Worlds Away: Local Couple Exhibits Middle Eastern Art Collection

Jim & Virginia Goode posing in front of their "Afghanistan to Morocco" collection.

You won’t find trinkets, snow globes or decorative spoons crowding their bookshelves; and there’s surely no junk drawer in the kitchen stuffed with key chains or miniature statues of tourist attractions. No, Jim and Virginia Goode aren’t your average collectors. Instead of t-shirts and shot glasses, you’ll find delicate clay jugs and hand-woven kilims from decades past among their collection.

“Afghanistan to Morocco: Journeys of Jim and Virginia Goode” celebrates the adventures and experiences of the Goodes over 50 years. The exhibition is teeming with Middle Eastern artifacts, each with its own unique story and cultural significance.

The Goodes are certainly collectors of cultural objects, but you won’t find much in the way of traditional art among their collection. Most of the items on display are functional—things that serve a practical purpose. From a beautifully painted opium pipe and a brass coffee pot, to ceramic whistles and an old pair of carpet shears.

Olla (water jug), unglazed and low-fired ceramic purchased in Cairo (Egypt), 2001 Photo courtesy of GVSU Art Gallery
Olla (water jug), unglazed and low-fired ceramic, purchased in Cairo (Egypt), 2001
Photo courtesy of GVSU Art Gallery

“I think we were always kind of looking for ordinary items that were beautiful—items that weren’t normally in the tourist section of the marketplace,” Jim Goode said. I don’t think we have much you would see in tourist shops in any of these countries.”

So how does such a collection come to be?

“I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran long ago, and I was given a number of carpets and items by friends,” Jim Goode said. “Then we were married in Iran and were given some items as gifts. That’s how it all came together.”

Goode has also been a professor in the history department at Grand Valley State University since 1986, and has led study abroad programs to the Middle East. “After 50 years, inevitably you keep going back to places in the Middle East and you end up with lots of items from different countries.”

Surely a collection of this magnitude is bound to have its share of colorful anecdotes. “We have lots of stories,” Virginia Goode said. “Everything we bought meant a lot to us because it was interesting. It was people’s lives that we were interested in.”

While staying in Mashhad, Iran in 1972, the couple decided to make a trip to Herat, Afghanistan, where they traveled with a local friend of theirs who worked as a shopkeeper. As they went along from shop to shop looking for a Baluchi carpet, their friend insisted that he could find them a good price on the carpet they were after if he bargained for it on his own.

Qur’an Holder, hammered and etched copper purchased in Konya (Turkey), 1999 Photo courtesy of GVSU Art Gallery.
Qur’an Holder, hammered and etched copper, purchased in Konya (Turkey), 1999
Photo courtesy of GVSU Art Gallery.

“He said ‘why don’t you just give me the money and I will buy you a very nice carpet, and I will send it across the border,’” Jim Goode said. “We gave him the money and about two months later there was a knock on the door and he had sent it across the border to Mashhad. There are lots of carpets in the exhibit but it’s one of the finer carpets there.”

The couple hopes their collection inspires people to take a closer look at the history and culture of Middle Eastern countries. “I’d like them to realize that there are ordinary people living there like us,” Virginia Goode said. “I’d like for them to have the curiosity to delve more deeply into knowledge of these countries.”

The couple’s collection will be on display at Grand Valley State University’s art gallery, located in the performing arts building on the Allendale Campus, through Oct. 27.

*Main photo by Bernadine Carey-Tucker

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