Objects That Transcend: Metalwork from the Garabedian Collection

Metal objects in Syria and throughout the Middle East had important and widespread use; cooking was done in metal vessels, the hands of guests were washed in metal ewers, the literate used metal inkwells, wealthy women used metal toiletries such as metal-back mirrors and cosmetic containers. These metal works were noted for their function, inventiveness of form, and fineness of surface treatment. Because Muslim tradition was disinclined to trade, many of the more creative copper pieces of the Ottoman period were made by Armenians, as revealed by their interesting inscriptions that often mixed with Green and Christian crosses.

The manufacture of metal vessels was typically a family tradition–metal smiths had titles attesting to their education and status in society. Some apprentices were initiated into the secrets of the profession to help the master metal smiths; others were itinerant artisans. Casting was done in workshops equipped with molds and lathes for finishing the work. Skilled craftsmen used portable tools and moved among the patrons who provided them with the precious metals, thus contributing to the spread of patterns, motifs and varied techniques in the crafting of metalwork.

Often made to order with inscriptions identifying the maker, owner, or dynasty they were  made, these objects are testimate to the ingenuity and general refinement of Armenian daily life. These late 18th to 19th century pieces are important additions to ALMA’s metal ware collection. Beyond everyday objects, they transcend both form and function to become evidence of a vivid Armenian tradition that was passionately collected by Berdj Garabedian and is now permanently presented in the Armenian Museum Galleries.

SKMBT_C36414102312440_0001 (2)Berdj Garabedian understood theat preserving Armenian Culture is the sacred and ultimate duty of every Armenian. This remarkable collection of metalware is a testament to his life’s passion and commitment toward that goal. Born in 1908 Beirut, Lebanon, Garabedian developed a passion for collecting at an early age. Moving between Beirut and Damascus, he was surrounded by ancient traditions and cultures with extensive Armenian and Middle Eastern influences.

In collaboration with His Holiness Karekin Hovsepian of the See of Cicilia in Antelias, he organized a coin exhibition in the late 1940s, hoping that it would be incorporated into a museum collection. The Catholicos then assisted Garabedian in obtaining a scholarship for Armenian numismatic studies at the Sorbonne. There, Garabedian began developing his status within the numismatic world, and was invited first by St. Lazar, and later by the Vienna Mekhitarists, to study and catalog their extensive collections. However, just before Garabeidan’s graduation, the passing of the Catholicos in 1952 ended his dreams of becoming a curator. When he returned to Lebanon he was disappointed to find out that the new administration did not want to invest in a museum.

In 1955, Garabedian moved back to Damascus and worked odd jobs to provide for his family. Selling typewriters and cameras by day and studying coins and looking for new metalware by night, he traveled throughout Historic Syria seeking pieces that told the stories of their makers and previous owners and began to collect with passion. After the war in Lebanon ended in 1978, he moved to the United States and settle with his mother-in-law and daughters in California, where he died in 1987. He is survived by his three daughters.