding examples of 19th- and 20th-century Turkmen jewelry and decorative objects—including crowns, earrings, and pectoral ornaments that are part of the traditional attire of Turkmen women—are being shown in the exhibition Turkmen Jewelry from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection, opened October 9 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The installation celebrates the collectors’ recent gift and promised gift of more than 250 of these works to the Museum. The display—which focuses primarily on Turkmen silver from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and northeastern Iran—also features two carpets from the Museum’s permanent collection that were woven in the same region.

In the 1990s, when they began collecting the jewelry of the nomadic Turkmen people, Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf were drawn by its expressive beauty and strong designs. Over the course of two decades, they acquired nearly 300 examples of this work, the bulk of which they have promised to the Metropolitan Museum.

The exhibition is organized according to the principal techniques employed by Turkmen silversmiths. One grouping shows fire gilding, a technique in which gold filings—possibly obtained from coins—were combined with mercury in a paste that was brushed onto prepared silver; heat drove off the mercury, and the remaining gold was burnished to a brilliant sheen. Other items feature stamped beading that was produced by stamping metal from behind to obtain the appearance of individual beads or granulation on the front. A third section focuses on the inlay of carnelian and turquoise using bezels. The fourth major technique—openwork decoration—involved the use of a chisel or fine fret saw to cut through silver sheets. Many of the items on view, in various techniques, include small bells suspended from chains, which would have added an auditory component to the jewelry.

Some motifs in Turkmen jewelry are similar to those found in textiles from the area. For example, repeat patterns of squares, rectangles, or lozenges can be found both in silverwork and in carpets. The repertoire of motifs varies according to the tribe of the maker and owner, and the exhibition highlights distinctive designs from Teke, Yomut, and Kazakh jewelry-makers.

The exhibition of tribal jewelry complements the numerous courtly and urban works of art that are on view in the adjacent areas within the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.

A publication, Turkmen Jewelry: Silver Ornaments from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection by Layla S. Diba, accompanies the exhibition. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and distributed by Yale University Press, the book is available in the Museum’s book shops ($60, hardcover).

Turkmen Jewelry from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection has been installed in The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, which is dedicated to focused exhibitions drawn primarily from the Museum’s holdings. It is located within the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia, which opened November 1, 2011, after a comprehensive renovation.

At the Metropolitan Museum, Marshall and Marilyn Wolf have been members of the Friends of Islamic Art since its founding in 1994. Marilyn Wolf has also been an active member of the Department of Islamic Art’s Visiting Committee since 1991.

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