the ornament bookshelf 12 ORNAMENT 38.2.2015
Marjorie Ransom. 2014. Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba. Regional Yemeni Jewelry. The American University in Cairo Press: 246 pp., hardbound $49.50.
Author Marjorie Ransom and her late husband David served long careers in the diplomatic corps, with two postings in Yemen, beginning in the 1960s. It was there that she bought her first piece of silver jewelry; their joint collecting of jewelry, as well as clothing, continued, along with her desire to learn more about personal adornment of the Arabian peninsula. The catalog, Silver Speaks, an exhibition of the Ransom collection by the former Bead Museum, Washington, D.C., subsequent articles in Ornament and Aramco World, all photographed by this reviewer, may have helped her decision to write a series of books on Yemeni jewelry and clothing.
Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba is the first volume of that series. What really enhances Ransom’s book are the photographs she took of landscapes, cities, buildings, and people of this country, now so much in the news due to the conflict that is shattering Yemen. These revealing photographs were taken during their tenure in that country, as well as other travels and research trips for the book; for a remote, mountainous and varied geography, such images provide much understanding of why regional jewelry of this country is so diverse. There have been few books on ethnographic jewelry that have tried to specifically identify jewelry and clothing from such clear locales.
Approximately thirteen hundred photographs of jewelry and clothing were shot by this reviewer in some six long days at Ransom’s apartment, using an improvised studio. Instead of my usual softbox, we used light reflected from silvered umbrellas, resulting in less intense lighting and some slight loss of depth-of- field in a few images of the book.
When a person acquires a collection that is comprehensive and most likely not repeatable, that collector has the responsibility to preserve the important cultural information. Ransom has done so admirably, and I look forward to more of her studies on Yemeni jewelry.
Robert K. Liu