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History | Nomadic Handwork

Sanctus Luxurri

By Dana Phayul
July 10, 2009
Against a backdrop of pristine landscapes, forests, and vast skies, what mattered most was protecting the nomadic spiritual odyssey, which had existed since the beginning... 
Lilium Auratum
Lilium Auratum -John Frederick Lewis (1871)

As they set about following the migration paths that had been trodden for centuries before them, setting up camps and providing for the necessities of life, ancient people managed to surround themselves with sanctus luxurii, an ensemble of colorful and elegant furnishings, bedcovers, clothes, and jewelry, which animated the nomadic being, protected families from the realities of nature, and laid the groundwork for symbolic art.

Nomadic being was not measured in time or wealth, but in the laws of nature, which were formed at the origins of nomadic experience, when visual patterns were in a pristine state, and form and color were at their fullest and most intricate. Journeying beneath vast landscapes of stars and across immense valleys and deserts, repetitions of color, texture, and shape, formed a coherent pattern that appeared to represent the laws of nature.

The expression of visual patterns in talismanic kilims, sacred textiles, symbolic tent ornaments and furnishings, gold and silver dowry jewelry, glass beads, wedding clothes and bedcovers, had an instinctual clarity that was part of the natural order of things.

Natural elements of design created a complex material and symbolic environment that animated nomadic existence and reinforced the sense that life is not an object to possess but a temporary state of being, a spiritual odyssey that is handed down by the ancestral spirits, to be embraced for a time, and passed on to the next generation.

Traditional hand-work was an essential and dramatic element in the development of an artistic perspective, which focused and organized cycles of light, shadow, color and repeating geometric pattern, into a spiritual and symbiotic relationship with nature.

Images that moved suddenly and dramatically into consciousness presented nomadic hand-work with its motifs, which clearly described the laws of nature –twisting leafy stems, curvilinear waves, jagged lines, octagonal sun discs, intricate stratifications, flowering wreaths –and attested to the origins of nomadic experience.

Traveling cyclically, in union with weather patterns and migration paths, survival depended on practical life working skills like weather prediction and direction-finding, and the ability to produce shelter, bedding, tools, and weapons, which could meet the strenuous requirements of a highly mobile lifestyle.

Cashmere -John Singer Sargent (1908)

The artisan skills, complex tools, and hand-eye coordination, required to represent nature’s visual patterns, were also critical in the design and fabrication of horse trappings, tent fabrics, blankets, bed covers, and furnishings. 

Making their way from one geographic area to another, nomads would come in contact with tribes who could be sociable or hostile, and the accessories of nomadic costume served as tokens of status and power. Beads, earrings, belt ornaments, pendants, and brooches, were designed to express an indeterminable number of traditions, subliminal perceptions, and accumulated symbols, interwoven into nomadic life.

Against a backdrop of pristine landscapes, forests, and vast skies, what mattered most was protecting the nomadic spiritual odyssey, which had existed since the beginning. In this journey, nature and being emerge as one continuous pattern, representing stages in an endless correspondence of form and spirit, entwined in symbol and art, and encoded into nomadic life through hand-work.

Sanctus luxurri was created, used, and passed on by one generation after another. It was the common thread that held the tribal family together. Its mere existence within the context of generational responsibility, personifies its ancient energy.

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