Tag Archives: infobits

Albanian American War Veterans (AAWV)

I am a proud Albanian-American veteran of WWII where I served in the Pacific aboard a Destroyer-Escort with a crew of about 220 men.  Although the Orthodox religion wasn’t then practiced in the U.S. Navy (back in those days, you were designated Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish), and  I was occasionally teased as being an “Albino.”  I am thankful in my resolve to proudly proclaim that I was Albanian even though most of my shipmates didn’t know where Albania was located on a map.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, a vital source of news for the Albanians of Massachusetts was a radio program called “Zeri i Shqiperise” (Voice of Albania) that was broadcast in the Albanian language  each Sunday morning  by the popular Nuci Cojo over Boston radio station WORL. Albanians clustered around their radios  to listen with rapt attention as Nuci announced in his trigger-fast-delivery-style Albanian community events — births, weddings, baptisms, picnics, dances, deaths, etc., and, when available, news about the motherland, Albania.

On Nuci Cojo’s radio program (on one such Sunday morning), the eminent Albanian-American MD, former WWII U.S. Navy Lt-Cdr. Andrew Elia, broadcast an appeal for all Albanian-American WWII veterans to attend a meeting at the Boston West End Settlement House then located near Leverett Circle (Note: Dr. Elia served as the model for the ship’s doctor in the novel “Mr. Roberts” by Thomas Hagan.  Dr. Elia was portrayed by William Powell in the movie version of the same name).  

So, as a WWII U.S. Navy veteran, I was one of some 100 men – and 1 woman –  at the  settlement house meeting who  listened to Dr. Elia’s strong intent to establish an Albanian-American war veterans organization in Boston. I recognized a few of the men present having seen them in uniform previously at various Albanian events in Boston including Peter Chani and Archie Anthony, both U.S. Army 2nd lieutenants, Peter  Chicos, a U.S. Army major,  and Jimmy Kosmo who, crisply uniformed, looked like a combat trooper for a U.S. Army enlistment poster.

albanian american war veterans

Standing left to right: Angelo Andon, George Ratska, James Kosmo, George Chani, Louis Kosmo, Nick Tochka, William Kosmo, Steve Peters, James Christo
Seated left to right: Dr. Andrew Elia, Paul Apostol, Al Tromara, Peter Chani, John Chicos, Peter Lukas

After Dr. Elia completed his presentation,  it was accepted with enthusiastic approval by the audience of WWII veterans for what would eventually become known as the Albanian-American War Veterans of the United States, Inc. (AAWV).

Peter Chani asked me to design AAWV’s new symbol (logo) so on a meeting room blackboard,  I sketched a concept that came to me immediately of an American stars-and-stripes shield superimposed on an Albanian  double-headed eagle. My design was unanimously approved along with an urgent request that I – ably assisted by the talented sign letterer,   Mike Markou –  immediately begin to produce  master  artwork for the  new symbol that would be utilized as the official AAWV emblem for signeage, letterheads, lapel pins, etc.

 A committee was  formed to establish an AAWV constitution which was subsequently adopted at  in December, 1946, where Ted Mantho, a Boston attorney,  was nominated to serve as the AAWV’s first commander.  An  Inaugural Ball to launch the new Albanian American War Veterans  was held on April 24,   1947, at the Hotel Bradford in Boston.  Commander Mantho welcomed all guests and after a short speech about the AAWV and its purposes,  invited all Albanian-American WWII veterans to come forward so he could administer the oath of AAWV membership  thereby making it an official and legal U.S. veterans entity.

Although formed as a social organization, the AAWV devoted considerable time, energy, and finances to keep Albanian culture, language, and traditions alive through its various picnics, dinner-dances, and other social gatherings.  Especially notable was a major AAWV initiative   in the Albanian community by bringing together on several occasions representatives from the three Boston Albanian orthodox churches and other organizations to promote both religious and civic harmony.  The AAWV also organized charity drives for the cancer fund, and helped needy families.

Over the years, the AAWV participated actively in various Veterans Day observances and ceremonies at the Massachusetts State House and other governmental locations  where the Albanian-Americans distinguished themselves  by their presence and by proudly displaying both American and AAWV flags.  Veterans Day luncheons at Anthony’s Pier 4 were hosted by the late Anthony Athanas who was awarded Honorary Membership in the AAWV.

Following Ted Mantho, the first AAWV commander, Peter Chani, Lou Kosmo, Donald Cotto, and Mickey Ligor were among others who served as commanders but the person with the longest record as commander was Bill Kosmo (right) who was re-elected several times  due to his commitment and dynamic leadership. During Bill Kosmo’s long tenure as commander, he  always worked long and hard to show the AAWV to good advantage through its beneficial works and deeds.

I believe there are many Albanian-American veterans of the Korean, Viet Nam, Gulf, and Iraqi wars who could join the Albanian-American War Veterans (AAWV) thus assuring its continuation as a patriotic Albanian-American organization. For more information,  contact: Ronald Nasson, 26 Enfield Street, Boston, MA 02130-2138, Tel: 617 522-7715

Van Christo thanks Virginia Kosmo for her valuable assistance by providing research materials from the files of her father, the late Bill Kosmo,  the energetic and popular Commander of the AAWV, 

The Celebrated Albanian Kilt; Fustanella e Fameshme e Shqipetarit

Man wearing Albanian Kilt

Man wearing Albanian Kilt

The famous Albanian kilt (or fustanella as it is known in the Albanian language) was common dress for men in the 13th century where it was regularly worn by a tribe of the Dalmatians, one of the Illyrian progenitors of the Albanians. At that time, the kilt was called “Dalmatica”, however, theories exist that the kilt really had its origin during much earlier times as a long shirt called “linja” which, when gathered at the waist by a sash, gave the appearance of a knee- or calf-length kilt. Depending on the social status of the wearer, materials used in fabricating the fustanella (thereby defining the number of pleats) ranged fromcoarse linen or woolen cloth for villagers to luxurious silks for the more affluent. Although the kilt was once worn by men throughout Albania, today it is seen only on special occasions in southern Albania, especially in the Gjirokaster area, and in the Albanian regions of Montenegro, Kosova, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece.

The Hungarian sociologist, Baron Nopcsa, believed that the Albanian, or Illyrian, kilt became the original pattern for the Roman military dress, and, because of its similarity to the Celtic kilt, he also theorized that the Roman legions in Britain, through the presence of its Illyrian element, probably started the fashion among the Celts (it may also be interesting to note that the Celtic word for “Scotland” is “Alban”).

Lord Byron, in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, observed the “…Albanian kirtled to the knee”, and T.S. Finlay in his Travels through Greece and Albania states, unequivocally, that “It was the fame of the Albanians which induced the modern Greeks to adopt the Albanian kilt as their national costume.”

See “The Albanians and Their Territories,” Pages 164-166, “8 Nentori ” Publishing House, Tirana, 1985, and Faik Konitza’s “Albania: Rock Garden of Southeastern Europe ,” Pages 81-90

From at least the 14th century, a strong cotton cloth called “fustan” was produced – hence the name of the garment “fustan” and later the diminutive “fustanella.” But archeological evidence points to the fustanella as being a more ancient form of clothing. Among the more important (archeological) finds are:

1. a small ceramic statue from the 4th century C.E.(AD) found in Durres which depicts a man wearing a long fustanella fastened with two bands across the chest

2. a gravestone from the 3rd to 4th century C.E.(AD) found in Smokthine, near Vlora, which shows a man dressed in a fustanella

3. a much more ancient figurine found in Maribor, Slovenia, which dates from the 5th century B.C.E. (BC) which also shows a fustanella worn with the two bands across the chest.

