Photo by Jennifer Costa
Photo by Jennifer Costa

It started with a shopping trip at a Jerusalem market in 1957 and the purchase of a metal tray that was a gift for her future mother-in-law.

Over the years, President Vivian A. Bull and her late husband, Robert J. Bull, also collected hand-crafted textiles, ethnic gowns, jewelry and other items from their travels and scholarly work in the Middle East.

Now, many of those treasures have been put on display at Drew’s Korn Gallery. The Palestinian Textile exhibit opened March 24 and will be on display for one month. The opening reception is April 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The textile pieces have elaborate patterns made of rich colors—reds, greens, browns, oranges and yellows. The hand-sewn embroidery depicts flowers, vines, animals, patterns and Cypress trees that reflect different villages and regions. Many date back to the early 20th century.

The textile exhibit was curated by art history students in a class titled Islamic Art under the direction of Professor Rita Keane and Korn Gallery Coordinator Gabriele Hiltl-Cohen.

“I’m just delighted,” says President Bull. “They have done a marvelous exhibit both in interpretation and installation. I am very proud of the students.”

The students were divided into two teams—the Education team and the Installation team. They education team researched the objects and the areas where the textiles came from, while the Installation team prepared the display cards and discussed ways of grouping the materials, discussing size, pattern and color.

They also read materials on how museums represent culture and studied previous exhibits of the textiles as part of their course work.

“It’s such a different exhibit for the gallery. There’s a lot to think about,” says junior Kether Tomkins. “You could tell they were really personal objects.”

The collection includes the metal serving tray from Jerusalem, a man’s cloak—or abayeh, dresses from the regions around Ramallah and Jenin and Bedouin sites, carnelian jewelry and decorative embroidered pillowcases that held a bride’s dowry.

President Bull noted that the items were not simply display pieces: the
dresses were worn by their original owners and the elaborately
embroidered panels could be removed and re-sewn into new gowns as fabric deteriorated or to accommodate a woman’s changing size

The colorful pieces are striking against the white walls of the gallery and visitors can view them up close and see the detailed hand-stitched embroidery.

“It’s really exciting,” says junior Kate Fisher. “In our career path, we wouldn’t be able to do this until we were in an actual job. It’s physically a piece of history, a piece of people’s lives.”

Though the items have been displayed in other galleries, President Bull said it is the first time they are being exhibited at Drew.

There are also two lectures scheduled on campus that relate to the exhibit:

Hanan Munayyer, an author and co-founder of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation, will speak on “The Origins of Palestinian Embroidery” on April 3 at 4 p.m.

Anna Badkhen, author and war correspondent, will speak on “Weaving Stories from the Global South” on April 10 at 4 p.m., with support from the Women and Gender Studies Visiting Scholar Fund.

The Korn Gallery is open from Tuesdays through Fridays from 12:30 to 4 p.m., select weekends and by appointment. For more information, please call 973-408-3758 or email: korngallery@drew.edu. —Liz Moore