Humanities Viewpoints: A Podcast from the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute

Humanities Viewpoints is a podcast featuring short conversations between host and Humanities Institute Assistant Director, Aimee Mepham, and a WFU faculty member working in the humanities. The conversations focus on a timely subject – a current event, holiday, cultural experience – and how this subject connects to the faculty member’s field, teaching, and expertise.

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Faculty who are interested in participating or who would like to submit a topic should contact Aimee Mepham at

Episode 21: The Persian Card Room at Graylyn Estate

Today I’m talking with Dr. Charles Wilkins, Wake Forest Associate Professor of History, Wake Forest Senior Reid Simpson, and Dr. Anke Scharrahs, independent scholar and conservator.

Dr. Scharrahs is an internationally recognized conservator specializing in Islamic art and currently living in Germany. She is visiting Wake Forest as a scholar in residence from February 10th through the 20th. The focus of her attention will be a space in Graylyn Manor House known as the Persian Card Room, an early example of an Ottoman residential space dating from the early 18th century. The panels decorating the room were acquired by Reynolds Tobacco Company President Bowman Gray and his wife Natalie Lyons Gray during their tours of the Mediterranean in the 1920s. During her stay, Dr. Scharrahs will personally examine the Persian Card Room. Since early 2019, she has been conducting research on the room remotely by using an online gallery of digital images provided by University photographer Ken Bennett. Her personal examination is intended to verify her initial findings.

Dr. Scharrahs will also present two public lectures. The first, “The Persian Card Room at Graylyn Estate – Secrets of a Rare Interior from Damascus Revealed,” will take place at 5:00pm on Tuesday, February 18th in the auditorium of Reynolda House Museum of American Art. The second, “Relatives of the Persian Card Room at the Graylyn Estate: ‘Damascene Rooms’ in Collections Around the World Between 1880 and 2020,” will take place at 5:00pm on Wednesday, February 19th, also in the auditorium of Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Don’t miss these great opportunities, and please visit for more information.

These events are sponsored by the WFU Center for Global Programs and Studies, the History Department, the Art Department, the Department for the Study of Religions, the Middle East and South Asia Studies Program, and the Humanities Institute, with support made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dr. Anke Scharrahs is the author of the book Damascene Ajami Interiors: Forgotten Jewels of Interior Design. She is a conservator specializing in polychrome wooden surfaces with a special interest in Islamic art. She has a Ph.D from the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, Germany and she has been engaged in research and conservation of Syrian-Ottoman interiors for many years, both in museum collections and in historic houses in Germany, New York, and Damascus.

Charles Wilkins joined the Wake Forest faculty in 2006 as Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern history. He is the author of Forging Urban Solidarities: Ottoman Aleppo, 1640-1700 (Brill, 2010).  Wilkins’ scholarly work is concerned with the social history of the Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern Period (1500-1800).  His current research focuses on the long-term social and cultural integration of the Arab lands into the Ottoman Empire.

Reid Simpson is a senior at Wake Forest University, double majoring in History and Politics with a minor in Arabic. He has been working with Dr. Wilkins as a research assistant on this project since the Spring of 2018.

In this episode we discuss the origins of the panels of the Persian Card Room, the history of art collection in wealthy families like the Grays, and the poets who wrote the inscriptions on the panels. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

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