July’s News from the Conservation Lab

by Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

I recently returned from a few weeks of work at one of the Kelsey Museum’s excavations — the site of Notion in Turkey. Notion is a beautiful, rugged, and windswept site on promontory jutting into the Aegean Sea, and it’s interesting from a research perspective because it preserves an entire city, albeit at ground level.

Temple of Apollo at Notion
Temple of Apollo at Notion, with view of the Aegean Sea.

For the past three years, I’ve been working with Notion team to assess the site’s condition and the ongoing risks to its long-term preservation in order to develop a sustainable plan for its conservation. Conservation planning at Notion is interesting and challenging for many reasons. One is that the city is built from a few stone types that have inherent problems (translation: the stone is falling apart). Another is that Notion is poised to develop — and be conserved — in a way that’s uncommon for an archaeological site. Because the site has remained almost untouched, it preserves a large stretch of pristine coastline and is home to quintessential Mediterranean ecosystems. Unlike many archaeological tourism destinations in Turkey, Notion provides an opportunity for something closer to ecotourism, a type of sustainable tourism designed to benefit local communities at the same time that it encourages conservation and enjoyment of the natural environment. This poses a special conservation challenge: How can the site be preserved in ways that are unobtrusive and retain the value of its natural as well as archaeological features?

To give you a view into some of the difficult decision-making around this, here is one small example, focused on oregano. Yes, this star of summer cookery plays a major role at Notion! Notion’s wild oregano is incredibly powerful; it makes the site smell amazing, it’s attractive, and people come from all around the region to harvest it. But … it’s also a pesky condition risk to our falling-apart stone. It grows particularly well inside the blocks of the Temple of Athena. Not around them. In them. The oregano is literally breaking them apart.

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The Temple of Athena at Notion.
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Wild oregano bursting forth from the blocks of the Temple of Athena.

So the question becomes, which is more important? The temple? The oregano? Thankfully it grows in other places on the site, too, so if we decide to remove it at the temple, we won’t doom this herb to destruction (but I secretly think the oregano from the Temple of Athena is the best on the site). At the moment, the Notion team is still in the planning phase for excavation and conservation, so we’re not yet ripping this herb out wholesale. We do, however, occasionally harvest small amounts for our own use, and I will leave you with one recipe for it — a cocktail created by the conservation and site management team at Notion. Enjoy!

The Notionikos

Ingredients

  • 1 sprig fresh oregano* (additional sprig for garnish, optional)
  • 3 slices small cucumber, peeled (additional slice for garnish, optional)
  • 1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 oz gin
  • ice
  • tonic water

Directions

  1. In a rocks (old fashioned) glass, muddle the oregano and cucumber slices with the lemon juice.
  2. Add the gin and fill the glass 2/3 full with ice.
  3. Add the tonic and stir gently.
  4. Garnish with the additional oregano sprig and cucumber slice, if desired.
*The oregano from Notion is STRONG – feel free to use more sprigs if you’re not getting enough of an herb-forward effect.

Ugly Object — July

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

I’m going to open this month’s Ugly Object blog post by echoing a sentiment expressed by many of our readers: beauty (or lack thereof) is in the eye of the beholder, and not every Ugly Object is ugly to everyone. In fact, “ugly” is not the first word I would use to describe July’s pick, a small jug (or juglet) in the form of the head of Dionysus.

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Ceramic juglet in the form of the head of Dionysus. Roman, 1st century BCE. KM 6542.

When I gaze into this vessel’s mold-formed visage, the first thought that enters my mind is actually, “How cool is that?” Perhaps this comes from the fact that I am a huge fan of things that look like other things but function as the simple thing that they are. There are other examples of this in the Kelsey collection (many of them ceramic, a material so easily pressed into any shape), my favorite being a little date-shaped vessel that’s got all the wrinkly impressions of the desiccated fruit. This juglet’s maker took it a step further in creating a vessel that embodies in both form and modeling the square-jawed masculinity (and rather surly expression) of Dionysus. Who wouldn’t have enjoyed pouring wine straight from the head of the god of wine himself? Or eating fish off a fish plate, only to discover an illusion of more fish in the decorative scheme of the dish underneath? Perhaps I am too easy to please, but these clever little details never fail to delight me.

The Dionysus juglet will be traveling to Dearborn next spring, where you can see it on display at the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Be sure to pay the juglet a visit if you are there!

