Anatolian Ethnography
and Textile Studies in Istanbul


An exciting project is unfolding in Istanbul.  Josephine Powell's exceptional collection of Anatolian textiles and ethnographic objects, along with her extensive photo archives, field research notes and library will form the core of a new and unique center devoted to the study of village and nomadic life.

I would like to tell you a little about this remarkable 80-year-old woman, from my perspective as a personal friend.

Ms. Powell was an accomplished American photographer, ethnographer and legendary Istanbul personality long before I got to know her in the mid 1980's. Her architectural photos were widely published, with most of her work having been done in Asia, North Africa and Southern Europe. In the 1960's she became intrigued by the nomad and village cultures of Afghanistan. She spent several years photographing, gathering ethnographic objects and textiles, and planning Afghan, Pakistani and Moroccan exhibitions for Amsterdam's Instituut fur den Tropen and Rotterdam's Ethnographic Museum. Wilfried Stanzer has told me that during the 1960's in Afghanistan, he repeatedly heard reports of a mythical American woman who traveled fearlessly on horseback into the most isolated parts of that country. He never caught up with her during those years, but it was, of course, Josephine.

Josephine Powell, 1999
Josephine's interest soon turned to Turkey, and throughout the 1970's and 80's she visited nomads and villagers throughout Anatolia, photographing their daily activities and craft products. The photos here were taken by her during that period, and notes on them appear at the end of this page.   She told of the delights, but also the difficulties implicit in tracking pastoralists who were continually on the move... How one nomad family she encountered said immediately, "Of course she could photograph their textiles if she wished... She had already done so twice before!"

During those years, as country women's lives and textile art came to dominate Josephine's interests, she amassed an astonishing archive of photographs and field notes on the flatwoven textiles made by nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled weavers. She photographed kilims, brocaded weavings and decorated sacks in the tents and village houses of the people who created them, leaving us with no doubts about their proper attribution. She learned from the weavers exactly how each textile was used, and why it was made. She also photographed the countless older pieces preserved in small village mosques -- textiles that represented pious donations.  
Josephine gathered information from rural people themselves about their tribal histories and affiliations. Her collection of field notes and photo documentation is thus without parallel in the field of rug scholarship, and invaluable. Since little fieldwork has been done by other researchers among Anatolian pastoralists, her coverage of the diverse aspects of nomadic culture is especially important. Because of rapid recent societal changes, the life styles that she documented so carefully have now nearly disappeared.



Over the years, Josephine collected the best and most representative examples of nomadic and village woven art, along with a wide variety of other fascinating ethnographic objects: from weaving equipment, costumes and household items, to agricultural implements. Living in Istanbul since 1974, she made over thirty extended expeditions into the Anatolian countryside.

In the mid 1980's Josephine worked with her close friends Harald and Renata Böhmer in developing the now well-known DOBAG project. This effort helped to revive the use of natural dyes among villagers in western Turkey and helped with the marketing of superior quality rugs through co-ops in the Avacik and Yuntdag areas. At Josephine's insistence, the successful project in Orsille was organized strictly as a women's co-op -- a venture that was unique for Turkey. She was involved with all aspects of these projects and some of the early natural dye experiments were done in her own kitchen. Dr. Böhmer repeatedly acknowledged her invaluable assistance.
Josephine was also instrumental in the creation of an ethnographic section in Istanbul's Islamic Arts Museum. She collected materials, organized several displays and mounted a photo exhibit. The furnishings of her black goat-hair tent incorporate the work of three generations of weavers from one family. It is an accurate and homogeneous portrayal, quite different from the hodgepodge collections of articles from several places that so often characterize such exhibits.
Josephine's other displays include a Turkmen yurt from central Anatolia and a village room from Orsille in the Yuntdag hills. Still another shows weaving and dyeing materials and equipment. Josephine confided that when she couldn't persuade any of "her ladies" to part with a loom that had a kilim "in progress" for the exhibit, she decided the solution was to weave one herself! Thus the fascinating Ibrahim Pasha palace exhibit features a village loom from Anatolia, but approximately 20 cm. of tapestry that represents Josephine's first attempt at kilim weaving! It is splendid! She laughingly recounted how she wove, raveled, and re-wove, until she finally learned how to get it right!
I was familiar with the legends surrounding this brilliant and indefatigable woman when I first visited Josephine in Istanbul. Sure enough: her storied apartment was furnished merely with a folding table and two camp chairs, but crammed with piles of kilims, bags and bands, stacks of books, a couple of large decorated reed screens, and assorted wooden and metal implements. File boxes of photos and notes filled one wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves. A tiny kitchen was jammed with yarns and dye pots; the bathroom had become a photo lab. She seemed to be existing on strong Turkish coffee and her hand-rolled cigarettes. When I asked if I might describe her household, she said of course... She didn't mind being regarded as eccentric. She thought it useful for others to understand that some people actually CHOOSE simple life styles that allow them to focus on their primary interests. There hardly exists a more inspiring individual -- one who lived her life exactly as she pleased, wasting none of it.  

