Souvenirs from the Middle East, 1961
As I was scrolling through the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Open Access collection, I saw a little bag very similar to one I have. It came to me through my husband’s family, but as some family members were missionaries, some worked overseas for the CIA, and some traveled the world, I didn’t know where it came from, or exactly how it got here.
The Cleveland camel bag is under copyright, so I will only link to it and not use their image here. Theirs is red with all the patterning in white, but otherwise it looks the same, down to the little rows of contrasting stitches. They state that it is crocheted of rayon, from the 1950s and made in Syria.
That gave me the information I needed — my husband’s grandparents, Will and Hazel, sailed across the Atlantic in 1961. They spent most of their time in Greece, where their daughter was living. But they toured Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as well. They wrote long letters home about everything they saw, but they never mentioned what souvenirs they were buying — probably they wanted to surprise the recipients with them when they got home. It’s looking more likely that the costumed Greek dolls I have were purchased on this same trip.
This postcard was sent from Lebanon. Another, sent the same day, said that they were going to Damascus the next day.
This little cap was stored inside the camel bag, and is also crocheted from rayon. It seems very similar in technique to me, so I would guess it is also from Syria.
(I am sorry, but no matter how many times I scanned these items, the scanner would jump in one place or another, leading to streaks in the scan.)
I am so glad to find out more about these items, and I encourage you to look at the Cleveland Museum’s online textile collection. (Well, you can look at any of their collections, but please be sure to give the textile collection some love. It is my mission in life to make sure these museums know there is a demand for textile knowledge.) Their website loads quickly, it’s easy to navigate, and there is information given about each piece. The images are stunning, and best of all, you can zoom in and see all sorts of detail!
Your bag is beautiful. I think that I like it better than the one in the museum.
Yes, I usually like multi-color better than two-tone myself. My grandmother-in-law lived in Ohio, so when I saw that bag, I thought, “Oh, what if she was the donor?” She wasn’t, but maybe it was a common souvenir at the time.
Props to you for featuring the CMA’s textile collection. Unfortunately, there’s some internal wrangling going on about that collection. A museum spinoff group, the Textile Art Alliance, has a bunch of money it raised being locked down by the museum and not available for Alliance exhibit and education activities. There’s also debate about the importance of the museum’s textile collection, and the place of the Alliance in the museum’s mission. Used to be the Alliance met at the museum. That is no longer the case, per the museum’s decision. This is all hearsay, filtered through Alliance members. I can tell you that few textiles are displayed in public areas. I understand the fragility of textiles, but after a look through the textile collection I wish I could see many of these gems. I note that the Alliance has donated some to the museum.
Ooh, that just makes me want to shriek! I don’t know about the internal struggles, but I go to 3 to 4 museums a year, all over the country (and sometimes in Europe), and the textile exhibits are almost always very sad. The one I saw in Dusseldorf is a perfect example — about 8 different textiles, all in one case — but from different millennia and different parts of the world, and very little in the way of information (and then nothing further on the web, either). With what other art form would they display them all together like that? Unless it was a special exhibit, contrasting different styles or techniques, you just would never see chairs or paintings or even glass just thrown into a random case. Each era and area gets its own specialized gallery, sometimes room after room.
That was why I wanted to spotlight the Cleveland Museum, because at least the website shows all the textiles in beautiful light, with zoomable pictures.
I just need to open my own museum.
Your bag is lovely and how great to have found its origins.
Such an interesting discovery–you’re good at this research and putting clues together. I agree so much about the textile exhibits in museums–strange, spotty displays, little accurate information about the items, and almost no context as to the importance of textiles in human life and culture.
I know, I don’t understand it. I want to go before museum boards and say, “You know, MEN were involved in the textile trade too.” Maybe that would wake them up. 🙂
Congratulations, your blog has been included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
Thank you, Chris.
I’m sure you would get the boards attention..
Your blogs are the next best thing to being there… I’m always in awe of all the research you do, which brings so much more meaning to these exhibits.
Thank you! I love it when I stumble across a clue to a textile puzzle I’ve been pondering.
And thank you for including me. I am looking forward to a long session of following the interesting links you provide. I am still thinking about that awesome collection of letters from the captured ships that you mentioned a few weeks ago!
Thank you for all the links you share. Now it will be easier for me to find visual inspiration when I need it!
There are amazing resources out there — I wish I remembered to make use of them more often! 🙂
Most of the time I just don’t know how to find them. That’s why I rely on people like you!
I have one with black camels on a mustard background. It is very similar and I wonder if it was made around the same time. It’s in such good condition it’s hard to believe it’s that old.
If someone brought it back as a souvenir, it might not have received much use, and maybe that would help it stay in good condition. It would be interesting to know if there was a certain era these were made in!
i have this exact one in beautiful condition,the red is more orange now from fading and the white is darker but there is also gray on the bottom where the sorta mandala is. i would love to know how old it is,who made it maybe,and its value.
Hi Garrett, I got your email and emailed you back. I don’t know anything more about this object than what I put in the post — I have lots of books on world textiles and none of them have anything about it either. Maybe the museum that I linked to in the post could help more. I hope you find out more!