The Legation in ICOM News

TALIM ICOMDr. Carol Malt, museologist and longtime friend of the Legation, has published the following article in ICOM News, the magazine of the International Council of Museums.  We are thrilled that Carol has brought our modest efforts to the attention of museum professionals worldwide, especially timely on the eve of International Museum Day.

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TALIM de Straat
de Leth (H. and A.), Nieuwe Paskaert vant Naau van de Straat… 1726, hand-colored, 18" x 22", Amsterdam, c. 1740

The Tangier American Legation Museum (TALIM*) represents more than bricks and mortar, beauty and craftsmanship. Its multi-media, multidisciplinary collections focus on the history of the relationship between the United States and Morocco. Its collections visually reinforce the historical relationship between these two nations and reflect the history of Tangier, while its library holds important political, social and historical documents from both countries.

In 1777, Morocco was the first foreign country to recognise the US when it declared independence. The Legation building that houses the museum was a gift from Moroccan Sultan Moulay Suleiman in 1821. Located in the old medina of Tangier, Morocco, it is the first diplomatic mission acquired by the US, the oldest continually occupied American diplomatic property and the only US National Historic Landmark located outside the country.

The building housed US diplomats for 140 years. By 1976, however, the legation had fallen into disrepair and a group of former diplomats, Peace Corps volunteers, US ambassadors to Morocco, historians and academics formed the Tangier American Legation Society to restore it. The Tangier American Museum opened its doors on 4 July, 1976 and now serves as a museum, historic house, research library, art gallery, classroom and conference centre.

The collection of paintings, drawings, graphics, maps, rare books and other artefacts focuses on artists who worked in or depicted Morocco and historical documents of Tangier. Over the years, many artists who lived in Tangier, including James and Marguerite McBey (Scotland and US, respectively), Claudio Bravo (Chile) and Elena Prentice (US) have added to Donald Angus’ (US) initial gift of over 300 maps, paintings, carpets, furniture and Moroccan memorabilia to TALIM’s permanent collection.

Connecting through art

The permanent collection is used in many ways. Tours are tailored to audiences of tourists, school children, residents, historians and special interest groups. Local women who participate in TALIM’s free literacy classes also benefit from it, as objects from the collection can be integrated into their lesson plans. The reference library, which contains approximately 8,000 volumes of literature, history and statistics about the region, is another major asset to the community.

Every work of art contains an interesting story, but among the hundreds of paintings in the collection, one by Ion Perdicaris reflects dramatic international connections. "Arab Groom and Horse" might be just another massive, competent genre painting were it not for the history of the artist. Perdicaris came to Tangier in 1872, having had some formal artistic training in Paris, when he was kidnapped by the Berber bandit Raisuli in 1904 and held ransom for USD 70,000. American president Theodore Roosevelt sent US battleships and the Marines into the Tangier harbour to secure his release, wrongly assuming that he was still an American citizen. A romantic version of this story was made into the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion. Thus, this 19th century painting, like many others in the collection, engages different audiences including contemporary movie-goers, art connoisseurs and historians.

Describing his efforts to enhance the museum’s programming and collections in a recent correspondence, TALIM Director Jerry Loftus wrote: “I have created crossovers from our collections and stories and images from the research library that feed museum exhibits and blog articles. Those in turn spark interest among researchers to delve further into our archives. We have amazing maps and works of art, so we find themes and bring them together on our walls, providing texts to explain the historical context.”

Through its collections and programmes, TALIM aims to connect with an array of different visitors, helping them gain insight into the historical, political and cultural relationship between the US and Morocco. In a 2013 interview, Associate Director Ytimad Bouziane said of this challenge: “ I want TALIM to be a light, a beacon of knowledge for the entire region. I want it not only for the intellectuals but also for everyone, and it should portray the real American culture, not the superficial one.”

* The museum recently changed its name to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) because of its association with the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS). The acronym TALIM also means ‘education’ in Arabic.

Carol Malt

The Ed Wood School of Museology

Johnny Depp - Version 2"Why, if I had half a chance, I could make an entire movie using this stock footage!"

Edward D. Wood, Jr., in "Ed Wood," 1994 film by Tim Burton

(right, image of Johnny Depp, ©Touchstone Pictures)

That discarded stock footage of stampeding buffalo does make it into one of his films, along with something involving a writhing octupus…  Tim Burton's affectionate take on Hollywood's worst-ever schlock film director (played with comedic brio by Johnny Depp) may not be everyone's inspiration for museum management, but I often think, "hey – Ed Wood wouldn't let this go to waste" when stumbling across some artifact or image connected with the Legation's long history.

I say artifact, but tangible items connected with American diplomats in Tangier dating back to the 1790s are extremely rare.  In fact, we have all of one such thing – a sword cane from 1945, left behind by the Legation's wartime Chargé d'Affaires.  We keep dropping hints with the State Department's US Diplomacy Center – building a museum of American diplomacy – that we could use some of their artifacts (diplomatic seals, uniforms… anything), to no avail.

TALIM Minister's officeSo we keep on winging it.  Often this is simply creating crossovers from our research library to our museum.  Or repositioning seemingly unrelated pictures and maps to illustrate a theme.

Our new "Legation Room" (photo at left) was once the Minister's office, so we gathered together much of our US Government-issue Drexel office furniture, put in a few period touches like telephone and bakelite radio, a new paint job to highlight the 19th century architecture and voilà, recreation of an era.  It's among the first rooms that visitors now see, and it's replete with World War II stories and other anecdotes of diplomatic life at the Legation.

In response to my pleas for a scale model of the USS Olympia, someone sent me mini models (1250 scale, the kind that they used to push around table tops to plan World War II operations).  So what do I do with these cute little inches-long guys?  Put them on a chart of Tangier harbor to illustrate the Perdicaris Affair, where Teddy Roosevelt sends the Atlantic Fleet on a gunboat diplomacy mission.  Instant illustrated exhibit.

Of course, if we had a generous budget to acquire items, display cases, all the paraphernalia of big-name museums, we could do much more.  But there's something fun about the Ed Wood approach of do-it-yourself, nothing is wasted, museum management.  Now, what can I do with these vintage magazine covers from the Spanish-American War?  To be continued…

Gerald Loftus