Dee Birnbaum Collection of Textiles and Jewelry
Amassed during her travels starting in the early 1970s, this collection of clothing and jewelry from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia contains items collected by Dee Birnbaum such as the silver Uzbek bridal headpiece pictured below (DB-0991), that celebrate the unique textiles and jewelry styles that can be found in Middle Eastern bazaars. Many of the selections hold a priceless personal value to the collector, Dee, as some were gifts from families in the countries and regions being celebrated. (Banner image is DB-0601/0603.)
Red Coral Jewelry
Red coral utilized in jewelry of the Birnbaum collection was harvested from the Mediterranean Sea. Depending on the culture it symbolized wisdom, healing, protection, courage, strength, or good fortune.
Want to learn more?
Caroline Goodwin discussed the histories, meanings, and styles of red coral jewelry in this "Coffee & Curators" talk, presented March 2023:
Historical Context of the Birnbaum Collection
The textile collection illuminates how material culture collecting can have a lasting effect on the collectors’ life. This collection in general started out as a personal collection of Dee Birnbaum, who is currently an associate professor of business at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, and was amassed from travels and exploration. The collection is now one of the largest collections of its type in both number and geographic scope in the country.
"Silver Nubian bracelet with filigree work and bells" Egytpt/Sudan (DB-2299a)
The clothing in this collection includes shawls, tunics, and pants. There is also a large variety of jewelry that has been collected from small local bazaars during her personal travels. Some of the jewelry in the collection includes handcrafted bangles, jeweled necklaces as well as veil ornaments. This collection of over 2000 items is rare as it was not created as an academic pursuit but by personal means.
Egyptian Zar jewelry
Once widely practiced in Egypt but now largely performed in secret, Zar is a type of folk ritual intended to heal ailments believed to be caused by spirit possession. It is predominately associated with women.
Want to hear more?
Emily Bryant highlights some of the Zar-related pieces in this Coffee & Curators talk, presented spring 2022: