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Dikran Kelekian

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DIKRAN KELEKIAN (1868 - 1951), also known as Dikran Khan Kelekian, was a notable Armenian American collector and dealer of Islamic art who was one of the seminal figures to introduce West Asian art, specifically Islamic works, to American markets.

The son of an Armenian banker from Kayseri, Dikran Kelekian and his brother Kevork set themselves up in the antiquities business in Istanbul in 1892. The next year Dikiran came to the United States as a commissioner for the Persian Pavilion at the World's Columbia Exposition in Chicago. He soon established shops in New York, Paris, London, and Cairo, where he and his brother flourished as vendors selling works of art and antiquities.

In 1900 Kelekian apparently served as a member of the jury for the Universal Exposition in Paris, and in 1903 he lent a number of his works to the Exposition of Muslim Arts at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, also in Paris. The following year he participated in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, mounting a large display of his wares and accompanying the display with an illustrated catalogue. Already by this time Kelekian seems to have been recognized by the shah of Iran for his efforts to promote Persian art and culture, and he had added the honorific title of Khan between his first and last names.

An expert in Islamic, and particularly Persian, pottery he was actively involved in the sale of medieval Islamic ceramics following the finds in Rayy in the late 1880s - early 1890s, as well as the excavations begun in Raqqa in 1896 and Sultanabad and Varamin in 1905.

One author sketched his character like so: "He is a creature so curiously compounded that, under his grim and sometimes awesome visage, he combines, in one person, the qualities of a Persian satrap and a properly accredited archangel, of Ghenghis Khan and the Chevalier Bayard, of Thor, the God of Thunder and Saint Francis of Assisi."

Kelekian was a member of the Central Board of Directors of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and in 1909 he funded an AGBU orphanage bearing his name in Deort Yol (in modern day Turkey) for Armenian refugees fleeing the Adana massacres.

He was also a major donor to AGBU's various activities to save Armenians that survived the tragic 1915 Armenian Genocide.

Kelekian died in January 1951 when he fell from the twenty-first floor of the St. Moritz hotel in New York.

He was painted by the American painter Milton Avery and the portrait, donated in 1998 by Nanette Kelekian, hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum. A famous pastel portrait by America's premier Impressionist Mary Cassatt of his son, Charles Dikran Kelekian, is housed at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum.

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