Sheila Unwin's long involvement with the Arab world began when she was posted to Egypt as an officer in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) during the Second World War.
After the war, she went with her husband to Tanganyika as part of the pioneering and ill-fated Groundnut Scheme, staying there until after Independence in 1961 and later moving to Kenya, where she lived until the 1970s. It was during this period that she became interested in the history and culture of the Indian Ocean, paying frequent visits to Zanzibar, where she befriended an Arab family. After the family was forced to flee Zanzibar during the 1964 revolution, she found herself the proud owner of forty chests, thanks to the cooperation of her good friend, Muhammad Matar Al-Suwaidy.
So began her lifelong quest to discover as much as she could about the chests' unrecorded origins. Her travels, often arduous and uncomfortable, to Oman, India, Pakistan, Iran and the Yemen, were followed by further investigations in Portugal and the Netherlands in pursuit of evidence to confirm her hunches as to their provenance and stylistic origins.
Sheila Unwin now lives in Devon, England.