From Bethlehem to Banff?

Thanks to Jane Parkinson of the Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives at the Banff Centre for this post.

Part of the pleasure of working in an archives is that when you’re looking for something, you’re apt to come across something else, completely unexpected and probably more interesting than what you’re looking for.

This happened here a few weeks ago, when I was reviewing some contact sheets of conference photos from the early 1970s.  In a corner of one contact sheet, alongside images of a visiting conference group and some faculty portraits, there was this:

Unidentified copy print, Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives.

What the heck?

Looking a bit closer, it was clear that this was actually a photograph of a photograph.  I can picture the unknown photographer here in the 1970’s taking a photograph of an old print and giving the owner the negative.  Unfortunately, there’s no name of an original photographer or studio, or any other clue about where the original print was taken or when.

My curiosity aroused, I’ve since taken some personal time to look at our library’s books on costume design and confirmed that the costumes of the men were from somewhere in the Middle East.  To try to pin down where exactly, I focussed on the woman’s spectacular hat, and searching the web found references to the shatweh headdress traditional to Bethlehem. Underneath the white veil would be a cap hung with coins. The woman’s dress with the embroidered square (qabbeh) on the bodice and long pointed sleeves was known as a thob.  Here’s a photograph from the web showing the last Bethlehem woman to routinely wear this striking costume:  http://tinyurl.com/6mwxs28

The seated man is wearing a jubbe, an outer coat traditional throughout the Middle East. While he wears a cloth turban wound over a cap, the standing man – likely their son – wears a keffiyeh held in place with an agal.  You can also notice that the older man is smoking and carries a set of beads in his left hand.  This could indicates he was of the Greek Orthodox faith, as was most of the population of Bethlehem around 1900. Apparently, many of the Christians of that region emigrated to North America, particularly the US, in the twentieth century.

That’s as far as my research and speculations have taken me – maybe someone else has additional insight?

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