Khaznat al-Faroun at Petra, Jordan. Photo taken by Calvin College professor Bert DeVries

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Lost City of Stone

News: February 10, 2005

Textiles Help Explain Ancient Bedouin Culture

When the Petra: Lost City of Stone exhibition comes to Calvin College in April for a four-month stay at the Prince Conference Center it will feature something with a unique Calvin connection.

Sally de Vries
Sally de Vries has collaborated with Jordanian colleague Widad Kawar on two books and several catalogues as well as the Kawar collection website at

Added to the show for its run at Calvin will be a display of Bedouin culture, featuring items from the personal collection of Sally de Vries, a member of the Petra Steering Committee who has been visiting the Middle East for some 30 years with her husband Bert, a professor of history and director of the Calvin archaeology minor.

During those three decades of traveling to, and even living in, the Middle East de Vries has acquired a large collection of Middle Eastern clothing as well as silver Bedouin jewelry, clay food storage pots, copper and tin Mansef serving trays, brass and copper coffee pots and roasters, goathair rugs and more.

So when Petra: Lost City of Stone comes to Calvin a significant part of the exhibition will be a display of that clothing, as well as many of the other objects of everyday life in Jordan.

In fact the display will be the first thing people see when they enter the exhibition.

And de Vries thinks it will be an important link between life in the Middle East 2,000 years ago (which is the focal point of Petra: Lost City of Stone) and life in the Middle East today (which is the heart of her collection).

"Most of my clothing," she says, "is still worn today by the people of Jordan. Yet, what drew me to the clothing first and still fascinates me, is that this clothing can be traced back hundreds of years."

De Vries hopes that people will make the connections between her examples of every day life in Jordan and the Petra exhibition.

"It will be a nice bridge," she says, "between life for the Nabataeans, the people who settled Petra around the time of Christ, and life today in Jordan."

Although her collection includes over 100 dresses the display at Calvin will feature 15-20 pieces, including not only women's dresses, but also men's clothing. In fact, one of the more interesting components of the display will be an area where the men are gathered for coffee.

Mannequins will be outfitted with traditional Jordanian garb and they will be seated around all of the implements needed to make traditional Arab coffee, including tools for roasting the beans, trays for cooling the beans, cups and more.

The making and sharing of coffee is about so much more than just the coffee de Vries says. She notes that it's very ceremonial (including things such as what hand is used to pour the coffee and how many cups should be consumed before one shakes the cup to indicate he's had enough). And she hopes that the display at Calvin will give exhibition attendees some sense of the importance of the event.

The display also will include an example of a Badia Desert Patrol uniform (the Badia Patrol are the Jordanian guards who have been the police force of the desert for centuries). Through her connections with the Jordanian Royal Family, de Vries was able to get a complete Badia Patrol outfit, including beautiful, black leather shoes, olive-green pants and shirt, a red sash, a brown, leather belt and holster for a weapon and ammunition, and the traditional red, checkered head gear known as the kefiyah.

Also on display from de Vries' collection will be a number of beautiful handmade rugs, many of which bear a striking resemblance to traditional Native American designs. And, of course, there will be a variety of dresses, including a dress from the Jordanian town of Salt that is 16 feet in length!

DeVries says the Jordanian dresses have long been a favorite of hers, ever since she saw her first one in the late 1960s.

"Many are made of beautiful silk," she says, "and then adorned by hand with colorful decorations."

Even the simple cotton dresses that are ubiquitous in Jordan display a beauty and a flair that de Vries still finds captivating 30 years later. Many are dyed a beautiful blue, using the indigo plants that grow in the Jordan Valley. Some of those dresses have a famous double-stitched embroidery known as "needle daughter of a needle." Others have hem-stitch embroidery that again is remarkably similar to Native American patterns. But all of the embroidery, de Vries says, is striking in its bright, vivid colors and its flawless symmetry.

"The hand craftsmanship on these dresses is amazing," she says. "When people see these dresses I think they will be captivated by the skill and artistic expression they demonstrate."

Waves of sand