Now that the summer holidays have definitely drawn to a close, I’m happy to publish the third installment in our Beattie Archive mini-series from Katherine Clough, all about May Beattie’s summer adventures hunting carpets through Europe and Turkey. Through photographs and excerpts from her diary entries, we can experience some of May’s summer holidays vicariously, and get an insight into how the Beattie Archive was compiled.
For many the summer months are a time for adventures, relaxation and travelling abroad, with September signalling a return to working life. This blog post considers one of May Hamilton Beattie’s own summer excursions – in pursuit of carpets – in the summer of 1965, fifty years ago. Beattie travelled extensively in Europe, Central Asia and North America, visiting and recording carpets she encountered photographically, with analysis sheets and by recording her thoughts in detailed diary entries. In 1965 May and Colin Beattie left their Sheffield home by car to travel on a circuit through Europe to western Turkey and back again, driving through many countries, and stopping to visit rugs en route.
The opening paragraph of May’s diary shows how their journey did not always go to plan, but once at their destination she launched straight into intensive work on a rug collection:
We left Sheffield on Sunday the 18th, crossed as usual to Ostende, after suffering two punctures and discovering a weak-walled tyre on the way down and non-acting brake lights. Hardly a cheerful beginning! We were off the boat by 4.20 a.m. and in Düsseldorf by 10.30. There were more rugs there than I was aware of and some interesting fragments. I worked at top speed and still did not finish everything by 4.30 when we had arranged to meet outside. Col. had missed his way back to the car so I foraged in the lunch basket and sat in the sun outside the Museum and ate brown bread and butter and bananas, having had no lunch.
Car problems would hit several times that summer, with May writing about how she veered the car into a ditch on 26th August, on the road out from Konya in Turkey. Fortunately, neither Colin nor May were hurt and ‘there was not much apparent damage to the car apart from the fact that the gear lever came away in the hand’ on impact (MBA Ref 63, f.669). After a couple of days’ delay waiting for the repair work, they were soon travelling again.
At the front of her 1965 diary May filed correspondence with museums and collectors that she hoped to visit, sent in advance of their journey. Her diary notes list her encounters with museums, religious buildings and members of the community as well as detailed descriptions of rugs inspected, offering insight into particular carpets, but also into her life as a researcher in the 1960s. For example, a local doctor is very helpful following a visit to a bishop’s house in Romania in early August (MBA Ref 63, f.609):
Pure gold was forthcoming – an official list of the numbers of rugs and fragments at present in the Evangelical churches. This was more than I hoped for, and luckily the typewriter was in the car so that I got to work in the office and copied the list and such correspondence as was relevant.
The thoughtful doctor also provided ‘a letter to look at church rugs, which will allay the fears of the good ladies with the keys, who naturally think it odd that anyone should want to spend a day making notes on rugs’ and the nearby museum allowed her ‘to take small pieces of rug’ (MBA Ref 63, f.609). Textile fragments from another part of the archive are labelled with the same town names as on her 1965 trip – these notes could potentially provide provenance and further contextualization to the material. Beattie built up an extensive collection of such carpet samples, creating a useful resource for today’s researchers, especially as non-destructive methods of analysis are preferred these days for museum artefacts with restrictions on destructive sampling.
In another research stop-off, Beattie found a Dr Ditroi ‘quite charming’ in facilitating her research: ‘I spent an hour on the floor of his office looking at rugs – a perfectly good but coarse Lotto, kileem style, and a ‘Tintoretto’ type – very odd’ (MBA Ref 63, f. 598). She also recorded her frustrations and the effects of her perseverance in attempting to access some museum stores: one custodian ‘klinked his keys’ and ‘bristled with indignation’ at her persistent determination to visit Turcoman rugs (MBA Ref 63, f. 596). Walking round museums Beattie also noted paintings depicting carpets – an ongoing activity that would build up into her ‘Rugs in Pictures’ image index that makes up seven out of the seventy-five boxes of the total IMAG archive material and over 1,300 folios.
All of May’s diary entries were typed out on the move after long days of viewing carpets, with accommodation often little more than a tent, making the detail included even more remarkable. May did take a short break from research, over two-thirds of the way into their trip – it seems mainly at Colin’s request – to enjoy the scenery of Kuşadası Bird Island, near Ephesus, for a couple of days. They then set off again driving north round to Greece, and on to museum visits in Florence and Milan in Italy. Finally, the last sentence of her travel diary on 9th September 1965, writing from Milan, records her hunting for a different kind of textile: ‘To-morrow we must search out woollen clothes for we are back to northern Europe and its rain and cold’ (MBA Ref 63, f.703).
Beattie Archive Assistant
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
All images taken by author © Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology