Fredrik R. Martin, the Missing Man

Thomas Farnham

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Coffee House Club

In 1910, at the time of the Masterpieces of Mohammedan Art Exhibition in Munich, Fredrik R. Martin was perhaps the most distinguished historian of Islamic Art in the western world, a consequence in large part of the brilliance of his A History of Oriental Carpets before 1800, a work that is today, even more than a century after it was published, still regarded as one of the pillars in the field of carpet studies. But within a decade after the close of the exhibition, Martin had lost his luster, had become a “missing man.” Given his idiosyncrasies, his fall from favor was perhaps as predictable as his ascendance to prominence had been unanticipated. How he achieved and then lost distinction will be the theme of the talk.

Thomas Farnham spent his professional career teaching American history initially at the University of North Carolina and later in the Connecticut State University system. Farnham’s interest in carpets and textiles was ignited by his research into the life of Charles T. Yerkes, one of the so-called “Robber Barons” of the later 19th century and an unlikely, but significant, carpet collector. The result was a paper about the Yerkes collection that he delivered in 1993 at the Philadelphia International Conference on Oriental Carpets, a paper that was subsequently published in HALI. Since then the provenance of classical carpets, the collectors of classical carpets, and the dealers who have bought and sold them have been Farnham’s particular interests. Mr. Farnham was also the co-author of TIMBUKTU TO TIBET, the catalog for Hajji Baba Club’s 75th Anniversary Exhibition.