LIRIA, December, 1991

Academy Award Nominee: Colonel Bunker (Kolonel Bunker)

Albanian Film: Colonel Bunker (French-Albanian-Polish)
A 3B Prods. (Paris)/Orafilm (Tirana)/Film Studio Dom (Warsaw) production.
Produced, directed and written by Kujtim Cashku, Camera (color), Afrim Spahiu, Jerzy Rudzinski;
Editor, Kahena Attia-Roveill; Music, Andrez Krause; Production Design, Shaqir Veseli:
Costume Design, Astrit Tota; Sound, Ilir Gjata.
Reviewed at the Thessalonika Film Festival, Greece, Nov. 12, 1996. Running time: 103 Min.

Muro Neto (Colonel Bunker)…………….Agim Qirjaq
Ana, his wife…………………………………Anna Nehrebec
With: Cun Lajci, Guljem Radoja, Kadri Roshi, Petrit Malaj

Film Review: VARIETY, Dec. 9-15, 1996 A dark-hued political parable based on fact, “Colonel Bunker” shows in stark detail the lengths to which an insanely paranoid regime will go to terrorize its own people. Occasional technical weaknesses, and one or two self-consciously poetic interludes, do blunt the film’s grimly humorous impact. Director Kujtim Cashku’s ninth feature (submitted by Albania for the forthcoming best foreign-language pic Oscar) deserves to put his country’s little-known movie industry on the map.

In 1974, the hard-line Stalinist Enver Hoxha regime, having quarreled with virtually every other state in the world, retreated into sulky isolation. A program known as “bunkerization” was instituted with 700,000 semi-subterranean concrete bunkers to be built for the population of 3 million in case of hostile action by any of Albania’s myriad enemies. The program, which calls on virtually the entire economic resources of Europe’s most impoverished country, is to continue until 1981.

Cashku’s film focuses on the man chosen to organize this concrete nightmare: Muro Neto, a professional soldier who becomes known as “Colonel Bunker.” Secretly skeptical about his task, he nonetheless obeys. However, the same day that he’s assigned the job, Albania’s politburo decides to abolish all military ranks, thus thwarting him of an expected generalship. When Neto finally displays his resentment publicly, it brings about his downfall.

Early on, there’s a scene — in darkness cut by flashing lights and wailing sirens — where a panicky populace is hurried down into underground shelters by uniformed figures. What makes the familiar sequence so bizarre is that the people are bewildered peasants driving their cows and goats along with them. The deranged response of Albania’s leaders to an imagined external threat underlines the film’s message that the true enemy of the people was their own government.

As portrayed by Albanian actor Agim Qiraqi, Neto is no stone-faced appararatchik but a troubled figure, forcing himself to go along with a policy he knows is insane. His one anchor is his love for his Polish wife, Ana, played with moving dignity by Anna Nehrebecka.

With its moody lighting, Afrim Spahiu’s lensing enhances the film’s atmosphere, though occasionally shaky editing and continuity mar the effect. Inclusion of some confusing, would-be lyrical episodes involving a pair of English-speaking youngsters making love in the bunkers is a mistake, as is a clinched ending, in which Neto dies. (The real-life Neto is still alive, and helped with the making of the film). However, such lapses matter little, given the revelatory power of the story the pic tells. — Philip Kemp

INTERNATIONAL AWARDS FOR COLONEL BUNKER:

— Winner “Le Prix de la Critique” Mediterranean Film Festival, Bastia, France, 1996
— “Special Jury Prize” International Film Festival, Izmir, Turkey, 1996
— Official Entry OSCAR-96 for the Best Foreign Language Award, 1996
— “Selected Official Competition” Montreal World Film Festival, Canada, 1997
— “GRAND PRIX” Eurofilm Festival, Saint Etienne, 1997
— Premio-CICT-IFTC (UNESCO) 1998
— “Grand National Prix” Albanian Film Festival, Tirana, 2000

*Colonel Bunker was among 39 films selected for the Oscar prize. Before arriving in Los Angeles, the film was sent to Montreal, Canada where it was selected for showing at the A Series Film Festival, and then to the International Film Festival in Salonika, Greece, and the Strasbourg European Film Festival in Germany.

