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The Ancient Art of Engineering - as Art

For centuries, nomads wandered the steppes of Central Asia living in tents. One of the critical engineering elements of these flimsy structures was the tent band designed to brace the roof. Over time, these bands became objects of great beauty and design. A new exhibit at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC highlights these vibrant textiles. For producer Odil Ruzaliev, VOA's Jim Bertel has more on this unusual collection.

The exhibit is called: "Architectural Textiles: Tent Bands of Central Asia," a title that befits these beautifully woven engineering marvels. Often taking several years to create, tent bands were family heirlooms, frequently installed on a young couple's first home then passed down from generation to generation.

Many visitors to the exhibit are struck by the tent bands' artistic grandeur.

"[They are] so beautiful, they are so incredibly beautiful,” said one woman, “the colors and the texture. Also, I think about the amount of time it must have taken to do this by hand."

"We have a lot of carpets from Turkey. I think that is what first made us recognize the incredible beauty of the patterns and so forth," said another visitor.

The exhibit's curators say tent band designs differ greatly from other nomadic textiles, with the weaving skills and types of dyes and other materials of the highest quality.

The museum's Kathy Uravitch says the bands' large size made displaying them a challenge.

"It has been an interesting concept, basically from the beginning, trying to hang these long objects which are (15 meters) in length and about (30 centimeters) wide, and try to work with an installation where we normally deal with more sort of square or rectangular objects. And so this was definitely a really interesting project and challenge for us," said Uravitch.

This will not be the last Central Asian exhibit at the Textile Museum. They have acquired many other textile items from the region and plan to put them on display in 2009.