Costume & Custom: Middle Eastern Threads at Olana

Costume & Custom: Middle Eastern Threads at Olana

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This publication developed in conjunction with our 2018 exhibition includes essays by costume historian Lynne Bassett and Palestinian costume expert Hanan Karaman Munayyer on the people who originally wore the clothing collected by Church and on the artist’s use of the historic costume in his home and art.

The 2018 exhibition highlighted for the first time the historic costumes Church collected on his 1867-68 journey to Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Petra and other Middle Eastern cities. Displayed within the historic rooms of Olana’s main house, whose design was inspired by Churches’ Middle Eastern travels, and Olana’s Sharp Family Gallery, presenting new research on the collection and its relationship to Church’s work and that of his contemporaries, including Church’s friend and guest at Olana, Mark Twain.

The exhibition reunited Church’s historic costume collection with both Church’s artwork that it helped to inspire and inform and the rich interiors of his home that he filled with objects and decorative details inspired by his Middle Eastern travels. In one extraordinary case these are one and the same. Within Isabel Church’s Sitting Room hangs Church’s master work “El Khasné, Petra” (1874), whose foreground features figures clothed in the costume pieces Church brought back to his studio and which inspired the decoration of the room, especially the decorative painted pseudo-Arabic inscriptions that run throughout the space.

The wide array of historic costumes, often intricately embroidered, reflect the extraordinary craft and creativity of the Middle Eastern people who created it and speaks as well to the evolution of ideas of gender and cultural identity in the Middle East and beyond.

Paperback, 38 pages

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