I am delighted to present part two of performance artist Sarah Coggrave’s research on the Funduklian family. It accompanies the exhibition Arto Funduklian: His Personal Choice, which you can see free of charge until Sunday 6th September. Over to you, Sarah:
This summer, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery showcases the art collection of Arto Funduklian – an Armenian textile trader who resided in Buxton during his latter years. Arto was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), but grew up in Manchester, and spent much of his adult life doing business in New York. He had four siblings – three younger brothers and a sister, Astra.
On July 25th and August 15th, between 2pm and 4pm, the exhibition will receive a visit from Arto’s sister, Astra, re-imagined as an artistic performance.
My name is Sarah Coggrave, and I’m a performance artist and researcher currently based in Derbyshire. I’ll be responsible for bringing Astra to Buxton. My practice involves creating characters, costumes and gestures to bring hidden histories to life. I also possess the unique experience of having lived in the former Funduklian home – a large red brick Edwardian villa in Didsbury, a suburb in South Manchester.
In my previous post I talked about how I came across the Funduklian family, and their journey from Constantinople to Manchester during the late 1800s. Records of the family are sketchy at best, but evidence suggests that Arto and his siblings enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Britain’s industrial north.
Above: The large house in Didsbury where the Funduklians resided (source)
Arto attended the prestigious Manchester Grammar School – as a scholarship student, as did his younger brother Vahe. Their father Karnig was a keen advocate of education – he studied Philology at Manchester’s former Victoria University (now the University of Manchester) and dedicated much of his time to translating historical literature. He was also a benefactor of the university, chairing a group of Armenians who supported the development of the business department, and was known for his support of Manchester Literary Society and the John Rylands Library.
Above: Karnig Funduklian, Arto’s father (source)
(With permission, courtesy of Greater Manchester County Record Office)
Indeed, many of Manchester’s Armenians were avid students, as testified by the University of Manchester’s matriculation records. Arto was a particularly gifted scholar – he won a place at the University of Cambridge (King’s College), attending between 1911 and 1914. He studied for a BA in Medieval and Modern Languages.
Above: Back view of King’s College, Cambridge (source)
Again a recipient of various scholarships, he graduated with first class honours and two distinctions – an incredible achievement. Documents held at the university hint at Arto’s involvement with a variety of university societies, including the German Society and the lacrosse team. His tutor at King’s was Sir John Harold Clapham, a leading economist and future professor.
Shortly after Arto’s graduation in 1914, WWI began, and, for a short time, Arto returned to his old school in Manchester, as a stand-in tutor whilst regular masters were sent off to war.
I know little else about what Arto or his family did during WWI, although raising awareness of the Armenian Genocide was a high priority for Manchester Armenians, who also came together to fundraise for their community in troubled parts of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
Above: Armenian community meeting at the Midland Hotel in Manchester (source)
(With permission, courtesy of Greater Manchester County Record Office)
Evidence suggests that Arto may have worked for US intelligence during WW1. Unsurprisingly, it has been difficult to verify this, although he did sail to New York in 1915. In 1918 he applied for a job within the above, but whether or not this was an extension of an existing role or a new career path, is unclear. So too is his success (or rejection) in said application. By the 1920s his priorities had seemingly switched to other areas, namely business and art.
At some point during the 1920s, Arto visited Paris, and it was here, during one of the city’s most bohemian and artistically progressive periods, that his art collecting allegedly began.
However, much of Arto’s adult life was to be spent in the US. Here he worked alongside members of his mother Aznive’s family – the Karagheusians, eventually becoming a distinguished and well respected carpet salesman, catering to the tastes of well-to-do Americans. Below his expertise in this field is quoted in the Schenectady Gazette (local city paper in the state of New York), in 1946:
Today’s consumer is primarily concerned with the total effect of a room and this involves co-ordinated colour…The American public is becoming color and decoration-conscious, and this means that the real appeal to the modern consumer must be in terms of the whole room.
Schenectady Gazette, 1946 (source)
Arto evidently fostered a lifelong fascination for America – he travelled there soon after graduating from Cambridge, and gave a talk about the country at his old school.
After coffee Mr A. A. Funduklian read a short but very descriptive paper on “America”. He gave a lucid description of the nation and of the genus American of both sexes. His hopes of the paper proving a preamble to discussion were realised, for he was called upon to answer queries on Business Morality, Relations of Capital and Labour, Automobile Statistics, the I.W.W., O. Henry and Prohibition. The evening was one of the most enjoyable the Section has had.
Manchester Grammar School Magazine, 1920 (source)
Indeed, Arto’s eloquence as a speaker is noted in various sources, and word has it that he wrote occasionally for the Manchester Guardian, although I’ve not been able to find any evidence of this. Yet. Furthermore, his career as a businessman, specialising in carpets, was characterised by high profile work for events such as the 1937 Paris Exposition and the legendary New York World’s Fair.
Above: Arto Funduklian (source)
(With permission, courtesy of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery)
One can’t help but be intrigued by the story of a young man’s transformation from aspiring young linguist – a star student hoping for a career in military intelligence – to successful textile trader and businessman (with an avid appetite for modern art). Was this a path forged by choice? Or by necessity and duty? Why did he collect the art that he did? And what, during his later years, brought him back to the UK, to live in Buxton?
Perhaps some of the answers might lie in his diverse collection of art…
Archives+ (2013) Various articles, accessed 2015 at http://manchesterarchiveplus.wordpress.com, online source.
Binghamton Press (1939) archived article available here
George, J. (2002) Merchants In Exile: The Armenians Of Manchester, England 1835 – 1935, Taderon Press.
Manchester Grammar School Magazine (1914 – 1920) Various archived issues, accessed here.
Manchester Guardian (1900-1950) Various articles accessed 2013 at http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/, online source.
Schenectady Gazette (1945) archived article available here
University of Cambridge Archives Janus Catalogue (1912-1977) – see here
University of Manchester Archive, Matriculation Records, various years and dates, details here