The Tangier American Legation Museum represents more than bricks and mortar, beauty and craftsmanship. Its multi-media, multidisciplinary collections focus on the history of the relationship between the United States and Morocco. Its collections visually reinforce the historical relationship between these two nations and reflect the history of Tangier, while its library holds important political, social and historical documents from both countries. Moorish decorative marvels, refined decor of European and Federalist sensitivity, and a notable collection of paintings fill the rooms in this beautiful historic building. The Tangier American Legation Museum opened its doors on July 4, 1976, and now serves as a museum, historic house, research library, art gallery, classroom and conference center.
According to a 2013 interview, Associate Director Yhtimad Bouziane said of this challenge: “I want Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) to be a light, a beacon of knowledge for the entire region. I want it not only for the intellectuals but also for everyone, and it should portray the real American culture, not the superficial one.”
Interior features include thin plank dark wood floors that are not parallel to the walls. Light blue painted walls with an off white wainscoting that frame the walls from top to bottom that make the room feel larger. The double wainscoting allows the art on the wall to have a larger presence and more of an impact on the viewer who is observing the characteristics of this room. There are thick, grey rubber baseboards on the entire perimeter of all walls for practical and facilitated cleaning uses. Looking up at the ceiling, there is crown molding around it entirely that matches the wainscoting and window trim. On the south wall of the room, there are four floor to ceiling window bays that represent doors with small squares framed with white mullions. Then above these bays are four individual transoms displaying the same character. On the ceiling, hangs one small pendant light in the center of the room with a medallion as an accessory.
In each of the openings into the room, there is wide off-white trim offset from the walls by about 3/8”. The room incorporates a red Moroccan rug that covers the center of the room for a welcoming and soft feeling.
Most lighting comes from 19th century French brass lamps, including table lamps and floor lamps with brass bases. The red Moroccan rug is a significant character-defining piece in this room as well. Rugs represent a form of storytelling in Morocco, and each is designed to protect the human spirit and shelter the body from the elements. The Berber colors tell a tale as well, with red symbolizing strength and protection, blue indicating wisdom, yellow representing eternity and green symbolizing peace.
On the interior, the most character-defining features of this room are the art on the walls. The materials around the paintings are simple and soft, allowing the paintings and drawings to be the main pieces of the room. Most of the paintings represent women and men that have had an impact on the history of Tangier. There are wooden casements and furniture that occupy the room which include: a wooden display case holding valuable articles and letters, wooden four-legged side tables, and a traditional wooden chair with fabric upholstery.
The art collection is used in many ways. Tours are tailored to audiences of tourists, school children, residents, historians and special interest groups. Local women who participate in TALIM’s free literacy classes also benefit from it, as objects from the collection can be integrated into their lesson plans. The reference library, which contains approximately 8,000 volumes of literature, history and statistics about the region, is another major asset to the community.
Every work of art contains a remarkable story, but among the hundreds of paintings in the collection, one by Ion Perdicaris reflects dramatic international connections. “Arab Groom and Horse” might be just another large, expressive genre painting, were it not for the history of the artist. Perdicaris came to Tangier in 1872, having had some formal artistic training in Paris, when he was kidnapped by the Berber bandit Raisuli in 1904 and held at ransom for 70,000 USD (1,972,997.00 USD in 2019). American president Theodore Roosevelt sent US battleships and the Marines into the Tangier harbor to secure his release, wrongly assuming that he was still an American citizen. A romantic version of this story was made into the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion. Thus, this 19th century painting, like many others in the collection, engages different audiences including contemporary movie-goers, art enthusiasts and historians.
The Perdicaris room resembles the shape of a rectangle in plan. There are two main entrances into the room from the north and south sides, directly across from each other. The north entrance is about 4’ wide and includes a case opening with white off-white trim on the perimeter. The south entrance has two beautiful french doors about 2.5’ wide with small square mirrors framed with white mullions, leading into the dining hall. The other case opening on the west side opens up into the Tangier room which has access to the restrooms.