Alexandra Asseily

Around the mulberry bush: the Bsous Silk Museum

17/04/2009

Lebanon

In 1966, while driving through Wadi Chahrour to Aley, my future husband George and I, stopped to look over the fence at a large abandoned house, a silk factory, various ruined cottages and surrounding terraces. We immediately fell in love with the charm of the land and the crumbling buildings, which were totally overgrown and occupied only by sheep and goats.

In 1973 we bought the property from the Fayyad family and in 1974 we planted hundreds of trees and started to re-build the house, but the war began a year later and we had to abandon our plans until 1998. What started then as a very humble attempt to develop the property after so many years of war, neglect and fires, has become the Silk Museum you see today.

Independently of our own dreams, Thierry Huau and Francoise Le Noble Predine from Paris, and who in the late nineties were working on a landscaping project in the Solidere area, visited and also fell in love with this place. They made a sketch plan for a large public garden project and children’s play area, which they presented to us in London. Their enthusiasm at that time, for what might be done here, helped us to find the courage to begin our own project.

Francoise Le Noble’s energy and love for helping the Silk Museum during the first years was invaluable. She also brought and organised the wild silk from Madagascar and together with Mona Sader Issa helped us to establish in 2000 a sister organization to the museum, namely aMED, the Association Memory and Development.

The association aims to protect and enhance Lebanon’s natural heritage. It initiates pilot projects to allow schools, universities and municipalities to benefit from these experiences by working to respect the environment. It cooperates with competent authorities to preserve and develop our rural and cultural heritage through sustainable development. It also aims to restore our living heritage of flora and fauna as well as our historical buildings and to look for ways to enhance the culture of crafts.

Along the years, and with the help of the students of the Lycée Agricole et Horticole of Saint Germain en Laye in France, the Association carried out ecological projects in the village of Bsous and the pine forest of Beirut devastated during the war.

The big work on our own terraces around the Museum, the first plantations and the creation of our plant nursery were taken in charge by head gardener Guillaume Maurin (1999-2003), who also helped the French students to find their feet in Lebanon. The garden has evolved with time and we regularly run gardening schools for children to encourage more garden lovers.

The Museum as you can see it today was renovated and refurbished with some new practical additions by architect Jacques Abou Khaled and project-managed by Sami Feghali. In 2001 our first activity was a symposium called “Ainsi-soie-t-elle”, which recounted the development of sericulture in Lebanon and its strong connection with Lyon and France. Since then, we have held yearly exhibitions, from May to October. Since 2002, Jean Louis Mainguy has tirelessly and generously shared his talent and his time to creating the scenography of each exhibition.

In the future, we hope to continue to organize yearly exhibitions showing various aspects of the beauty of silk, as well as contributing to the ideals of aMED. Our hopes for the Museum – day by day- is that it strengthens its position as a place of cultural memory in Lebanon, and as a place of enjoyment and inspiration.

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