The Tradition of Classical Music In Albania

Author: Sotiraq Hroni

When Paloke Kurti (1860-1920) wrote the “The Unity of Albania March” in 1878, Albania was still a long way from establishing a classical or professional music tradition. Kurti was a musical amateur, singer, instrumentalist and composer educated in the popular music of his native city, Shkodra, in northern Albania. Albanian musical form took its first real steps

towards professionalism during the second decade of the 20th century with its main initiator, the Franciscan priest, Padre Martin Gjoka (1890-1940) who has the distinction of being the first person in Albania to compose classical music in different genres. Following the classical music tradition of Bach and Handel, Gjoka wrote polyphonic and choral works as well as an unfinished symphony. He can also be considered the first Albanian musician who showed serious interest in traditional Albanian folk music, mostly that of the deep mountainous areas which was less influenced by Eastern music. However, because of the lack of musical institutions and any system of professional music education, his works remained an isolated phenomena – they were performed mostly by amateurs and heard only in small circles. Nevertheless, thanks to Gjoka and a few other musicians of his time, Shkodra became the most important focus of musical life in Albania during the period between the two wars and, especially, after WWII. There, the first orchestral and choral groups were formed and the first musicals were staged, practices that later spread to the southern city of Korça. As a result, Shkodra became the center of education for some of the most distinguished representatives of the first generation of Albanian composers during the second half of the 1900s.

Preng Jakova (1917-1969), who studied clarinet at the Conservatory “Santa Cecilia” of Rome, wrote mostly vocal music. With his operas “Mrika” (1958) and, later, “Scanderbeg” (1968), he is known as the creator of the Albanian national opera. As a composer with lyric inspiration, he wrote under the influence of the traditional Italian opera of the 19th century and in the operatic style of belcanto, at the same time involving the intonations of Albanian songs and dances.

There is no doubt that the most famous composer in Albania of all the time is Çesk Zadeja (1927-1997), also born and raised in Shkodra, and rightly called the father of Albanian classical music. Zadeja graduated in music composition from the Conservatory “P.I. Tchaikovsky” in Moscow, and from 1956 until the end of his life, he propogated his artistic activities in Tirana. He was one of the founders of the Music Conservatory of Tirana, the Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and the Assembly of Songs and Dances. Equally important were Zadeja’s teaching activities as the founder of the Academy of Arts in Tirana and its professor of music composition for 30 years. Under his direction, well-known figures of Albanian classical music were educated. Zadeja’s musical repertoire spawned the formation of classical music tradition in Albania after he wrote his first symphony in 1956. He also composed two ballets, several concertos for instruments and orchestra, dozens of symphonic pieces, several sonnets, music for trio and quartet, etc. Zadeja’s compositions are distinguished for their polished technique and for the rational integration of intonational structures of rhythm and timbre of the most valued Albanian folk music.

During the second half of this century, Albanian music had to confront major challenges resulting from the absence of true professional tradition. This is one of the reasons that its musical development concentrated mainly on classic-romantic styles. The Albanian classical musical scene during 1950-1990 is replete with names such as Tish Daia (b. 1926), the composer of the first Albanian ballet “Halili and Hajria”, Nikolla Zoraqi (1928-1991), a composer with very wide and complex activities that include some short instrumental and vocal pieces for opera and ballet; Tonin Harapi (1925-1991), who was one of the first piano teachers at the national level; Feim Ibrahimi (1935-1997), who, with two concertos for piano during 1970-1980, played a sensitive role in the emancipation of the Albanian musical theatre; Shpetim Kushta (b. 1943), Thoma Gaqi (b. 1949) and others.

