The Iranian Minister of Industry visits the school, staff and students, Shiraz, Iran, Autumn 1939. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
In 1936, twenty-nine year old Hans was given an official position to go to Persia (Iran) at the request of Reza Shah (1878-1944), the king (r. 1925-1941), to plan and set up the first ever schools of technical engineering, as foreign aid from the German government to the Iranian government. The first technical college was established by him in Shiraz in 1937, and it was during the official opening of this school that he received a royal order from Reza Shah to collect the necessary data for the preparation of an encyclopaedia regarding “Traditional Crafts, Technology, Science, Material Culture and Art of Persia.”
In parallel with administering and teaching at the Technical Colleges in Shiraz, later in Isfahan and finally in Tabriz in the north of Iran, H. Wulff spent a lot of time from 1937 to 1941 travelling all around the country observing, interviewing and photographing master craftsmen of many different guilds to record their techniques of production and tool making, to teach at his new schools and also to use them as primary resources in his royal project.
However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, things changed dramatically. The British and Soviet Armies invaded Iran in August 1941 and detained most of the German civilians of Iran under the accusation of being spies of the Third Reich, and working in the country as Nazi associates.
In September 1941, he and his family were separated. His wife and children were forced to go back to Germany (along with other German mothers and their children) and he, along with five hundred other German civilian men who were working in Iran, were sent to Australian internment camps as war internees until the end of the war. Between 1945 to 1947 the civilian internees in Australia were released. H. Wulff elected to stay in Australia, but he had to work until 1949 to earn enough money to pay for the passage of his family to join him there.
In 1950 he joined the University of New South Wales in Sydney as a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering. It was only in 1953 that he was able to retrieve all his research materials from Iran, including his notes, diaries, and photographs. In 1963 the newly founded Department of Industrial Arts at the University of New South Wales accepted him as a Ph.D. candidate to work on his thesis based on his previous works on the traditional crafts of Persia. To complete his field research, H. Wulff returned to Iran twice during 1964 and 1965, and published the result of his Ph.D. in the form of “The Traditional Crafts of Persia”.
While Dr. Wulff published his Ph.D., he never had time to complete his royal project given to him by Reza Shah, but he finished his fieldwork and covered most of those traditional crafts and arts, science and technologies. Dr. Wulff passed away on the 31st of December 1967 in Pakistan during his last field trip.
Dr. H. E. Wulff (on the right in the picture) during his P.hD. ceremony, the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. April 12th 1965. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
(إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ), "Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him we will return”, 2:156, Qur'an. Dr. H. E. Wulff's handwriting while studying the Qur'an inside the Loveday War Camp, Australia, 1943. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
In the 1990s as a student in visual art (painting), I was increasingly inspired by the visual arts of the pastoral nomads of Iran. My guess is that such inspiration had begun to grow in me since childhood, when I was living among Qashqai tribes in Fahliyoun of Mamasani, in Fars province.
Being familiar with Bakhtiari pastoral nomads, I began my visits and fieldwork research among them in the 1990s. This personal transhumance continued for about ten years, and I focused more and more on the study of mortuary motifs and funerary images that I observed on the surfaces of their tombstones in the middle of the Bakhtiari territories, situated in the south-west of the Zagros Mountains.
Very soon, a unique genre of Bakhtiari tombstones, lion tombstones (Bard-e Shir), inspired my attention. Amazed by their design, volume and techniques of execution, by the help of my ethnographical fieldwork (participation, observation and interview) and also visual and material culture studies, I found out that the majority of these unique nomadic animal tombstones were made by seasonal non-Bakhtiari stone carvers.
With the help of epigraphic studies and analysis of their epitaphs, I discovered that some of these rare and stylish tombstones of the Islamic world were sculpted by the professional stone carvers of Hefshejan during the mid-19th century. It was in 1997 that for the first time I visited this city and asked for the Bagheri family. Immediately I was directed to their family workshop, and then I told them my story and how I found the lion tombstones that their great grandfathers made for the Bakhtiari nomads in Lali plain of Masjid Soleyman in Khouzestan.
They could not believe my story and were unaware of the existence of those lion tombstones, but confirmed that they had heard such legends from their fathers. This was the beginning of our friendship; I stayed a year with them (1997-98) to learn about their techniques of stone carving and sculpting, and also how to make the stone carving tools in the traditional manner.
In 2000, I moved to France to continue my PhD in Social Anthropology and Ethnography in the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and very soon I became familiar with the theories of Anthropology of Technique, created and applied by André Leroi-Gourhan (1911-1986), the famous French archaeologist, anthropologist and scientist. I was inspired by his theories of anthropology of technique and the usage of tools for the production of objects. In this regard, it was only in 2002 that I became familiar with “The Traditional Crafts of Persia”, a very important book written by Dr. Hans Eberhard Wulff (1907-1967), published in 1967 by M.I.T. Press.
At that time I was focusing on the study of the techniques of production of Hafshejani stone carvers. Dr. Wulff’s book has a special section on stone carving, masonry and their techniques of production which assisted me greatly in my own research. I thought that if I could find the original manuscripts and his archival materials based on which he wrote his magnificent book, maybe I could uncover more information, especially photographs, regarding the life and works of stone carvers in Iran back to the 1930s.
With the help of a grant from the University of Michigan, in 2003 I went to MIT to see if I could find Dr. Wulff’s archive and book manuscript. Once there, I talked to the staff of MIT press who confirmed that they had no idea who Dr. Wulff was or where I could find his research materials. Back in Paris after a few weeks, I forgot the story and finished my PhD in 2007.
After seventeen years, only recently (August 2019), during my fieldwork in Australia, I accidentally succeeded in finding Dr. Wulff’s entire collection and research materials.
Since July 2019, I have been working closely with the children of Dr. Wulff in Sydney, and recently they have given me his entire collection and materials from Iran, Pakistan and Laos. I can confirm that his collection from Iran alone contains more than 5,000 unpublished photographs, negatives, slides, and drawings; more than ten handwritten diaries; more than 5,000 field notes; and the entire official letters and communications.
With the rapid modernisation of Iran since the 1930s, as an expert of the field I can confirm that all of those traditional crafts and arts, technologies and sciences recorded by Dr. Wulff have now disappeared from the Iranian scene.
Lion tombstones among Haft-Lang Bakhtiyari. © P. Khosronejad.
Signature of Master Bagheri Hafshegani on a lion tombstone from Khouzestan dated 1850. © P. Khosronejad.
Group of German internees, Loveday War Camp, 16 March 1943. Front row third from the left internee H. E. Wulff (R36838). The number is an assigned POW number. Prefix R indicates apprehended by the British Forces in Iran. © Australian War Memorial- 030191/10.
The cemetery where Dr. H. E. Wulff is buried. Pakistan, 1967. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
Some materials from the Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
Working with and interviewing tombstone sculptors. © P. Khosronejad.
H. E. Wulff research journeys around Iran, 1937 to 1941. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
Governmental recommendation letter for the research activities of H. E. Wulff in Iran. Wulff Collection. © P. Khosronejad.
Motifs and images on Bakhtiayri tombstones. Lali plain, Masjid Soleyman, Khouzestan, Iran, 1990. © P. Khosronejad.
THE LIFE OF H. E. WULFF
1936 to 1967
Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor
Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University
Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University