Reverent Ornament: Art from the Islamic World Exhibition premieres at Grinnell College Museum of Art

September 14, 2022
Central Iran, Jug, late 13th century, underglaze-painted fritware. Collection of the Huntington Museum of Art, Gift of Drs. Joseph and Omayma Touma and family.
Central Iran, Jug, late 13th century, underglaze-painted fritware. Collection of the Huntington Museum of Art, Gift of Drs. Joseph and Omayma Touma and family.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, the Grinnell College Museum of Art (GCMoA) will open Reverent Ornament: Art from the Islamic World continuing through Saturday, Dec. 10. The exhibition explores the West’s fascination with the arts and crafts traditions of the Middle East and beyond.  

Including works of glassware, ceramics, metalwork, painting, weaponry, weaving, and more, this exhibition features 45 decorative art objects from a region whose everyday life, history, and culture offer many parallels to our own. The works, some of which are centuries old, include objects meant for palaces as well as ordinary homes, evoking a rich and comprehensive vision of daily life in the Near East, both recent and long ago.    

The Near Eastern world—roughly, the region of Asia west of India—is a vivid patchwork of many different peoples, languages, and traditions. Its history stretches back to Neolithic times, and its dynasties and empires have contributed in major ways to the development of human knowledge.  

Reverent Ornament was organized by the Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, W.V. The exhibition was selected by curator Christopher Hatten from the Huntington’s Touma Collection, which includes more than 400 works of art donated to the Huntington by Drs. Joseph B. and Omayma Touma. The Touma Collection celebrates the saga of an immigrant family from Syria who prospered in the United States and accordingly gifted their adoptive country with a rich window into their own origin and heritage. The exhibition is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C., a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and exposure to the arts internationally. The exhibition has previously been shown at the Las Cruces Museum of Art, Las Cruces, N.M. and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, M.D.  

Museum Director Susan Baley emphasizes that Reverent Ornament relates closely to the Grinnell College Museum of Art’s mission, saying, “The Museum was founded in 1999 with the intention of bringing outstanding regional, national, and international art to campus. Hosting an exhibition of Islamic art at this moment is particularly significant. We hope that viewing these Islamic art objects will help visitors see the similarities between cultures, rather than differences.”  

Related Events and Programs 

Peterson Lecture and Opening Reception 
Thursday, September 29, 4 p.m. 

Helen Evans: “The Kelekians: From Their Armenian Origins in the Ottoman Empire to Contemporary Art and America” 

Dikran Kelekian was one of the most important art dealers of the first half of the twentieth century. Many major museums have works of art that passed through his hands and those of his family. Helen Evans, Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art Emerita, Metropolitan Museum of Art, will explore the Kelekian family’s Armenian origins in conjunction with the Ancient Near Eastern, Islamic, Persian, and modern art traditions that he promoted and in which he dealt. Reception to follow. The public is invited to attend the free lecture and opening reception. Co-sponsored by Grinnell College Art History Department. 

20 Minutes @ 11 with Eiren Shea 
Tuesday, November 8, 11 a.m. 

Eiren Shea, Assistant Professor of Art History at Grinnell College, will speak about selected works from Reverent Ornament, considering the meaning of the term “Islamic art,” and how this art has circulated and been collected in Europe and the U.S.  

Information for visitors  

Grinnell College Museum of Art, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, 1108 Park St., Grinnell. Information about the exhibition and programming available at: or call 641-269-4660.  

The museum is open to the public and always free. Visitors may use the west (Park Street facing) or north (campus facing) doors to the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.Minors under age 18 need to be accompanied by an adult.  

Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. Find information about parking and accessibility and accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations at 641-269-3235 or   

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