He spends some of his spare time searching for and collecting Islamic and Persian artefacts for his own collection and to aid in his teaching at the university. He will be putting on an exhibition of his collection at the university’s library in September, to coincide with the launch of a new course.
How did you get the collecting bug?
Dr Richard Piran McClary: I collected antique maps, mostly 17th century British Isles, from the age of about 14. I then got into collecting Islamic art about 20 years ago, although on a more serious level in the last 10 years.
What drew you to Islamic art?
I travelled to Istanbul when I was 16 with my father and fell in love with the architecture and material culture of the Islamic world at that point.
How large is your collection?
Across the range of Turkoman carpets, Qarakhanid coins, 19th-century sepia architecture photos, rare travel books, Qur’an folios, glass and metalware, as well as ceramics, there are probably a couple of hundred items.
What elements do you look for when considering a purchase?
Rarity, uniqueness and to fit into the current research projects I am working on.
Over the last few years the main focus has been on fragments of 12th-14th century Iranian overglaze ceramics, as part of two current book projects.
Where do you find items to buy?
Primarily in regional auction houses across the UK, often online via portals such as thesaleroom.com. The price point, and very specific nature of what I am looking for, means that these are the most fruitful and cost-effective sources.
Would you classify your habit as ‘buying the best there is’ or are you driven more by the thrill of hunting something out others have missed ?
The best is a very expensive game to play, going up against very wealthy international collectors, so I tend to focus on the very rare but not highly desirable fragmentary ceramics, along with single Qur’an pages.
These are both very useful as teaching aids for my undergraduate and postgraduate students to handle, compare and closely examine.
What’s the most you have ever spent on an item for your collection?
Have you sold anything from your collection?
Where do you keep your collection?
Apart from a few pieces in my home, most are in my office at the university, so that I can use them as teaching aids.
Tell us more about how you integrate your collecting with your job
I use items as research tools, as well as ways for students to handle a range of different types of objects and to demonstrate the materiality of art from the Islamic lands, with a focus on the medieval period and on Iran and Central Asia.
I will be putting on an exhibition of my collection at the University of York Library in September 2023 to coincide with the launch of the new Islamic art and cultures MA programme.
What advice would you give a young collector?
Buy what you love, don’t chase profit or market trends, but, if possible, find beauty and delight in things that are out of fashion, to allow you to get the best within your budget. It is a truism, but less is more, so buy the best you can afford.
Do you have a favourite piece?
That is like asking about a favourite child! Each item serves a different purpose, and has its own charm, appeal, or instructive quality, so it has to be a ‘no’ to that one.
If money were no object what do you wish you could own?
Probably one of the painted pages from the dispersed Shah Tahmasp Shahname, which mark the high point of Persian miniature painting.