From the Archives #31, June 2018

by Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

In June we celebrate Father’s Day, a day to honor all fathers. It is often a day for picnics and barbecues and gifts and bad ties.

Though we often speak of Kelsey Museum namesake Francis W. Kelsey in terms of his professional career — scholar, professor of Latin and supporter of archaeology, music aficionado, international traveler, politically connected and a major influence on campus — he was also a doting father. Letters in the archives of the Bentley Historical Library show that he often wrote to his children while overseas, encouraging them in their studies and hobbies. These letters back and forth speak of a loving relationship between Kelsey and his children. He often wrote to them in Latin, referring to himself as Pater.

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Francis Kelsey’s children: Ruth, Charlotte, and Easton.

Of Kelsey’s three children, we know the least about his eldest, Ruth (born 1894). She does not make much of an appearance in the Kelsey Museum archives, though she does factor in the archives at the Bentley Library.

Charlotte, born in 1897, may be a bit more familiar to those who have followed this blog. It is Charlotte who starred in the Michigan Classical Club’s 1917 production of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris while a student at U-M. Photographer George Swain captured her performance in a series of glass slides — some that he hand-colored (see “From the Archives” for October 2015).

Kelsey’s youngest, Easton (born 1904), has a major presence in the Kelsey Museum archives. He often accompanied his father on trips abroad and there are a good number of photographs of him while traveling. Easton was a photographer in his own right and a collection of his photographs is catalogued in the Kelsey archives (identified with the designation “KK”).

For this month’s “From the Archives,” in honor of Father’s Day, we present Francis W. Kelsey in a new light, not as a scholar and founder of a museum, but as a loving father to three wonderful children.

* * * * *

To see additional photos and to read more about the Kelsey family, visit the “Family Man” portion of the online exhibition A Man of Many Parts: The Life and Legacy of Francis Willey Kelsey.

June’s News from the Conservation Lab: Conference Crunch Time!

by Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Greetings, earthlings! Suzanne and I have just returned from two professional conference journeys — and boy, are we tired! The conference I attended was at the Getty Villa, located in beautiful Pacific Palisades, California. The hilltop replica Villa of the Papyri and ocean view beyond served as scenic backdrops for a conference focused on the study of Roman Egyptian mummy portraits. (Sadly, I have no photos from the Villa itself, only the one below from the Getty Center — also beautiful!) The talks were wide-ranging, from discussions about portrait workshops and artists’ materials to imaging techniques and binding media analyses. My own talk explored changes in the green pigment palette during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, while looking at a group of painted shrouds as case studies. The conference brought together mummy portrait enthusiasts from around the world, and planted all kinds of new research ideas in my head. If you are wondering, How can I get my hands on the post prints? — fear not! They’ll be published online in fall 2019.

Suzanne attended the American Institute for Conservation’s 46th Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas. I say attended, but really, Suzanne was program chair and in effect the mastermind behind the conference’s academic program. The theme this year, Material Matters, explored the impact of material studies and issues of materiality on conservation principles and practice. One member-proposed session featured papers that discussed the preservation of cultural heritage through the transfer and transmission of materials and information from one medium to another. In a joint objects-architecture specialty group session Suzanne gave a talk about the preservation of ancient graffiti at El Kurru, Sudan. Suzanne’s research has also just been published in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, which you can read here. I think we both agree that while a conference is a great opportunity to share research and catch up with colleagues, nothing beats a good old-fashioned peer-reviewed publication for getting new information out there.

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One of many ocean views from the Getty Center.
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Amaris Sturm and Suzanne Davis at the conservation graduate programs reunion in Houston.

 

Ugly Object – June

by Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object will be featured in the new Kelsey in Focus case, a rotating exhibit space that will highlight some of the Kelsey Museum’s hidden collections. The first In Focus installment features a trio of ceramic duck figurines from Seleucia on the Tigris, a site just under 20 miles south of modern Baghdad that was excavated by the University of Michigan between 1927 and 1937. The duck fragment that’s made our list bears a remarkable likeness to the real thing; I live near a creek and as such share my habitat with a number of these aquatic birds, so I consider myself a fair judge of the high quality of this remaining fragment of duck. Even so, back when it was made this was not a one-of-a-kind object. It was created from a two-part mold, evidenced by a seam that bisects the duck’s face. Even more interesting: one of the duck’s nostrils is “clogged,” seemingly because it was not fully scooped out like the other nostril after casting. These little artifacts of the manufacturing process are fascinating, as is the question of how many of these ducks were made and what they were used for. Look closely and you can see traces of paint in the duck’s eyes and nostrils, and an ancient repair adhesive on its neck. Someone clearly valued this duck enough to stick its head back on when it broke.

