Treasures of the Stuart Cary Welch Color Slide Collection

These images came to the Harvard Fine Arts Library in the form of 35mm color slides--a new technology in Welch’s time, and one which he embraced with enthusiasm. Slide photography had facilitated Welch’s own education at Harvard. Coming of age in an era when there were few museum collections—and no undergraduate courses—focusing on Islamic or Indian art, he was proud to identify as an autodidact in both methodology and subject matter. In an era when most art history students learned from black and white photographs, Welch pioneered the use of the slide projector to magnify the tiniest details of “miniature” paintings, as they were then known.

On the central importance of photodocumentation in his work, Welch recalled, “Inspired  with missionary zeal, I not only took slides at home and at Harvard, but in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, and in most of the major private and public collections in England, France, Germany, Iran, and India. I also gave many slides and cameras to friends in the field. I taught all my students to take slides; and when I found exciting pictures, I often made duplicate slides for them.”1

Many of the objects he photographed remain difficult to access today, and are consequently understudied. Using the relatively new and easily portable medium of paper slides, Welch produced extensive photodocumentation of objects, paintings, and manuscripts. Many of these were in restricted collections—such as the famous Tahmasp or “Houghton” Shahnama acquired by publishing magnate Arthur Houghton II in 1959, and discussed later in this exhibit. Welch was also able to travel extensively in the Middle East and Asia in a way that is beyond the reach of most scholars today: his photographs of the so-called Gulshan Album, now kept in the Gulistan Palace Library in Tehran, are some of the most extensive images of these folios available outside Iran. Other treasures of the Welch color slide collection include: a Safavid copy of the ode to polo playing Guy o Chawgan of ‘Arifi (National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg), the dynastic history the Tarikh-i Khandan-i Timuriya or Timurnama (Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, Patna), which was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2011. Elsewhere, his meticulous photodocumentation serves to augment well-known works, such as his images of the Dara Shikoh Album now at the British Library in London. Images of these artworks form the backbone of the Welch collection, and are a valuable resource for students and researchers.

-Bronwen Gulkis

NOTES
[1] Welch qdt in Mary McWilliams, “Sketches in Appreciation of Stuart Cary Welch,” From Mind, Heart, and Hand: Persian, Turkish, and Indian Drawings from the Stuart Cary Welch Collection. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 2004), 19.

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