Marjorie Ransom’s renowned collection of Yemeni Jewellery is a rare and valuable contribution to the world of cultural heritage preservation. Her intimate knowledge of the Yemeni land and people – both the wearers and the makers of these treasures – is a gift to the world. We had the pleasure and privilege to welcome Marjorie to Dubai, to spent time with her, learning about her collection and introducing her to ours.
Her generosity in knowledge and wisdom was surpassed by her bearing a gift of a Thawb Najdi, originally from the Nahid region of Saudi Arabia, dating back to the 1950s. The garment is made from black tulle with two side panels in gold brocade with fuchsia triangles. It has hand embroidered trim of coloured sequins. The yoke is crocheted in with silver and gold coil thread. A special addition to the Zay Collection.
Marjorie’s love for Yemen and her passion for Yemeni silver jewellery has developed over many years. As a US diplomat, Marjorie and her husband spent twenty years in the Middle East as a tandem couple, and several of these in Yemen. During that time, they both became enamoured by the traditional silver jewellery worn by Arab women and started collecting some pieces. This eventually grew into a substantial collection of jewellery from across the Arab world but mostly from Yemen. The collection now numbers around 1500 pieces.
After her retirement in 2001, Marjorie, now widowed, decided to go back to Yemen to research the origin of her collection. Two small grants received from the US Institute of Yemeni Studies allowed her to go back. “It was the biggest adventure of my life,” Marjorie told us. “I hired a car and driver and went everywhere I was allowed to go. I went into the silver markets and talked to the silver dealers who often invited me to their homes where I could talk to the women and children.” Although she owned many pieces collected over many years, she was a collector, not a scholar. Now, she had the opportunity to change that.
The result of her studies is a book called Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba, published by The American University in Cairo Press. The book not only tells the stories of the costumes and jewellery of Yemen and the people who wore it but illustrates these stories with colour images of people and places rarely seen by the outside world. Marjorie is currently working on a second volume telling the stories of the silversmiths who designed and made these treasures.
Marjorie regularly lectures and talks on these topics and has held a few exhibitions in the US of parts of her collection.
In December 2019, Marjorie was a guest at Dr Reem’s home where the women bonded over their shared love of traditional Arab dress. They used this opportunity to explore The Zay Initiative’s collection of Yemeni dress and embellishments. Marjorie generously shared her knowledge and insight with us, giving us insightful information on the origin of our own collection in cases where we were unsure and concluded that it is indeed an excellent collection, representing all aspects of Yemeni culture. Her valuable insight helps us to update and expand our digital archive.
The Zay Initiative Collection includes several Yemeni garments and jewellery items from different parts of the country, different time periods and designed for different occasions. As some of these items’ provenance were unknown to us, we are delighted to have Marjorie as an advisor and friend, so willing and generous with her knowledge and input, helping us to document our existing collection and advising us on new acquisitions.
Our task of preserving and documenting Arab traditional dress would not be possible without people like Marjorie Ransom and our other advisors. Our sincerest gratitude to all of them.
- If you are a collector or scholar on any form of Arab dress, jewellery, adornment or textile culture, we invite you to contact us. We would be delighted to share with you and learn from you.
- If you are interested in supporting The Zay Initiative as a sponsor or donor, contact Emma, our strategic advisor, for more information at [email protected]
To see our Yemeni garments, visit our digital archive.
To learn more about Marjorie’s collection and book, visit her website.