With the advent of democracy in 1990, Albanian music had to confront new challenges. Liberation from the constraints of state dictatorship and ideology resulted in the creation of completely new musical structures. Two important musical groups – “The Society of Music Professionals” and “The Society of New Albanian Music” – were formed during 1991-1992, and both became members of the most prestigious European and world musical organizations. Recruiting the best talents and performers of the country into these societies created a different environment for Albanian music and accelerated integration into the world contemporary music scene. Since 1992, the Society of New Albanian Music has organized annual Festivals of New Music while the Society of Music Professionals directs the concerts of New International Chamber Music. Among the composers who are most active in Albania today are Aleksander Peçi (b. 1951), Sokol Shupo (b. 1954), Vasil Tole (b. 1963), and Endri Sina (b. 1968).

NOTES:

Frosina thanks Sotiraq Hroni for supplying the above information and Migen Hasanaj for the translation from Albanian into English.

The compositions of Çesk Sadija, Tonin Harapi, Ramadam Sokoli, and other Albanian composers can be heard on the CD Disc titled “Kenge – Albanian Piano Music”, Guild GMCD 7257.

Albanian Woman in Head Cloth, Lewis Hine Ellis Island, 1905, Gelatin Silver print

Albanian Woman, Ellis Island

Lewis Hine captured an expression of wistful stoicism in his “Albanian Woman, Ellis Island” (1905).

Drawn from the collection of Arlette and Gus Kayafas, a 1998 exhibition titled “There is Nothing as Mysterious as a Fact Clearly Described” at the Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton, Massachusetts, provided a fascinating chronology of photography and its emergence as an art form. Examples of photographic techniques such as daguerrrotypes, callotype negatives, salt prints, and cyanotypes were included.

The exhibition featured the work of well-known nineteenth and twentieth century photographers, with a strong focus on the work of four important teachers of photography: August Sanders, Eugene Atget, Lewis Hine, and Walker Evans. Works by female photographers Julia Margaret Cameron, Margaret Bourke-White, Diane Arbus, and Lee Friedlander were also an important presence in the exhibition.

Additional artists included Harold (Doc) Edgerton, Garry Winogrand, Olivia Parker, Helen Levitt, Aaron Siskend, and Harry Callahan. The exhibition was curated by Gus Kayafas who played an integral role in the field of photography as an assistant to both Doc Edgerton and Minor White. All of the photogaphs in the exhibit provided a direct and unmanipulated view of the world.*

“The photograph on the cover of the exhibition’s brochure was Lewis Hine’s 1905 ‘Albanian Woman with Head Cloth, Ellis Island.’ Wearing traditional clothes for her entry into the New World, she faces the camera directly. What might have been a mug shot isn’t, because Hines has captured an expression of wistful stoicism. She holds something back. You yearn to know what – and also what happened to her.” **

* Page 6, Exhibition Brochure, Fuller Museum of Art, Spring, 1998
** Art Review, Christine Tenin, The Boston Globe, June 16, 1998

Albanian Folkmusic

Author: Thomas Weden

Albanian music is available on several CDs. Here is a brief list:

Albania: Vocal and Instrumental Polyphony
Le Chant du Monde LDX 274897

Famille Lela de Permet / Polyphonies Vocales et…*
Label Bleu LBLC 2503

Folk Music of Albania
Topic TSCD 904

V.1 Music of the Balkans: Albania and the Central Balkans
FM Allegro 706

Silvana Licussi: Far From the Land of the Eagles
Lyrichord LYRCD 7413

Albanie: Polyphonies Vocales du Pays Lab/ Ensemble vocal de Gjirokastër
INEDIT 260065

Laver Bariu: Songs from the City of Roses *
GlobeStyle CD ORBD 091

Vocal Traditions of Albania*
Saydisc CD-SDL 421

Thanassis Moraitis: Arvanitic Songs **
FM Allegro 652

Music From Albania: Anthology of World Music *
(NEW) Rounder CD 5151

Kenge Nga Shqiperia dhe Austria: Songs from Albania and Austria Kultur
CD 51095-1 (hard to find).

