Syrian refugees and items of Syrian glassware

Syrian refugees help Paisley Museum display Syrian glass collection for the first time

November marked five years since the first refugees from Syria arrived in Renfrewshire through the UK Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). Since then, Renfrewshire has welcomed 162 refugees and 28 babies have been born here during that time.

Items from the Syrian glass collection
The Syrian glassware shimmers with iridescence Photograph - Murdo MacLeod.The Guardian

To mark the anniversary, Paisley Museum released details of their Syrian glass collection dating back over 2,000 years which has never been displayed before. The 30-piece collection, dating back to Roman times, was bequeathed to Paisley Museum in 1948 by Elizabeth Spiers Paterson, the daughter of thread manufacturers, and is believed to have been acquired from antiquities dealers in Syria, known as the birthplace of glass-making.

Despite being held in our collections for over 70 years, the potential significance of the glassware was only recently realised by our Research Assistant of World Cultures, Joel Fagan whilst moving objects into The Secret Collection, in preparation for the museum’s £42m redevelopment. Joel said, ‘It’s incredible they have survived. We could have just thrown them in a case, but we didn’t feel that was acceptable. We wanted to bring the Museum to the Syrian community’.

The partnership between the Syrian refuges and the project team was established through their participation in English language classes delivered by Renfrewshire Council. Following sessions with the museum team, including a trip to a glassblowing workshop and a visit to The Secret Collection, the group chose 13 pieces of glassware from the 2nd and 3rd century AD including a Syrian glass beaker from Damascus, a brown bulbous bottle decorated in fluorescent and gold, and a purple beaker with a dark feathered design for display. Future sessions will involve creating interpretation for the display in both Arabic and English, which will incorporate some of the group’s personal stories.

Syrian refugees and items of Syrian glassware
Maryam Alhorani (left) - her husband, Jamal Horani, and his sister, Khadeja Alhorani, with some of the glassware. Photograph - Murdo MacLeod - The Guardian

Family members Jamal Horani and Khadeja Alhorani arrived in Paisley from Syria in 2018 and are part of the ESOL group who have been working with the team. Jamal said, ‘We were so happy and surprised to find these pieces made by our ancestors were here in Scotland. We used to collect these types of glass items at home back in Syria and it made me feel quite emotional and proud to find them here’.

Khadeja, added, ‘We want people to know that we have a great civilisation and that our glass making is known very well across the world. It’s not just the conflict – there are many other good things about our country’.

Councillor Lisa-Marie Hughes, chair of Renfrewshire Leisure said, ‘These magnificent items provide a snapshot of the rich cultural heritage refugees had to leave behind when they fled from the conflict in Syria. Like everyone who lives and works in our town, the Syrian families have become an important part of our community, and we are delighted that they are taking an active role in the redevelopment of Paisley Museum’.

The Guardian published an article on this work on 16 November 2020. To read the article please follow this link.

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