Exhibitions, Pedagogy, The Arts

Details, Delight, and Documentation: The Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian Photograph Collection

Stuart Cary Welch Jr. (1928-2008) was a celebrated curator, lecturer, and collector of Islamic and Indian art. His professional positions included Special Consultant in charge of the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a post he held from 1979-1987, and Honorary Keeper, then Curator of Islamic Art at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum from 1956-2008. He is credited with vitalizing the study of Western and South Asian art, culture, and aesthetics in the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century.
 
Cary Welch gravitated towards collecting art at an early age. The momentous occasion when, at twelve years old, he purchased his “first Safavi miniature for seventy dollars” coincided with a period of time in the West when private collectors, universities, and museums were not paying attention to the artistic traditions of the Middle East and South Asia.1 Cary Welch would later reminisce in 1990, “In the 1940s and 1950s, few institutions or individuals in the world more than casually collected Persian, Turkish or Indian pictures.”2 The similar lack of curriculum in the subject at Harvard, Cary Welch’s alma mater as both an undergraduate and graduate student, prompted him to forge a path in the field himself. In 1960, he became the first person in the university’s history to lecture on Near Eastern art. His dedication to the material was reflected in his persistent travel to view manuscripts, paintings, objects, and architecture in situ.
 
Stuart Cary Welch is likewise acclaimed for assembling important exhibitions of Persian and Indian art during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. His published scholarship was equally influential, and he is perhaps most notable in this regard for co-authoring a two-volume concordance of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, colloquially known as the Houghton Shahnama, with lifelong friend and scholar Martin Dickson. In addition to dozens of catalogues and articles on Islamic and Indian art, Cary Welch’s legacy extends to a collection of over 60,000 35mm slides currently housed in the Harvard Fine Arts Library. The images, spanning four decades of travel, document masterpieces of Islamic and Indian art from around the world. The Library is currently in the midst of a project to digitize and catalog these valuable and high-quality images, making them freely available for use by the public. You can keep up with the slides that have been digitized by looking at this search in our online catalog.

--Alejandra Dean and Logan Heiman

[1] Harvard Gazette. 11 September 2008. “Scholar, Curator, Connoisseur Welch Dies at 80.”
[2] Cowen, Mary S. 21 July 1980. “Related in Space.” Christian Science Monitor.

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