Worth Noting:

Engendering Song: Singing & Subjectivity at Prespa Albanian Weddings by Jane C. Sugarman 395pp, Published by University of Chicago Press

“Combining photographs, song texts, and vibrant recordings of the music, this book is an innovative work, with a scholarly importance extending far beyond southeast European studies.” Includes a Compact Disc (CD) containing 24 musical selections.

* Highly Recommended
** “Arvaniti” is the Greek word for “Albanian”
Frosina thanks Thomas Weden of Tower Records, Boston, for helping to compile this list.

Lord Byron and his Albanian Costume

Author: Peter Rennie

Lord Byron in Albanian Costume

Lord Byron in Albanian Costume

Lord Byron’s visits to southern Albania in 1809 had made a great impression upon him. In the Albanians he found a peculiar charm which kindled his poetic imagination for exotic themes. In his notes to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage he wrote that the Albanians “struck me forcibly by their resemblance of the Highlanders of Scotland, in dress, figure and manner of living. Their very mountains seemed Caledonian, with a kinder climate. The kilt, though white; the spare, active form; their dialect, Celtic in its sound…”

In the summer of 1813 Byron put on the Albanian costume he had purchased four years earlier in Jannina and sat (or rather “stood”) to the fashionable portrait painter Thomas Phillips. The three-quarter length portrait depicts him in a crimson and gold velvet jacket with a red and gold and bluish-green striped shawl wound round his head like a turban, a white shirt with a large black jewel in a brooch at his throat and, cradling in his arms, a yataghan or sword with a purple-tinged hilt. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy as a “Portrait of a Nobleman in the dress of an Albanian.” It is now in the British Embassy in Athens. In 1835 and 1840 Phillips painted two copies of the portrait. The first in half-length was given by the artist’s son in 1862 to the National Portrait Gallery in London where it is on permanent display; the second, which was commissioned by John Murray, Byron’s publisher, is kept in the publishing firm’s premises in Albemarle Street, London.

And what became of the Albanian costume? After the Royal Academy exhibition, Byron sent it to Miss Mercer Elphinstone, a wealthy Scottish heiress, and it eventually passed into possession of the Lansdowne family and rediscovered in 1962, when a Byron scholar, Doris Langley Moore, went to the Landsdowne family home at Bowood House in Wiltshire to select items from the family collection for a costume museum she was establishing in Bath. In an article published in the Costume Society Journal in 1971 she describes her excitement when she came across a rich crimson velvet jacket and waistcoat. She recognized it as “Byron’s Albanian dress!” After having been on display at the Museum of Costume in Bath the costume was later returned to Bowood where it is still to be seen. Appropriately nearby are two mezzotints on a wall of the original recipient of the costume, Mercer Elphinstone, who has preserved a visible link between Byron and Albania.

Excerpted from BYRON AND THE ALBANIAN CONNECTION by Peter Rennie, The Anglo-Albanian Association, London.

The Albanian School of Venice

Author: Signorina Sandra Rossi

A relief sculpure

A relief sculpure commemorating the seiges of Scutari in 1474 and 1479. The Sultan, Mehmed II, turbanned and crowned and accompanied by his Grand Vizier, stands holding a scimitar below a cliff on which is perched the fort of Scutari.

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the beautiful city of Venice in Italy was settled by progenitors of the Albanians, the Illyrian tribe of the Veneti, around 1200 BC. Equally interesting may be the fact that an Albanian School (Scuola Albanesi)in the sense of a lay confraternity dedicated to charitable works was established in Venice in 1479 by Albanian refugees who fled from the Turks after the fall of Shkodra, and that the famous Venetian artist, Carpaccio, was retained by them to paint the decorations of their building. Although the school building, now unmarked, exists today as a residential dwelling, it still retains its bas relief sculpture (shown below) over the front entrance commemorating the
Turkish seiges of Shkodra in 1474 and 1479.

