Little did I know that asking for help to identify the embroidery made by my grandmother, Lucy (Karadelian) Kasparian, would lead to a whirlwind of hundreds of comments, answers, insights, and suggestions from around the globe within 72 hours!
I was aware that my grandmother’s Armenian birth town of Gurin was the center of the shawl weaving industry, famous for its top quality products. It was said that artisans working on the looms were so indigenous that no competitor outside of Gurin would dare challenge their handicraft. I was curious and wondered if the same was true for embroidery, needlework and other fabrics.
My friends and members of the Armenian Genealogy and Gurintsi Facebook groups answered my call in droves and in ways I could never have imagined.
The overwhelming response suggested that these pieces were beautiful, rare and required great talent. Many members provided invaluable insight to the technique, origin, and where to find more answers. My grandmother likely learned the technique of this antique Aintab cut and drawn embroidery while she lived in Aleppo and brought it with her to the US as part of her trousseau.
My mother often mentioned that my grandmother was very skilled at needlework and she was well respected by all for her craftsmanship. I had no idea what that meant… until now.
Another mystery that may have been solved is why several of my grandmother’s work were labeled as if they were being exhibited. A clue to where and when this could have been exhibited comes from her married name the label. Therefore, we know it was exhibited after her wedding to my grandfather, Ardashes Kasparian, in 1935 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
I am grateful to Margaret Chevian, a retired librarian, who found another clue in a Providence Journal article in 1936. The journalist wrote about the Rhode Island Tercentenary Exhibit in1936 in which part of the Armenian National Arts, marked for its 300-year-old rug, fabrics, and pottery were exhibited. It’s possible her work was exhibited here!
My gratitude goes to Adrienne Megerdichian Terrizzi and many others who shared book suggestions for further review. I have been feverishly reading and trying to learn more about this newly discovered revelation. (Note: When my book is finally published, you will understand my amazement when I discovered this type of embroidery was taught at Karen Jeppe’s Rescue Home in Aleppo!).
And somewhere in the 72 hour whirlwind, I learned that my brother had been holding on to my grandmother's embroidery tools for safekeeping.
While the fast and informative information was being swapped across the Facebook posts, the momentum took a quantum leap when Ani Mkhitaryan offered to study my family’s collection. Ani is an art critic who studies Armenian fabric, embroidery, national costumes, and carpets. She believes so strongly that these items need to be collected and studied so that our cultural values are not lost.
Ani Mkhitaryan’s response was inspiring: "BEAUTIFUL! WOW! SEND EVERYTHING!"
With her encouragement, I dug through boxes and found several items to photograph and send.
What I thought it be a head kerchief turns out to be a rare sample of what is called a Yazma. Ani identified this to be a block printed fabric of Armenia that was a widespread craft in Western Armenian. After the Genocide, the craft was preserved in Beirut until the 1930’s. Unfortunately, this has become a lost art.
I sent photos of handkerchiefs that I believed my grandmother kept in her purse for everyday use. Another WOW response from Ani identifying this as Aintab drawn work.
I suspected the needlepoint that my mother had framed years ago was likely to be special. Ani confirmed and said she has also seen such fine and delicate work with beads in Persian needlework.
This journey has been enlightening to my entire family. My cousin framed her grandmother's needlework which was done in a technique called tatting. Her grandmother was the older sister to my grandmother. Yeghsabet Karadelian left Aleppo in 1921 as a Picture Bride to marry Levon Bedrosian.
Of the many items I am blessed with finding from our family’s collection, the most precious items are my grandmother’s wedding dress and veil that she likely made and my grandparent's original wedding rings. Given they are held in a box with a Greek key design, could my grandfather have brought these with him when he left the Orphanage in Oropos, Greece with dreams of finding a wife in the United States?
What does all this mean? What untold stories do they tell? What secrets did they keep? I will likely never know. Imagine with me…. what if this research results in contributing a small piece of preserving the rich Armenian culture and traditions of our Armenian ancestors.
I continue to be incredulous of the discoveries and the extraordinary generosity of people who are willing to give their time to share knowledge and expertise.
To all of you who are following my journey, thank you.