In Harmony Brings to Light the Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art

February 20, 2013
Index Magazine

In Harmony Brings to Light the Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art

Dish for Sweetmeats, Iran, Seljuk-Atabeg period, c. 1200, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum.

Visitors to the Sackler Museum will soon have the chance to see a stunning collection of luxury glazed ceramics, illustrated manuscripts of medieval epic poems, and lacquerware collected by Norma Jean Calderwood, who dedicated much of her life to studying and teaching Islamic art. In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, opening January 31, presents some 150 works gifted to the Harvard Art Museums by Norma Jean and her husband, Stanford Calderwood, in 2002.

Norma Jean and Stanford Calderwood were energetic and generous philanthropists in their adopted city of Boston. Myriad institutions have benefited directly from the Calderwoods’ generosity. These include the Boston Athenaeum, Boston College, the Cambridge Art Association, the Harvard Art Museums, the Huntington Theatre, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MacDowell Colony (in New Hampshire), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and WGBH. The Calderwoods’ private collection of art from the Islamic world was the most tangible and personal expression of the couple’s lifelong involvement in the arts, but the collection was little known during their lifetimes.

“Only a lucky few who visited the Calderwood residence could enjoy the works of art that filled every wall, shelf, and cabinet, and appreciate the scope of her achievement,” said Mary McWilliams, curator of the exhibition. “With their gift to the Harvard Art Museums, Stan and Norma Jean opened to a wider audience the collection’s many pleasures and its potential for generating new insights into Islamic art.”

A popular lecturer both at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and at Boston College, Norma Jean often reminded her audiences that they could best study art history by seeing great works of art firsthand. The gift of the Calderwood Collection enhances the teaching of Islamic art with original works at Harvard University. Recognizing that the creation of the collection was the greatest accomplishment of his wife’s career, Stan requested that the collection be exhibited and published in ways that inspire other collectors to donate their own intact collections to museums or libraries. In Harmony and its accompanying catalogue honor those wishes and celebrate a devoted scholar.

In Harmony marks the first time we are using an augmented reality app called Layar in our galleries. Visitors who download Layar on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device will have access to a digital “layer” of content for several objects on view, including audio, video, images, and links.