The DHL boxes arrived from Egypt adorned with pyramids, but it’s the grandeur tucked inside of those boxes that is absolutely making a scene at DFAC.
With great anticipation and gloves on, Curatorial Director Catherine Bergmann and Assistant Curator Nathan Beard opened each box, reached in, found treasure, and unfurled it. How many times can you gasp from shocked disbelief in one day? I counted 82 as each Tentmakers’ quilt revealed a new thrill.
A prancing horse, peacocks and parrots flocked here to be a part of this. Fantastically, a giraffe galloped forth from the collection before we were stunned to find a coral reef teeming with brilliantly colored tropical fish.
Not so suddenly and with great care, The Tentmakers of Cairo quilts were laid out in the Entel Family Gallery like a feast for the eyes. And that was before the exquisite pieces were even hung. Now, with the exhibit designed in full surround, you can almost imagine yourself wandering the Suq al-Khayamiyya—the Street of Tentmakers—where to this day, men can be found engaging in the ancient artform dating back to the pharaohs.
“When I discovered the Tentmakers of Cairo, I was captivated by their history and the skillfulness, brilliance and intricacy of their craft,” recalls Catherine. “Given that most fiber arts are traditionally made by women, I was intrigued that this centuries old art form is made by men.”
Catherine and I shared a few moments mesmerized by one vivid quilt of red and blue birds, both admiring and appreciating the delicate stitching of the feathers.
“I couldn’t have anticipated the wondrous impact of viewing the works in person,” she says. “Though, still unquestionably magnificent when seen over the Internet, the details of hand-stitchery are mind-blowing when witnessed firsthand.”
A grand experience full of awe and wonder awaits at Dunedin Fine Art Center with Tentmakers of Cairo, now through August 15. And on August 14, you can learn to “Stich Like an Egyptian” in a one-day appliqué workshop with visiting tentmakers, Ahmed Kamal and Tarek Abdelhay.
Story and Photography by Leslie Joy Ickowitz