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U I G H U R   C R A F T S



Eastern Turkestan, the ancient fatherland of the Uighurs, is boundless territory of Takla-Makan desert dotted with inhabited oases. From time immemorial, oases of Khotan, Yarkend, Qashqar, Turpan, Qarashar, Kuchar, Miran and later Ghulja were the largest and most significant historical and cultural centers where crafts developed vigorously. 

Every town was renowned for certain crafts practiced in it. Qashqar was known for metal-working, fabric dressing, its felt, carpets, musical instruments, pottery, and embroidery. Khotan was and is a renowned center of carpet-making and sericulture. Yarkend was famed for exquisite metal-working, felt product and carpets. Aqsu was famous for cotton fabric, currying and felt. 

Ancient Uighur applied art includes decorative metal-working: blacksmith's work, manufacturing of utensils, jewelry. Traditional set of metal utensils of the Uighurs includes various washing sets; medicinal extracts ware, kettles, samovars, trays, bowls, and others. Among them one can find distinctively utilitarian items as well as exquisite ones. 

Domestic appliances have handy shapes and reserved tactical décor. Decorative goods are small sized, gracefully shaped and covered with fine open-work. Domestic appliances were mainly produced of copper whereas decorative ones used brass and silver. Brass often was silvered or adorned with silverware, i.e. silver lockets. 

Jeweler’s art occupies an important place among crafts. Jewelry was popular among Uighur women as well as men at all times. Jeweller's favorite metal was gold and silver skillfully amplified with mountings of precious and semi-precious stones such as diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, corals, amethyst, garnet, turquoise, nacre and so forth. Jeweler’s techniques were complex and multifarious. Uighur jewelry can be divided into the following: head, neck, shoulder and breast wares; hand adornments which form an original traditional set. 

The Uighurs achieved mastery in manufacturing woven and felted carpet goods. Uighur felt and knot woolen carpets were well-known and broadly exported far away from Eastern Turkestan. In the world market Uighur carpets were valued as Persian ones22.  Town of Khotan occupied a special place in carpet manufacture. In this oasis many a settlement manufactured woven goods and in towns there were numerous larger carpet workshops. 

Uighur carpets were notable for their variety in fancy decoration with complex compositions of geometric; geometrized and plant; and geometrized and zoomorphic pattern. Uighur carpet-makers dyed yarn with extracts from plant roots, which did not fade if exposed to sun or water; they rather became richer in time23. More than a dozen of colors were combined in a carpet. However, this multicolor did not produce excessive motley. The colors harmonically merged in single spectrum.  

Embroidery is one of ancient kinds of applied arts. Mainly it is regarded as part of household manufacture. In Uighur households women embroidered to meet demand of their families. Young girls prepared their wedding dowry, significant part of which comprised embroidery. Embroidery was used in drapes, covers, pillow-covers, pillow-cases, table clothes, decorative and prayer rugs, as well as clothes. Traditional embroidery pattern is plant, favorite element of which is flower motives reproduced without any stylization. Color spectrum of Uighur embroidery is formed by contiguous or contrast hues. 

Pottery is a traditional kind of Uighur artistic craftsmanship. Potters produced coating slabs and tiles, household and decorative crockery, lamps, and toys. Polished in centuries various shapes of Uighur pottery are of particular artistic interest. Among widely prevalent there are amphora-shaped vessels, pitchers, dishes and bowls. Uighur potters broadly used glaze for dish coating. 

So called “chilling vessels” used for keeping perishable products were popular among the Uighurs. They were coated with glaze for two thirds from the mouth because they were buried in the ground for one third. They believed that glaze prevents chill from penetration. 

Along with conventional clay vessels, so called “sand vessels” which comprised considerable amount of sand could be found in usage by the Uighurs. Surface of such crockery is rough, and usually painted in black. 

 Architecture. In Eastern Turkestan there are many big and small mosques, medreses, and mausoleum. Different building materials were used, and various artistic styles are employed in architecture. Ceilings, fretted columns, eaves, doors and tracery gates of the buildings amaze with their exquisite decoration and multicolor of their frescos. With adoption of Islam in the 10th century, traditional architecture, keeping its originality, evolved in the course of architecture of Muslim Orient. 

Wood-carving as a genre of decoration was used broadly by the Uighurs in furniture, utensils and toy making. Wooden furniture did not play a visible role in the interior of Uighur as well as other Oriental peoples’ household. The Uighurs preferred carpets, rugs and felt. Nevertheless they had a certain set of wooden furniture from time immemorial. They are trunks, low tables, cradles, coffers and bins for foodstuffs. Wooden utensils included dishes, bowls, bred-plates, spoons, chopsticks, spoon and chopsticks cases.

 Making of musical instrument occupies one of the most important places in Uighur art wood carving. Uighur musical instruments are notable for their diversity and lofty sound and decorative characteristics. Among Uighur musical instruments the following are wide spread:

  • stringed musical instruments played by plucking – dutar, tambir, ravap;

  • bow musical instruments – satar, ghijak;

  • percussions –dap, tevilvaz, naghra;

  • wind instruments – nay, surnay, karnay, and yanchin or chan – an instrument resembling cymbals;

Musical instruments listed above were prevalent throughout the whole Eastern Turkestan and had only insignificant local distinctions. Most conspicuous distinctive traits are seen in instruments of the Southern (Qashqar) and the Northern (Ghulja) regions of the country. People call them Qashqar and Ili instruments. 

Yarkend and Aqsu were renowned for currying. The leather was used for making high quality shoes, belts, and harness. Smart shoes were made of color leather: red, green, and brown. In shoes décor masters widely used appliqué’ work, stamping, and embroidery. 

Leather belts were part and parcel of Uighur man dress. They were embellished with figured silver plates covered with engraved, embossed and filigree decoration; insets of semi-precious stones. Polychrome enamel and gilding were also used in belt decoration. 

Decorative work was broadly applied to horse harness and saddles by Uighur craftsmen. Uighur saddles have had the same prevalent shape even up to this day: narrow pommel and wide oval rear arch. Frame of saddle was upholstered with leather and embellished with decorative metal plates, or thoroughly polished, burnished and covered with multicolor painting.  

Items made of gourd are wide-spread among the Uighurs. Various forms of gourd are converted to different dishes for water and tea; scoops, snuff-boxes, toys and others. Surface of items is usually polished and dyed in thick solution of tea. In Eastern Turkestan in the past there were skilful masters who produced highly artistic works from gourd.


22. Mukanov, S. Steps of a giant., Alma-Ata, 1958, p.253.

23. Felkerzam, A. Ancient carpets of Central Asia // Old years, 1914, October-December.




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