Bedouin Jewelry at the Bead Museum

An exhibition titled “A Woman’s Treasure: Bedouin Jewelry of the Arabian Peninsula,” is on view at the Bead Museum in Glendale, Ariz., and will continue through Feb. 15, 2004.

Bedouin women are given jewelry as dowry and wedding gifts, upon the arrival of children, and for ceremonies and special occasions throughout their lives. These ornaments are a woman’s treasure—her wealth, her savings account, her security, her possession. So honored were these objects that, even in times of battle, it was forbidden for rival warriors to loot a woman’s jewelry collection.

The craftsmanship and design of the pieces reflect a variety of cultural references, including the geometric patterns of Arabian design and architecture, potent symbols of Islam, charms to ward off evil, intriguing religious amulets, and the allure of adornment. The reference to “Bedouin” jewelry is in a sense misleading, since the pieces usually are made by urban craftsmen rather than the Bedouins themselves. However, it is the Bedouin women who have sustained the tradition and trade of the jewelry: In some cases, a silversmith would even travel with a particular tribe to make ornaments for the women.

Historically, a Bedouin woman’s jewelry is melted down upon her death, and examples of original pieces are becoming almost impossible to find. Drawing upon the collections of Frances Meade and Gabrielle Liese, “A Woman’s Treasure: Bedouin Jewelry of the Arabian Peninsula” features more than 100 pieces of jewelry, headdresses, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, coffee urns, incense burners, and other artifacts of Bedouin life.

The exhibit is funded in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, The Arizona Community Foundation, and the Northwest Bead Society. Guided tours, educational programs, and art-making activities also are available as part of the exhibition. The Bead Museum is located one block north of Glendale Avenue and 58th Avenue at 5754 W. Glenn Drive, Glendale, Ariz. Museum hours are Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Thursdays until 8 p.m.), Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call (623) 931-2737.