Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 4:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 4:26 p.m.
For the same reason that archaeologists study the objects of a culture’s daily existence — cups and saucers, jugs and rugs Aqueela Khuddus — and Anna Zerner purchase beautiful artifacts from their native countries. A single, handcrafted knick-knack can represent a whole culture.
Chutnees Indian restaurant owner Aqueela Khuddus, 53, grew up in Hyderabad, India. It is the same city that is home to Salar Jung — the most prolific private collector in history; his house was so full of artifacts and trinkets, it evolved into a museum.
Collecting is in Khuddus’ roots. She keeps beautiful and beloved things close to her at all times, including her seven grandchildren, who live with their parents on eight acres of property Khuddus and her husband, Dr. Shaik Khuddus, bought when they moved to Gainesville.
The front receiving rooms of their home — the formal living and dining rooms — are decorated with traditional Indian artifacts: satin pillows, fine carpets, bronze urns, dishes, tapestries and silk tassels.
“My husband refuses to let me bring anything more home,” laughs Khuddus, a relaxed and often smiling woman. “I think I’m pretty much booked at home…but my children are building their houses, so they pick stuff out.”
Married in India at age 17 (hers was an arranged marriage), Khuddus had children and a family and lived in Ft. Pierce, where her husband had a private cardiology practice, before acquiring college degrees in art, history and English from Indian River Community College and Florida Atlantic University.
Her art background helped her segue easily into selecting for her own home fine Indian decorations, which she often brought back from India after summer trips to see her inlaws. Friends began drawing up a shopping list for Khuddus before these trips. One suitcase led to another, and soon, she had an importing career. Carpets, artworks, jewelry. She even worked with a designer in India to create a women’s clothing line.
Khuddus has also run her own humanitarian foundation, the Khadija Foundation, for the last 17 years. (Khuddus explains that the foundation is named after the wife of the Prophet Muhammad—”she was a successful business woman and a community worker; she’s my idol.”) In addition to raising money and services for victims of domestic tragedies — such as Hurricane Katrina — the foundation sponsors medical clinics in India.
Today, Khuddus’ home bears the imprints of travel and time, sometimes in unexpected places. Tucked through the handles of the fireplace screen is a small, antique-looking sword in its sheath that, according to Khuddus’ mother, was once owned by Raja Pratabsing, an Indian king.
A small ornate wooden table in the living room bears the small marks made in it by Khuddus’ father, who owned the table first. On it rests a sterling silver gulabdan — a small font and wand used to sprinkle rosewater on wedding guests during a traditional Indian wedding.
Khuddus is especially keen on antiques, including a silk-on-silk carpet with 800 knots per square inch that hangs in the hallway separating the more formal front of the house from the casual kitchen and family area.
“Two people will weave one carpet, and it will take five years, and if one of them dies, they have to discontinue it, because everyone’s knot is different,” she explains.
On the wall in the living room hangs a large tapestry that is almost 300 years old: Upon a field of black felt, threads made of real gold and silver depict the Taj-Ul- Masajid Mosque in Bhopal, India. Khuddus bought the tapestry five years ago and restored it to its original resplendency.
On the living room wall, another ornate black tapestry bears in Arabic the words: “All this for the blessings of God,” says Khuddus.
She genuinely appreciates the processes that went into creating her pieces. “Art is such a beautiful thing,” says Khuddus. “Indian things are very popular right now, but what you buy at a chain store versus what I sell is like the difference between imitation Gucci and real Gucci.”
Khuddus buys items for her home and items for the little store inside Chutnees from the same artisans in India — people she has known for decades. Her jeweler in India, for example, has been her family’s jeweler for the last three decades.
“These are techniques that have been passed down for generations. This is stuff you pass on to your children or grandchildren or great grandchildren,” she says as she points to a wine red Indian tapestry on the wall in her dining room.
“You should see these people while they’re working — they take their time and enjoy what they’re doing...This art is like bringing a living emotion from all the way over there and planting it here,” Khuddus says, then sighs. “I get very passionate about this.”
“The most Swedish thing of all is the Dala horse,” Zerner says.
Carved out of wood, the Dala horse looks much like a miniature version of the Greek Trojan horse, minus the wheels. The most traditional color for these toy animals is a bright reddish-orange, though it can come in other hues. Generally, small, bright curlicues and flourishes ornament the horse’s face and neck.
Indoors in Sweden on cold winter nights centuries ago, peasants began making these horses to pass the time. Then, Swedish soldiers fighting wars across continental Europe in the 18th century crafted them for the children of the families that housed them as a token of gratitude and good will; the Dala horse became an even more permanent symbol of Swedish culture during the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
When Zerner’s children were growing up, they each had a Dala horse in their bedrooms. Now, Zerner keeps her Dala horses — one black and two blue — in the kitchen of her Haile Plantation home.
“Every time I look at them, I smile,” she says.
Married to world-class quantum chemist Michael Zerner, Zerner has lived all over the world — Spain, Germany, Australia, Brazil and her native Sweden. Settled now in Gainesville, where her husband served a professorship until passing away in 2000, Anna keeps home close in the form of authentic Swedish gimcracks purchased from Marianne Coveney’s European Essentials in Haile Plantation.
Coveney, also from Sweden, imports fine tapestries, glasswares and other home accents from Sweden and its surrounding countries.
“I’ve always had some Swedish things from my family, but when I got to know Marianne and all her beautiful things, I got hooked,” says Zerner. After purchasing her Haile Plantation home three and a half years ago, Anna says, she was shopping at Marianne’s at least once a week, before forcing herself to exercise some restraint. “Now, it’s once a month.”
In addition to her Dala horses, Zerner collects Iitalla birds from Finland and tapestries bearing plants that represent different regions of Sweden.
“I do like the simplicity and style of Swedish things,” says Zerner, who offers the products of Swedish company Ikea as an example. “You can buy things that go easily with other things, because they’re simple.”
Now that it’s Christmas time, Zerner is getting out her extensive collection of straw-made ornaments, candleholders and decorations, which are rich with Swedish history.
“Sweden was a very poor country after World War II,” Zerner says. “People made do with the things they had, so they made things out of straw.”
Included in her straw Christmas decorations are two large rams. “Every family has these rams in their house,” Zerner says. “Because in Sweden, Santa comes by ram, not by reindeer.”
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