Celebrating Armenian Heritage through Photographs

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Seamstress Class Graduation, National Aramian Trade School (founded 1903), Sepastia, Ottoman Empire, c. 1908; photographer unknown. With the school’s motto “Art is the embodiment of beauty” (translation of the Armenian) on the wall, the varjouhie (teacher), seated center, is ready to present diplomas to her students. Note tools of the dressmaker’s trade: Singer sewing machine, thimble on a finger, and a tape measure draped around each graduate’s neck. (Photo courtesy of anonymous photo donor)

WASHINGTON (A.W.)—The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, “Armenia: Creating Home” on the Mall, June 27-July 1, and July 4-8, celebrates Armenian traditions. Artists from Armenia and the U.S. will participate together in performances and demonstrations of food, music, and craft. The festival offers “a glimpse into Armenian culture, greatly influenced by its surroundings, heritage, and ongoing exchange with its many diasporas

Smithsonian officials contacted Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives for photographs that show Armenian traditions alive and in use. Our two photo essays illustrate stories of people, communities, and culture. They will promote the festival and offer an introduction to those who are not familiar with Armenian heritage.

Sarkis Arakelyan, master craftsman of folk-music instruments, Soviet Armenia, c. 1930s; photo by S. Soloviev. Signs on the wall in Armenian and Russian speak of Arakelyan’s artadramas (workshop), his traditional artisanal techniques, and the services he provides. (Photo courtesy of Jack Torosian, translation by Aram Ohanian)

In 1988, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, “Massachusetts’ Ingenuity and Tradition,” welcomed Project SAVE to display photographs in an exhibit on the Washington Mall. Several of the same Smithsonian officials who were familiar with our collaboration three decades ago were in touch for this year’s feature of Armenia.

Asked for images that encompass music, food, dance and language, we selected photographs showing picnics for the first photo essay. Picnics are an enduring feature of Armenian life, gatherings where the shared traditions keep our culture vibrant. Young and old come together to participate in familiar customs. Our photos of picnics in America start in 1900 and continue through the decades.

Some picnic gatherings are organized formally by churches, political, and social organizations, while others are simple gatherings of friends and family. The sound of the oud or zurna, the alluring aroma of barbecuing meat, and the sight of traditional dances all contribute to the familiar ritual.

Dancing at picnic in the Catskills, Tannersville, New York, late 1920s, Photographer unknown (Photo courtesy of Sona Kludjian)

The festival will also be highlighting Armenian craft. Our second photo essay features artisans, including photos of formal training of Armenian men and women in the Ottoman Empire before 1915.

In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, photos of orphanages from our collection show children learning carpentry, shoemaking, weaving, and tailoring. These trades created opportunity and a livelihood for the boys and girls beyond the orphanage.

The selected contemporary photos show Armenian artisans from around the world mastering traditions, as they keep the artistry and the craft vibrant.

Project SAVE’s participation in the Folklife Festival is funded with the support of the Nersessian family, in memory of Berjouhie Betty Nersessian.

St. Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church annual Madagh (Offering) picnic, on a July Sunday 1978. Photo by Racine Journal Times photographer Rosario Natale D’Acquisto. (Photo courtesy of St. Mesrob Church, Racine, Wis.)

It is with great pride we share these photos to help promote Armenian culture through the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, which allows our photographs and their stories to reach new audiences beyond the Armenian community.

Project SAVE is dedicated to saving the photographic heritage of the worldwide Armenian community. Learn more by visiting www.Projectsave.org

Author information


Tsoleen Sarian

Tsoleen Sarian is the Executive Director of Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives. Her previous work in the non-profit sector has included Armenia Tree Project and the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, as well as a period with the Conflict Management Group. She serves in a leadership role at the Armenian Memorial Church, and on the Board of Directors of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Eastern Region.

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