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The Story of Clara Abkar: The First Iranian-Armenian Miniaturist Painter

17:34, October 28

Clara Abkar was 73 years old when she turned her home into a painting teaching studio. Two years later, a museum of her work opened in the former royal palace of Saad Abad in Tehran. She is known as Iran's first female miniaturist, but she never put any of her works on sale during her lifetime, Iran Wire writes.

Clara Abkar was born in Tehran on November 5, 1915, to an Armenian family from New Julfa, the Armenian quarter of Isfahan. Her parents soon noticed her talent.

She received her primary education at the Armenian school of Davotian, later called Kushesh. As a child, Klara did not spend money on things that other children her age usually wanted; instead, she bought gold coins, rubbed them into thin layers of gold, and then used them in gilding the miniatures she painted, following the old tradition of Iranian miniature painting.

Her devotion to verisimilitude is evident in her later works, often startling and puzzling to those who saw them. "On a piece of white paper, I drew a piece of old silk fabric," she said. "A guest, an art connoisseur, asked me, "Is that a painting or a real piece of cloth?" To test him, I said it was a piece of fabric, and he reached out to examine the silk fabric. A similar illusion occurred to the then Minister of Culture and Arts. He imagined that the turquoise stones on the tube were real and touched them with his fingertip."

When Clara was in high school, she was supported in every way possible, not only by her parents but also by her art teacher. "Caring teachers, especially my drawing teacher Margar Gharabekian [Iranian Armenian poet and artist], played a significant role in my life," she once said.

In 1934, Clara entered the Tehran Women's Art School and studied miniature painting with masters such as Mohammad Hadi Tajvidi, who revived the Persian art of miniature painting after about three centuries and pioneered a new style called the Tehran School of Miniature Painting. Her other teachers included Taher Javadzadeh, a master miniature painter, Mirza Ali Darroudi, who taught the art of illumination, and Hossein Kashi-Tarash, an expert on Girih tiles used in Iran's Islamic architecture.

"I had seen Girih tiles in Armenian art books," Clara recounted. "When, on my long journey to art, I met the outstanding master Hossein Kashi-Tarash and his astounding genius, I couldn't resist taking a sip from the ocean of his knowledge. So, under his guidance, I started learning the art of Girih tile making, an art that was indeed very difficult and time-consuming."

After three years at a women's art school, Clara received a diploma in miniature painting and, in 1938, entered the Higher Academy of Fine Arts. At this academy, she also earned a degree in miniature painting. By this time, she was already an expert in miniature painting, lighting, Giri tiles, and lacquer painting.

Clara was 40 years old when, after 14 years of working and teaching, she joined the School of Fine Arts at Tehran University. Three years later, she received her Bachelor's degree.

Clara was retired from public service in 1977, even though she believed that "artists should not be allowed to retire, because it is at the moment when an artist is at the peak of his art...that she receives notice of retirement."

Abkar was a member of the Iranian Art Organization. Her works were exhibited in many exhibitions and she enjoyed great fame in Iran. In 1988, at the age of 73, she held her first exhibition at the National Museum of Art of Iran.

In 1989, she was awarded a master's degree from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Around the same time, she decided to turn her own house into a painting studio, which also served as an exhibition of her works. Finally, she donated her house and all her works to the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran.

On May 18, 1994, to commemorate International Museum Day, the Clara Akbar Museum was opened in the gardens of the former royal palace of Saad Abad by order of the Government, displaying her significant works.

Despite her financial needs, Clara Abkar has never put her work up for sale. "How can you sell your children?" - she used to say to those who insisted on buying her work.

Clara Abkar died on March 20, 1996 at the age of 81.  She was buried in the Armenian cemetery of Burastan in Tehran.

 


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