Distinguished painters who emerged from that Albanian community in Venice were Mark Bazaiti, Viktor Karpaci, and Francesco Albani. Below is a description of the Albanian School:

“The Scuola di Santa Maria degli Albanesi had been founded in 1442 for the special benefit of the Albanian community. Following the fall of Scutari (Shkodra) to the Turks in 1479, a number of refugees fled to Venice, where they received assistance from the Signoria (Government of the Venetian Republic). In 1497 the group resolved to build a meeting-house next to the church of San Maurizio, observing that ‘even the Armenians have their own hostel and we have none.’

“When it came to the decoration of the building, Carpaccio was the chosen artist. His six scenes from the Life of the Virgin indicate, however, that other commissions may have had first priority on his attentions. The paintings for the Albanesi are of low quality by comparison with those of the Scuola di San Giorgi, and were probably carried out to a large degree by his workshop. A document of 1503 noted that the majority of the members were artisans and mariners, indicating that the financial resources of the Scuola were very meagre. Carpaccio must have been at the height of his fame during the years in which he painted for the Dalmatians and the Albanesi.

“In a final decorative flourish that documents their long memories and continuing concern for the fate of their homeland, the confratelli of the Albanesi completed the facade of their building around 1530 with a relief sculpure commemorating the seiges of Scutari in 1474 and 1479. The Sultan, Mehmed II, turbanned and crowned and accompanied by his Grand Vizier, stands holding a scimitar below a cliff on which is perched the fort of Scutari. The heroes of each battle — respectively, Antonio Loredan and Antonio da Lezze — were honored by the inclusion of their coats-of-arms. “*

* Pages 70-72, Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio, Patricia Fortini Brown, Yale University Press, New Haven and London The Frosina Foundation wishes to express its gratitude to Signorina Sandra Rossi of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum Collection in Venice for providing access to the above information.

Lord Byron’s Albanian Costume On Exhibit at Bowood Estates

Author: Ms. Kate Fielden

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

During Lord Byron’s visit to Janina in southern Albania in 1809, he purchased an Albanian costume in which he sat or rather “stood” for the fashionable portrait painter, Thomas Phillips in the summer of 1813. The three-quarter length portrait titled “Portrait of a Nobleman in the dress of an Albanian” depicts Byron in a crimson and gold velvet jacket with a red and gold and bluish-green striped shawl wound round his head like a turban, a white shirt with a large black jewel in a brooch at his throat and, cradling in his arms, a yataghan or sword with a purple-tinged hilt. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy and is now in the British Embassy in Athens.

In 1835 and 1840 Phillips painted two copies of the portrait. The first in half-length was given by the artist’s son in 1862 to the National Portrait Gallery in London where it is on permanent display; the second, which was commissioned by John Murray, Byron’s publisher, is kept in the publishing firm’s premises in Albemarle Street, London.

And what became of the Albanian costume? Byron conducted a flirtatious correspondence with Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, daughter of Lord Keith, and in 1814, he gave her the Albanian costume suggesting she use it for fancy dress. It eventually passed into possession of the Lansdowne family and rediscovered in 1962, when a Byron scholar, Doris Langley Moore, went to the Landsdowne family home at Bowood House in Wiltshire to select items from the family collection for a costume museum she was establishing in Bath.

In an article published in the Costume Society Journal in 1971 Langley Moore describes her excitement when she came across a rich crimson velvet jacket and waistcoat. She recognized it as “Byron’s Albanian dress!” After having been on display at the Museum of Costume in Bath the Albanian costume was later returned to Bowood for exhibit purposes. Appropriately nearby are two mezzotints on a wall of the original recipient of the costume, Mercer Elphinstone, who has preserved a visible link between Byron and Albania.

Model wearing Byron's Albanian dress

Model wearing Byron’s Albanian dress

Bowood House & Gardens
Bowood was bought by the 2nd Earl of Shelburne in 1754, in a half-completed state and finished before 1760. Part of the house was demolished in 1955, and thre rest rearranged in a very happy transformation. Half of what remains is open to the public. The family inherited from their ancestor, Sir William Petty, “whatever degree of sense may have appeared in it, or whatever wealth is likely to remain with it.”

