The Traditional Crafts Of Persia
Their Development, Technology, and Influence on Eastern and Western Civilizations
Persia for centuries occupied a pivotal position between East and West. Besides the high originality of its own culture, it was the medium of “osmotic diffusion” between the Hellenistic and European cultures, on the one hand, and those of India and China, on the other. In the process, the Persians absorbed much of the best of both worlds and developed arts and crafts of great refinement and luster.
Unfortunately, historical studies have tended to be polarized between the ancient and Islamic periods, and a history of the continuous development of Persian technology has not heretofore existed. More unfortunately still, as one more Western influence is impressed on the region—that of modern industrialization—these traditional crafts are not likely to survive much longer. Not unlike the rescuers of the Egyptian antiquities threatened by the Aswan Dam, Hans Wulff has been able to record the whole range of Persian technology before the floodgates of industrialization fully opened.
Hans Wulff is superbly qualified to perform this service for a great civilization. Trained in Germany as an engineer, he lived in Iran for five years and served as Principal of the Technical College at Shiraz, where the curriculum included training in silver smelting, engraving, wood carving, brocade weaving, and other crafts. He sought out the tribesmen in their tents, the peasants in the village, the craftsmen in the bazaars, who freely displayed their skill and techniques (although, for some reason, the dyers tended to be rather cautious about sharing their trade secrets). Moreover, his approach here is solidly historical, carefully tracing the strand of influence of this complex fabric over many centuries and through many cultures, both Eastern and Western. Finally, a vast lexicon of technical terms relating to all the major crafts of Persia has been compiled for the first time in this work. The author's thorough knowledge of Persian may have preserved many of these terms from ultimate oblivion.
With the aid of 423 drawings and photographs, some in color, this graphic history of technology contains material on:-Metalworking, including mining, founding, smelting, inlaying, and goldthread making. A highlight concerns the techniques of damascening steel.-Woodworking, building, and ceramics. Of special interest is the description of the processes used in making the famous lustered ceramic ware.-Textiles and leather. Historical light is thrown on the tangled question of the origin of the draw loom and on the importation of Syrian techniques and Chinese patterns.-The agricultural arts. Water power and wind power, milling and oil pressing are described, as are the dams, weirs, reservoirs, canals, and the irrigation quanāts still operative after 2,700 years.
A note of modern interest: it may be that the “draw boys,” who manually plucked the threads of the loom to effect the proper pattern, were among the first victims of automation; they were replaced by an early kind of “punched-card” system.