Crafting in Uzbekistan


Lauh – a wooden wonder

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A lauh is a collapsible wooden rest for books, one of the most original articles ever produced by Uzbek woodcarvers. It is hard to believe that this sophisticated construction is made out of a single piece of wood without nails, clay or hinges.
Experienced craftsmen can make a lauh consisting of ten to twelve tiers. Apart from a book , it can hold pencils, small paper scrolls, writing pads, bookmarks and other reading and writing accessories.
An outsider will hardly be able even to use this construction . While it is possible to cope with a single-tier lauh without assistance (providing you have watched at least once how to do it ) a multi – tiered book rest may turn out to be a veritable brain-twister. It takes even craftsmen a lot of time: first they have to put a lauh on its side, then spread it out and put its separate parts into the required positions, and only then it can be turned into the right position and placed onto the table . It is folded in the same order.

A well-known Tashkent art critic Shakhalil Shayakubov believes that a lauh ( rahle in Arabic ) as a rest for the Koran was invented at approximately the time the Koran was written. In constant to present-day books one can hold in one`s hands without any difficulty and turn over the pages during the prayer, ancient folios were much more massive and heavy and consisted of hundreds of parchment pages and a leather cover often clad with metal plates for the sake of durability. Apart from convenience during the reading of the Koran , a rest also expressed a respectful attitude to this holy book , which could be carried without touching it with one`s hands.

In the course of centuries the book rest changed its shape. We have no idea what materials lauhs were made of in ancient times. One can see representations of wooden lauhs in ancient miniatures . In Samarkand , in the yard near the Bibi Khanum mosque , there is a rest for the Koran made of marble at the beginning of the 15th century on an order of Mirzo Ulugbek, which is indicated by a legend carved at its base.

For a long time it was believed that the secret of making lauhs had been lost. In the secret of making lauhs had been lost. In the 1980s several craftsmen decided to revive that ancient kind of woodcarving . The first ones to do so were Ortyk Faizullaev, Zeinal Alimbaev and Akmal Azlarov. Lauhs were made in Tashkent , Kokand , Namangan , Samarkand and Khiva. Tashkent , Kokand and Samarkand craftsmen made multi-tiered constructions . It is worth mentioning that each lauh, even the simplest one, is absolutely different from the others , each of them is unique.

Outside Uzbekistan – in Syria , Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia , India, Indonesia and Malaysia one can often see book rests made of two intersecting boards. Some of them are richly decorated with gems , while others are inlaid with the mother – of – pearl or decorated with lacquered miniatures, wood or ivory carving. Such book rests as in Uzbekistan are made nowhere in the world. Even undecorated lauhs produce a strong impression by their sophisticated construction.

It should be pointed out that not every craftsman is capable of making a lauh even if he can make remarkable boxes , tables, chandeliers, screens, doors and furniture. The making of a lauh requires utmost wood-carving craftsmanship. One has to have a special attitude of mind and virtuosic carving skills.

The construction of a lauh is based on accurate mathematical calculations, and meticulously adjusted lines, angles and bends . A slightly inaccurate movement of the chisel or the handsaw – and all efforts will go to the dogs. This cannot be allowed because the piece of wood had passed through a very lengthy pre-treatment before it came to a woodcarver. Therefore , there should be no fuss or haste, only patience and composure.

Hard wood such as that of walnut and plane-trees is used for making lauhs. In order for the book rest to remain durable for many years and to prevent it from deformation and cracking, wood should be properly pre-treated. Patterns on wood are more beautiful and clear if logs are soaked in special water reservoirs for a whole year. During that period of time colorants penetrate from the bark into the smallest pores of the wood . The older the tree , the nobler the hues.

Later, boards 50-60 mm thick made from these logs are placed in stacks with gaps between them and dried for between 8 and 10 years in a dry , dark and well-ventilated room, with regular overturning.

A craftsman can judge about the readiness of wood by knocking on its surface by his knuckles. When a board is finally ready , a bar of the required dimensions is sawn from it , and the mystery of making a lauh begins.

Parallel lines are drawn on the horizontal and lateral faces of the bar, which mark the places of future slits and saw kerfs usually made by two craftsmen (it is next to impossible to make a lauh alone).

When a lauh is ready , it is thoroughly polished. The craftsmen entrust this operation to their apprentices.
It turns out that wood-carvers and wood-painters, like musicians , have their own training techniques . Craftsmen have shown their albums to us . They are filled with rows of patterns , the so-called “simple flower” . Apprentices draw the same pattern until all lines coincide when sheets are superimposed one onto another. Then they start drawing another pattern. There are twelve of them , each more difficult than the previous one.

With time , every craftsman develops his own unique style . Probably , for this reason wood-carvers never put their identification marks onto the articles they make. Each craftsman is recognized thank to his own style.
Despite the diversity of individual styles , the Uzbek school of wood-carving cannot be mistaken for any other . The most convincing proof is the unique Uzbek lauh highly appreciated not only by tourists visiting Uzbekistan but also by the most sophisticated connoisseurs of national handicrafts.