Petty’s widow became Baroness Shelburne, and it is their grandson who settled at Bowood, and their great-grandson who became the first Marquis of Lansdowne. It was he, better known as Shelburne, who befriended Joseph Priestly, the early chemist – who invented oxygen at Bowood. Shelburne also communicated with Johnson, Goldsmith, Hume and George Washington. His great political feat (as Prime Minister) was peace negotiated with the new, young United States in 1783. His son made a great art collection and a fine library, and his great-grandson was Governor-General of Canada and Viceroy of India, and Foreign Secretary.

Though initiating the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904, he also advocated Peace by Negotiation with Germany in 1917. The talents of this family enlighten the house, and their accumulation of centuries beautify the interior. Outside, there are 800 ha of grounds with handsome features — a Doric Temple, a pinetum and arboretum, and a most spectacular Cascade. The Adventure Playground is praised by its young users, and the quite separate Rhododendrum Gardens are open for six weeks during May and June. The 8th Marquess’ son, Lord Shelburne, took over management of Bowood in 1972. He opened the house and grounds to the public in 1975 and later converted the stables and grooms’ quarters into exhibition rooms. restaurant and gift shop. Also on exhibit at Bowood are Napoleon’s death mask, the glittering Keith jewels and an exceptional collection of English watercolors, including works by Bonington and Turner.

Frosina thanks Bowood’s Curator, Ms. Kate Fielden, for supplying the photo and Albanian costume information and Ms. Alison McGrain of Boston’s British Consulate-General for the description of Bowood House & Gardens

Mira KuÇuku/ Albanian Ceramicist Extraordinaire

Mira KuÇuku ceramics

Mira KuÇuku ceramics

Upon entering Mira Kuçuku’s exquisite gallery “Albqeramik” on Bulevardi Zhan D’Ark near the center of Albania’s capital, Tirana, it’s as if you’re suddenly transported to New York’s Park Avenue or Boston’s Newbury Street. Indeed, her gallery would fit in perfectly anywhere on those two elegant confluences of American haute culture. Its contemporary appearance and subtle decor provide an enchanting backdrop for the display of ceramic potteries and sculptures that Mira has hand-fashioned to tantalize both the eye and taste of the most discerning art critic and buyer. The gallery is divided into two rooms, the larger one as you enter where most of her works are on display, and then a smaller one just behind it which serves mainly as storage and some display of finished pieces.

Mira, a dark-haired attractive woman with bright eyes and a quick smile, is serious about her craftsmanship as she points out and describes features on several of her hand-made creations. Her work, encompassing a variety of sizes and shapes ranging from smaller, decorated potteries, plates, and sculptures to impressively-large, floor-standing vases, are distinguished by intricate appliques set off by warm, earth-colored glazes that are oven-fired to last for an eternity. She maintains a rigid work schedule to replenish the stock of the gallery and to fill especially commissioned projects and orders.

A prolific artist (no two pieces of Mira’s art are exactly alike), she keeps exploring new themes by frequently reaching back into her Albanian roots and culture. The ever-changing four seasons of the year are of great interest to her, and one of Mira’s favorite subjects is her young daughter, Bora, whose visage is rendered either in full-face or profile on various pieces as the perfect motif for Spring (Pranvera). A graduate of the Academy of the Figurative Arts in Tirana, Mira was employed for 17 years as a Modeling Sculptor at the Migjeni Arts facility until she established her own gallery/studio in 1993. Her ceramics are considered first-rank, and, unquestionably, they deserve to be exhibited at art and cultural centers in the USA and elsewhere.

With the advent of democracy in Albania in 1991 and the long-awaited freedom of artistic expression, Mira Kuçuku is already making her mark in several countries of Europe such as Denmark, Greece, and Croatia where her ceramic exhibitions garnered rave notices.

Excerpted from an article in LIRIA by Van Christo, October/November, 1995