     Josephine Powell at home in Istanbul   
Josephine finally moved to a larger place in Istanbul, high on a hill over the Bosphoros, where she could enjoy spectacular views from her balcony of both the Asian side of the city and old Stanbul with its Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia. Though her furnishings there included a few exquisite old carved wooden cabinets rescued from a demolished village house, the folding table and camp chairs remained. Fabulous textiles dominated.
Over the several years that I knew Josephine, she was extraordinarily generous in sharing her knowledge and experience. She provided a much needed view of nomadic and village lifestyles that are often portrayed unrealistically in rug literature. With insatiable and wide-ranging interests in all aspects of Asian cultures, she encouraged and supported other scholars, even when their ideas and conclusions differed from hers. She continued to do so even when her help or the use of her source materials were not acknowledged. She exemplified scholastic integrity.

Josephine's Collection and Archives in Istanbul

Josephine's close friends and colleagues hounded her unmercifully over the last few years, urging her to put the invaluable research notes into permanent form that others could easily use. Although she continued with new research, frequently lecturing and publishing within the textile community, she gradually worked at organizing the archives. The 30,000 photos and endless field notes were far too extensive for routine publication, however. Her large textile collection included pieces of superb quality, but also fragments she chose for their educational value.

It had been hoped that the materials could be housed in their own building in Istanbul where the collection would be available to anyone with an interest in Anatolian ethnography, textiles, history, women's work or related subjects. The textiles and objects  ideally would be on permanent display, and available for hands-on study. The photographs and research notes are to be computer catalogued for easy access, and her library made available for general use.

At this moment, it is uncertain exactly how or where the collections will be housed or administered.
Unfortunately, Josephine died recently, and the disposition of her collection and research materials remains unsettled.  I will post information as soon as it is available.  




Notes on the Photos by Josephine Powell     

1.     Two girls help one another milk the family's sheep. Pusat köy, Sivas, 1977.

2.    A neighbor comes to help a mother and daughter baking yufka, a thin, unleavened bread. Sariz, Kayseri, 1985.

3.    The oldest unmarried Yörük girl leads the family's camels on migration.  Between Maras and Göksun, 1980.

4.    Young Yörük women walking with their camels on migration. Between Maras and Göksun, 1980.

5.    A Kurdish village woman showing the sacks she wove for her dowery. Birimuk köy, Malatya, 1980.

6.    A nomad woman pointing out that an eating cloth, a
sofreh, must be small and square so that everyone is equidistant from the platter of food. Temporary camp near Ceyhan, 1980.

7.    A Turkoman woman wearing a high felt cap covered with silver coins. The gold coins on her forehead are part of her dowry. Törnik köy, Ulas, Sivas, 1976.

8.    Mothers keep their young children with them when they go to a neighbor's to help with the weaving. Süleyman köy, Ayvacik, 1986.

9.     A woman from the town of Sariz milking her sheep up in the town's summer pasture. Sariz, Kayseri, 1985.

10.    A village woman baking bread in her fireplace. Bozlar köy, Esme, 1978.

11.     A village woman carrying water to her house, using two pots made in a nearby village. Yassibel köy, 1975.

12.    A new bride churning butter, supervised by her mother-in-law.   Isa Haci köy, Alaca, 1976.

13.   Carrying straw from the threshing field in a large goathair cloth on a two wheeled ox cart. Ayvacik,  1986.

14.   A village weaver clearing the shed for her rug's weft yarn.  Orsille, Manisa, 1986.

15.   Most of the village of Kurtdere near Maras still migrates to summer pasture in the Engizek Mountains.  In 1981, in the highest pasture, there were about 50 tents. Nurhak, Elbistan.

16.   A Kurdish woman in her traditional costume on a visit to relatives in a distant village. Ziyaret köy, Ergani, Diyarbakir, 1980.

17.   A Turkoman woman feeding young lambs near her tent in summer pasture. Kizilca köy, Nidge, 1985.

18.   This Yörük woman had not been able to finish weaving a grain sack in her summer pasture and when she opened her loom in a temporary camp something bad had happened to the warps.  It took at least half an hour and much effort for her and her daughter-in-law to get it right.  Solaklar yayla, Sariz, 1981.

19.   An elderly farmer looks at the current year's wheat, which his wife has just washed. She will make it into
bulgar, cracked wheat, to use for soup in the winter. Imranli köy, Silifki, 1973.

20.   A Kurdish woman wearing her traditional costume for a visit to relatives in a distant village. Ziyaret köy, Ergani, Diyarbakir, 1980.

21.   This Yörük woman is cleaning wool as she supervises her two daughters-in-law weaving a rug, in  summer pasture.  Near Doganbeyli, Adana, 1981.

22.   A village woman spinning. Kuzyaka köy, Sivas, 1980.

23.  A nomad woman weaving a goat hair cloth for the side wall of her tent--on a horizontal loom.  Temporary camp near Göksun, 1980. 

24.  After much effort and aggravation, the Yörük woman shown earlier finally got her loom set up, and so could once again weave on her storage sack!  Solaklar yayla, Sariz, 1981.


1690 Johnson Road NE
Atlanta, GA  30306  USA

Phone:  404-872-3356
E-mail:        HOME     Tribal Textiles     SITE INDEX