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"Traditional Costumes from Jordan and Palestine"
The Private Collection of Widad Kawar

Many years ago I was given two traditional costumes as a present. I was then already interested
in the textiles and jewelry, but I never thought that one day this present would grow to be the ;largest collection and costumes from Palestine and Jordan.

I grew up in Bethlehem and studied in Ramallah, both of these cities were treasures of heritage and traditional styles. Both were weaving and embroidery centers and sold their products to the women of other villages.

Jaffa area costume

Beit Jala area costume

Nablus area costume

Hebron area costume

I continued my studies at the American University in Beirut where a teacher of English Mrs. P. Sutton had already carried out a
research on Ramallah Embroidery and made
some of us work on samples of traditional patterns.

Back home I saw and felt the influence of the Arab - Israeli war of 1948-49 on the people. The beautiful picture I had of the village women dressed up in their best costumes coming in groups to the market in Bethlehem had vanished. Their village had been occupied and these women and their families were settled in refugee
camps - facing a new style of life and a new "camp culture".

This situation made me put an effort in collecting some costumes with the information about them from their owners. After the war of 1967, I faced a reality - all villages in Palestine are now occupied and I had to double my work in collecting the genuine pieces before they are influenced by the refugee camp styles. With the costumes I had to collect the accessories such as jewelry, head covers, the belts and items that women prepared for the weddings - these included cushions and home embroideries.

Living in Amman I became attracted to the interesting Jordanian costumes, the large grand costume of Salt, with its Syrian woven silk "Asbe". The variety of woman's costumes in North Jordan, and the most colorful costumes of Ma'an. The Bedouin costumes all intrigued me, especialy the embroidered Adwan Costumes.

Madaba area costume

Um Qais area costume

Ma'an area costume

Irbid area costume

In general the costumes in Jordan were infesting, unique and spectacular and were disappearing from use very quickly. I started collecting samples available and information. Besides the vast collection made by Mrs. Sa'adeyeh El Tell for the Jordan Popular Museum of Costumes and jewelry, there is no other collection. I learned a lot from Mrs. Tell on both Jordanian as Arab city culture and the museum she created in the Amphitheatre is the best of its kind in the Arab world.

To follow up research on the textiles I made many visits to Syria where the silks, belts and some head shawls were woven especially for woman in Palestine and Jordan. It was a disappointment, as the beautiful textile world of Syria was changing and the hand weaving techniques were being replaced by mechanical looms.

Through my interviews with the women of my country whether from village or the city, I got to know the women well and got to know her position in the family, her changing role in a fast changing world, her attachment to her heritage and her patience and endurance under all kinds of stress, in order to keep her familytogether.

Although my collection has now expanded tocover up other Arab countries.

The women whose heritage I collected remained my inspiration.

They have honoured me by sharing their sad and happy memories of the past with me, they inspired me to pass on their rich culture to future generations.

Widad Kawar


Bethlehem Head Dress

Silver Choker (Kirdan)

Gaza Head Dress


The largest and most complete collection of embroidered Palestinian costumes in private hands is the expression of one woman's dedication to preserving a dazzling Falahi art and the reality of a land that much of the world was prepared to forget. A passionate collector, Widad Kawar has also been a generous mentor to writers researchers and museums interested in this beautiful embroidery. Her collection has delighted viewers at exhibitions worldwide and can be appreciated by the sophisticate lover of abstract art and those who simply enjoy its happy color.

Inea Bushnac
Author of Arab Folktales
New York

Inspecting Widad Kawar's collection of embroidered Palestinian and other Arab dresses is like sugar for a child. I sink into a painfully rich nostalgia as I intellectually examine the patterns and their meaning. There is marvelous visual history in this art. There is a language of signs and symbols formulated over centuries of collective thinking. These dresses contain our history and are part of how we attended births and weddings, how we worked, and how we grieved for our dead. Some of the dresses also have embroidered expressions of our resistance to liberate ourselves from Israeli aggression. This last fills the complement of a unique collection and bears witness to a consummate lover and collector.

Samia A. Halaby,
Palestinian Artist


Exhibition of the Kawar Collection

With the help of some of the embassies in Amman and the Ministry of Tourism, long-term exhibits were planned for the collection. Arranging the first exhibit was the most difficult. The tour took place in the following places:

1986 Prachc und Geheimnis - Museum fr Volkskunde, Cologne, Germany
1988 Memoire de Soie, Institute de Monde Arabe, Paris, France
1989 Pracht und Geheimnis - Museum fr Volkskunde, Munich, Germany
1990 Culture from Palestine and Jordan, Singapore Archaeology Museum
1990 Costumes Dyed by the Seam, Tokyo, Japan
1991 Two Thousand Years of Colour, Ahus, Denmark
1992 Two Thousand Years of Colour, Oslo, Norway
1993 Two Thousand Years of Colour, Stockholm, Sweden
1996 Two Thousand Years of Colour, Rykiwisk, Iceland

List of Books on the Collection

"Costumes Dyed by the Seam" - 1982, Bunka Publishing Bureau, Tokyo, Japan
Palestinian and Jordanian Costumes, "Kawar Collection", Catalogue by Bunka Gakeun, 1993, Costume Museum Publishers Pracht und Geheimnis Memoire de Soie, Institute du Monde Arabe
2000 Years of colour, Moesgand Museum, 1991, Denmark
Weaving in Jordan, 1980, Amman, Jordan
Fellahi Stitch, "Palestinian Embroidery", with Tanya Naser and others



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