Come visit the Kelsey in Focus case on the first floor of the Upjohn exhibit wing, next to the elevator.

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Head of a ceramic duck figure from Seleucia on the Tigris, Iraq. 2nd century AD. KM 2018.1.104.

From the Archives #30 May 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Spring has finally arrived in Ann Arbor, and with it our heavy parkas and snow boots have at last been stored away, not to be thought of for many months. Instead, we bring out the t-shirts and shorts and we venture outside to enjoy the sun and cool breeze.

During this time, we look to spend more time in nature, observing that which was covered in snow for so long. George Swain, back when he worked for the University, would do this as well. Of course, he would go outside with his camera, capturing whatever scenes he could.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present two Swain images saved in the Kelsey archives. Though the great majority of our archival photographic collections are of excavations overseas, we do find the occasional non-archaeology image as well. The two images highlighted this month depict a squirrel caught climbing up a tree and an owl peering down on Swain, perhaps posing for the photograph.

These two photographs are glass slides. These were often used in lanterns for teaching purposes. Swain spent a great deal of time after the excavations in the 1920s reproducing images for U-M faculty and staff to use in their classrooms. One means of this, prior to digitization and PowerPoint, was to replicate images on glass so that they could be projected on the wall using a lantern slide projector (sometimes known as a magic lantern).

Why he chose an owl and a squirrel is unknown. No caption accompanies these two. However, they seem to be posing for the camera, so what is a photographer supposed to do? We are unsure if these hail from Ann Arbor, but we think the squirrel would appreciate the attention and extra food squirrels receive on campus these days.

As you wander outside, be sure to appreciate the animals that are enjoying the same sunshine you are. Listen to the wisdom of the owl as it stares down at you, trying to pass along a message. She may have some sage words for you, such as “Enjoy Spring!”

Ugly Object of the Month – May

By Caroline Roberts and Suzanne Davis, Conservators

For this month’s Ugly Object blog post we felt that we should pay homage to a small but significant variety of artifact: the pottery sherd. There are millions of these things out there, in the field, patiently awaiting discovery. So why the reverence? Because while pottery sherds may be irregular in shape and incomplete in form, these little dudes are often jam-packed with information. We recognize that we’re preaching to the choir, archaeological ceramicists out there, but for those who were unaware of the vast informational value of sherds, consider this month’s Ugly Object.

KM 1980.2.39 is what we would call a rim sherd, meaning that it was once part of the rim or opening of a vessel. What drew us to this particular sherd is its relief decoration, which reminds us of ornament that we’ve seen in classical architecture. But beyond this we knew little about the artifact. To learn more, we approached guest curator Chris Ratté to ask him what he thinks about the sherd:

Chris Ratté: This is ugly?! Why don’t you understand that this is a beautiful sherd?

Conservators: Well, this is not exactly fine art. But a lot of our “Ugly Objects” possess qualities that might be otherwise overlooked, such as charm or informational value.  Anyway, what can you tell us about this sherd?

Chris Ratté: The sherd comes from a mold-made Megarian bowl. The guilloche and egg-and-dart relief patterns are similar to moldings I know from architecture, such as at the temple of Apollo at Didyma.

Conservators: Cool! Can you tell us how the bowl was fabricated?

Chris Ratté: The bowl was thrown into a mold on a wheel. The relief pattern in the mold was cast from a silver vessel. The bowl itself was made in imitation of a particular type of metal vessel connected to the Egyptian king Ptolemy’s visit to Athens.* The ceramic bowls that were made from this were very popular, but were not produced for very long.

Conservators: Wow! Who knew? How was the bowl used?

Chris Ratté: For drinking. The bowl wouldn’t have had handles, and I like to imagine what it might have felt like to hold the vessel in my hands and feel the relief beneath my fingers.

Want to learn more about this and other diagnostic sherds? Be sure to visit the Kelsey starting August 24th to see the upcoming exhibition Urban Biographies, which will demonstrate ways in which artifacts and modern technologies are used to study ancient (and modern) cities.

*Ptolemy V Epiphanes and his son, Ptolemy VI Philometer visited Athens in 182 BCE for the Panathenaic Games.

 

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KM 1980.2.39, exterior and interior views
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Urban Biographies Co-Curator Christopher Ratté