The Funduklian Story Part Three

It is my pleasure to present part three 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 first post, I talked about the Funduklian journey from Constantinople to Manchester, and beyond, and in the second I discussed Arto’s life in more detail. In this final post on the Funduklian family, I’d like to say a little bit more about Arto’s sister Astra, and her upcoming visit to the exhibition.

Above: My recreation of Astra (source)

First of all it is worth noting that Arto had three siblings. He was the oldest, and Astra was a year younger. Brother Vahe was several years younger and Nazareth (Nazar) was only a small boy when the family moved into the large Edwardian villa on Pine Road, in Didsbury.

Above: Nazar as a young boy (source)

(With permission, courtesy of Greater Manchester County Record Office)

Whereas Arto was the star student, academically speaking, Vahe distinguished himself in sports, notably playing rugby for his school (both he and Arto attended Manchester Grammar School) and later for local teams. In later life his sporting accolades included the presidency of the Lancashire RFU (1963-64) and membership of the Manchester Referees’ Society – he was president 1959-1960. Whilst Arto set off for the bright lights of New York, Vahe stayed in Manchester to preside over the Funduklian shipping business.

Vahe (1896-1982) …[was] an anglicised Armenian, he loved the English countryside, Lancashire humour and rugby football.

George, J. (2002) Merchants In Exile: The Armenians Of Manchester, England 1835 – 1935, page 101.

Less is known of Nazar, beyond a few sporadic references and the above picture:

Nazareth, the youngest, was a modest dilettante with a fine library and art collection. Like his sister, he lived with his parents.

George, J. (2002) Merchants In Exile: The Armenians Of Manchester, England 1835 – 1935, page 101.

Astra too was an enigma. Like her siblings, she never married or had children, instead living with her parents at Pine Road until their deaths in the 1930s. After that, sketchy records recall hotel stays in various places, including the famous former Buxton Hydro in 1947. Most intriguing of all is a 1926 report in the Manchester Guardian detailing an unfortunate case of silk smuggling, or so it was dubbed by the press:

Astra Funduklian (32), living with her mother at Pine Road, Didsbury, Manchester, pleaded guilty at Westminster Police Court yesterday to knowingly concealing silk goods at Victoria Station with intent to avoid the duty…On arriving from Calais on Thursday evening the defendant paid duty on a dress and size pairs of stockings, and said that was all she had to declare. She denied that she had purchased any other silk goods whilst abroad, but some were found in her baggage together with the invoices.

Manchester Guardian, March 20th, 1926

When she died in 1954, Astra was living at a hotel in Tunbridge Wells, many miles from her former home in Manchester. What had brought her here I wonder?

Above: The Funduklian family grave, at Southern Cemetery in Manchester (source)

One can’t help but wonder how she spent her time, as all records list her as being ‘of no fixed occupation’. With affluent parents and lacking a spouse or children, one might assume Astra experienced some degree of freedom and comfort (compared to many less financially advantaged women of the time). Or perhaps not – did she experience chronic ill health? Or assume a caregiver role within the family?

It is difficult to speculate as to the nature of her life, given the lack of evidence available.

Her mother Aznive was an active member of the Manchester Armenian Ladies’ Society, and is even pictured in its publication. Charity work was a huge part of the organisation, particularly during the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath, during which Armenian men and women campaigned tirelessly to help their beleaguered co-patriots.

Above: The Armenian Ladies’ Society – Astra and Arto’s mother Aznive is pictured just left of the central figure (source)

(With permission, courtesy of Greater Manchester County Record Office)

Whilst living in the Funduklian family home in Didsbury, I was particularly intrigued by Astra, and the lack of information about her life. During the period I spent residing at Pine Road, I imagined her as a curious and playful character, interpreting her brush with the law as perhaps a little mischievous, and intrigued by her suggested travels abroad. Her occupation of the Didsbury house occurred as a young woman, which is how I shall portray her in Buxton.

Above: Me as Astra, trapped in the mysterious history of the house at Pine Road (source)

One might imagine that Arto’s art collection was something she’d have seen, maybe many times. Or not? Like the rest of the family, she sailed out to New York on at least one occasion, presumably to visit her brother Arto, and, as mentioned, she stayed in Buxton for an unspecified duration, at the town’s famous former Hydro Hotel.

Back in the first half of the twentieth century, Arto’s collection of art included pieces that would have been considered shocking by many.

Was Astra shocked by the pictures? Or was she interested? Was she close to her brother? Might she have fostered an interest in the arts herself?

Above: Astra visiting her own exhibition at Didsbury Parsonage in March 2014 (source)

The answers to these questions cannot be found in the scant evidence the family left behind, and, as for much of Arto’s life story, speculation and guesswork is all that is left to fill in the gaps.

I would like to invite visitors to two performances, on July 25th and August 15th (2-4pm), and to engage in some imaginative guesswork. Astra’s visits are not conventional theatrical performances, nor are they constrained by established facts alone. Instead, her strange, ghostly presence in the gallery, and her explorative, ritualistic gestures present an opportunity to reconsider Arto’s art collection, and, ultimately the man himself.


Archives+ (2013) Various articles, accessed 2015 at, online source.

George, J. (2002) Merchants In Exile: The Armenians Of Manchester, England 1835 – 1935, Taderon Press.

Manchester Guardian (1900-1950) Various articles accessed 2013 at, online source.


One thought on “The Funduklian Story Part Three

  1. Pingback: An artist’s perspective: Sarah Coggrave | Art Language Location

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