(NLAI) - On April, 4, 1929 a pioneering American expert on Persian/Iranian art named Arthur Upham Pope was given the authorization letter required for archeological studies in Isfahan. (Document #290003661 registered at the National Library and Archives of Iran dated 9th Ordibehesht, 1308 SH Solar Hijri calendar.)
Born in Phenix, Rhode Island, Pope graduated from Worcester Academy in 1899 and Brown University in 1904. He taught there for two years and received a Master's degree in 1906. He pursued further graduate work at Cornell University and Harvard University and again taught at Brown until 1911, when he was hired by the philosophy department at the University of California, Berkeley. During World War I, while teaching at Berkeley, he was active in the peace movement as California organizing secretary for the American Neutral Conference Committee. He left Berkeley in December 1917 under a cloud caused by his relationship with student Phyllis Ackerman. He taught briefly at Amherst College, where his friend and former professor Alexander Meiklejohn had become president. But he soon gave up teaching philosophy and pursued his passion for Persian art, which had begun with an early interest in Oriental rugs. He had organized his first museum exhibition of Middle Eastern carpets while still an undergraduate at Brown.
After the United States entered World War I in 1917, Pope took a job in the Personnel Division of the War Department’s General Staff in Washington, D.C. He began lecturing and writing on military morale and on the assessment for promotion of officers. After the war he was among the organizers of the League of Oppressed Peoples and made speaking tours in favor of the Irish Free State. He also intensified his study of Islamic art, a field that was not yet being taught in American universities.
Following a divorce from his first wife (who later became the author Bertha Damon), in 1920 Pope married his former student Phyllis Ackerman (1893-1977), who had completed a doctorate in philosophy at Berkeley in 1917 and shared his interest in textile arts. They had collaborated on an exhibition of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst collection in 1916 at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, and they continued to be partners in many projects for the rest of their lives, each crediting the other with greater expertise.
By the early 1920s Pope and Ackerman had developed a great deal of expertise as historians of Persian and related art, and they became advisors to major collectors and museums on the acquisition of Islamic art and artifacts. Pope's museum clients included the Metropolitan Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also advised wealthy individual collectors including Calouste Gulbenkian, William Randolph Hearst, George Hewitt Myers, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
In 1923, Pope was appointed director of the not-yet-opened California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Ackerman was named assistant director, and the two traveled in Europe to develop a collection for the new museum. Before long, however, their relationship with Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, patron of the museum, deteriorated and they resigned. Pope remained interested in museum planning, publishing an article on "Museum Fatigue" in 1924 and writing and lecturing about a new museum plan for San Francisco. He was a consultant to the planning process for an art museum and opera house in the Civic Center, San Francisco in the mid-1920s. In 1924 Pope and Ackerman bought the house in San Mateo, California they called "Scholars' Cottage" from its architect and first occupant, Ernest Coxhead. They sold it in 1943 and it later became a state and national historic landmark.
Pope made his first trip to Iran in the spring of 1925. He gave a speech urging Iranians to appreciate the architecture of their past and to use it as inspiration for modern buildings. Reza Khan Pahlavi, then prime minister and later Shah of Iran, heard the speech, met Pope, and began taking a personal interest in Persian architectural restoration and revival. He authorized Pope to enter key mosques to study and photograph their architecture and became a lifelong supporter of Pope's pursuits in the field.
In 1926 Pope helped design the Persian pavilion and organized an exhibition of Persian art for the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia. That year he also organized the first international congress on Persian art; he would lead four more of these congresses over the next 40 years. By 1927 he and Phyllis returned to San Francisco and pursued additional design projects, including an ornate Persian-palace-style interior for the penthouse of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and the interior of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, where they made extensive use of Middle Eastern Kilims as well as Native American artifacts.
In 1928 Pope founded the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology, which was incorporated in New York City in 1930 and later became the Asia Institute. He enlisted other scholars to teach and conduct research under the auspices of the institute, and he led numerous trips to Iran from 1929 to 1939 to photograph art and architecture and participate in archeological excavations.
His first major work was a report titled: « A systematic review of Persia's artistic development, in all its variety and unity and its vast temporal extent» The six-volume «A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present » was published by Oxford Press in 1938-39, and Pope and his colleagues arranged for several exhibitions of Persian art in the U.S. and Europe to coincide with the publication. To-date, this report is considered one of the most comprehensive surveys on the Iranian History of Arts.
During the Second World War Pope again worked for the U.S. government, drawing upon his expertise in languages and cultures. He also became a champion of Russia at a time when it was not popular to do so. He was a trustee of the American Russian Institute and a vice-president of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship. He published a biography of the Russian diplomat Maxim Litvinov in 1943. After Life magazine listed Pope in April 1949 among people they considered to be Communist sympathizers, some patrons withdrew their support of the Asia Institute.
Pope retired as chancellor of the Asia Institute in 1952 at age 71. The institute went into decline and no longer operated as the thriving educational institution it had been. Pope remained active as a scholar, publishing more than 20 articles and papers, as well as a book on Persian architecture, between 1952 and his death in 1969. In his lifetime, he arranged many exhibitions introducing Persian Arts: Philadelphia in 1926, London in 1931, Leningrad and Moscow in 1935, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington DC in 1960, Shiraz, Tehran, and Isfahan in 1968.
In 1964, during a state visit to Iran, Pope and Ackerman were formally invited to move the Asia Institute to Shiraz, Iran, where it would be affiliated with Pahlavi University and housed in the Narenjestan. They accepted the offer and in 1966 moved to Iran, where they would spend the rest of their lives. Due to the couple's persistence to be buried in Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah honored their request and a mausoleum was built where Mr. and Mrs. Pope rest in peace on the bank of the Zayandeh River near the Khaju Bridge in Isfahan.
Richard N. Frye a professor in Iranian studies has made a similar request to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be buried at the same place after his death.
The Asia Institute became a part of Pahlavi University and gradually declined, especially after the Islamic revolution in 1979. Eventually, the Bulletin of the Asia Institute was revived in Michigan in 1987.
In 2010 the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the museums Pope advised, presented an exhibition, "Arthur Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art," curated by Dr. Yuka Kadoi. In conjunction with the exhibition the museum held a symposium in which international scholars of Persian art discussed the life, achievements and influence of Arthur Upham Pope.
Although there have been speculations after his death; accusations that Pope played a role so that some precious items of Iranian Historical Heritage ended up in collections across the world but the fact that like Roman Ghirshman, he was a man devoted to Iranian studies and struggled to move beyond politics and religion is very remarkable and that's why he deserved a permanent place in the hearts and souls of Iranians for eternity.