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Volume 27, Number 1January/February 1976

In This Issue

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Waldmeier's Watercolors

Theophilus Waldmeier, a dedicated Swiss who founded Lebanon's Brummana High School and Asfuriya Mental Hospital, had his lighter side. Having been born before the age of amateur photography, he turned his versatile hand to sketching. When our reporter—was researching the article on Waldmeier's weightier accomplishments (Aramco World, July-August, 1975), she was shown two sketchbooks, dated 1875 and 1876, containing his impressions in pen and ink and watercolor. They reveal, not a great artist, but a man with a quick eye and hand, a sly sense of humor, and a warm affection for his fellow man and woman. Some of the sketches show the artist himself—riding a horse, having his hair cut, being spoon-fed by his hostess—and these reveal that Waldmeier also possessed the great gift of not taking himself too seriously.

Most of the people who figure in the sketches were Waldmeier's friends, neighbors and co-workers. Their names are written beneath their portraits, often with a short note on the opposite page recording some particulars of the scene. In 1935, a relative of Waldmeier's added to the notes bringing the information up to date—whom the subjects married, the names of their children and grandchildren, and, once, the charming remark, "Mrs. Little remembers the dog." The sketchbooks were a family album, an illustrated diary, one man's book of memories.

But they are more than that as well. They present a marvelously detailed record of village life in the mountains of Lebanon exactly 100 years ago. Here we see women baking bread in a clay tannur, their children hungrily looking on. There is a man dancing with a jar on his head at a village feast. One sketch, entitled "Reciting an English Lesson," shows only three pairs of bare feet, the big toes crossed in embarrassment and effort. Another depicts two women sitting on a rug and smoking a narghila, or waterpipe. In still another a man drinks from a clay ibriq , holding the jug well away from him so that the water travels in a perfect arc from the spout to his mouth, a feat still practiced today.

The costumes are resplendent. A young man goes courting in blue pantaloons, a mulberry jacket encrusted with gold braid, a blue-and-white striped shirt with ruffled cuffs, a figured shawl wrapped round his waist. A splendid-bosomed lady stands before a fireplace in a long gown of green stripes with a red figure, a purple sash buckled with gold, a white blouse cross-hatched in red, and a white veil over a rakishly tilted red headband. Another well-dressed lady wears a long snuff-colored dress trimmed with black braid, a black velvet jacket trimmed with gold, a white under-blouse with gold cuffs, a gold stomacher, and a white veil and a flower in her hair. Then there is the gentleman on the opposite page, whose dress is comparatively plain, except for the magnificent abaya striped in beige and chocolate brown.

Collectively, the pictures present a warm-hearted appreciation of these mountain villagers and an attractive self-portrait of Theophilus Waldmeier, philantropist, educator, patriarch—and gentle satirist.

This article appeared on pages 14-21 of the January/February 1976 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for January/February 1976 images.