From the Archives #54 — May 2020

By Sebastián Encina

Each year around May, people in and around Ann Arbor start heading to Nichols Arboretum to see the blooming flowers and trees, the signs of spring returning to our area. This year, Nichols will not be planting their regular peony gardens, but people will still be making their way to the arboretum to see what other colorful flowers are growing. 

And as the weather continues getting warmer, more people will venture out to their gardens and start planting their own flowers and plants. Soon our neighborhoods will be full of brilliant, beautiful colors and amazing smells. (Sorry, allergy sufferers!)

Flowers and natural beauty have been a source of joy and happiness for thousands of years. The natural world decorated the walls, pottery, and other items of the ancient world. Stroll through the galleries of the Kelsey Museum and you will see many examples of nature-inspired motifs on a wide range of objects.

So, too, did our predecessors at the University of Michigan appreciate the beauty of flowers. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we bring their flowers to you. Though not as brilliant and vibrant as the flowers you can see and smell in the gardens of Matthaei and Nichols, they evoke the beauty that people share no matter where they are. George R. Swain captured the beauty of flowers in England, France, Greece, Egypt, Belgium, Palestine, and Turkey, in gardens, placed near monuments, growing in the wild, and for sale. In his photographs presented here, we see a funeral procession, a decorated cenotaph, flower vendors in Brussels, someone’s private home garden. Swain was sure to point his camera everywhere while traveling with the U-M teams.

Soon, Ann Arbor will be full of flowers and beauty. We will wander the parks and gardens appreciating what we see, often stopping to snap our own photos to share. We are continuing a practice so many people have enjoyed for so long.

 

News from the Conservation Lab — Chairing a Conference … Remotely

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of chairing the annual conference of the American Institute for Conservation. It’s an interesting job in which I get to work with a lot of amazing people, read about all the cool research my colleagues are doing, and — once a year — stand up on multiple different stages, introduce people, hear and see their great papers, and then moderate discussions with them. Every year I get nervous about this because our biggest sessions have around 1,000 people, and both our speakers and our audience members are super smart (and also very opinionated). But then, every year, it’s a great experience and I’m so glad I got to be part of it.

This year, however, there’s a new twist. I bet you can guess what it is! Yes: this year, for reasons of health and safety, we’re holding the conference online. Thankfully, there is a great team at AIC managing all the actual logistics, because I still have a paper copy of the newspaper delivered to my door each morning, I’ve never been on the book of faces, and I don’t tweet or ‘gram. So we’ll see how this goes. Fingers crossed! I’m cheering myself up by thinking about the ~100 hours of great content we’re going to have.

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The AIC Board members sitting virtually for our pre-conference board meeting. Screenshot by Kate Lee.

In our opening session this Thursday, we’ll have a talk by NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede, and then five presentations by AIC members on topics of importance to the direction of our discipline: how conservation is / should be presented in public outreach, collections care practices that can help us navigate change, considerations for the future of African collections, reworking science curriculum in conservation training, and methods for ensuring pluralistic, values-based decisions in conservation and collections-care. I’m looking forward to this and many other sessions, and will report back on how they go. Wish us luck!

 

 

Ugly Object of the Month — May 2020

Caroline Roberts, Conservator

 Dear Kelsey blog fans,

Since our museum isn’t open for physical visits, we’ve decided to be even MORE open virtually. We’re cracking open the storage vaults: last month, this month, and until whatever month we can get back in the galleries, we’re highlighting ugly objects in our storage cabinets.

I was inspired to write about this object during a walk; I don’t know about you, but I am LOVING the spring weather we’re experiencing here in Ann Arbor. I’ve noticed quite a few fairy doors and houses — a well-documented local tradition — during my walks around the neighborhood, and these have inspired our latest, Pan-like Ugly Object pick.

photo of a marble head of a faun
Marble head of a faun. Height 4.9 cm. Carthage, Tunisia, late 2nd–early 3rd century AD. KM 29622.

This marble head of a faun was discovered in Carthage, Tunisia, and was carved sometime between the second and third centuries AD. It was probably once a part of a larger sculptural relief, perhaps a sarcophagus. You’ll immediately see that things are more than a bit off with this creature’s face and head. It kind of looks like it’s being sucked into a vacuum — and surprised by this fact. Distortions like this are not uncommon among figures carved in high relief. Our faun probably wasn’t intended to be seen square in the face, but rather at an angle.

This head was one of a number of sculpture fragments selected for Elaine Gazda’s sculpture class this past semester. Students were asked to examine a fragment and determine its likely origin based on its condition, shape, carving detail, and other visual clues. What they were able to learn from these fragments was quite impressive, and illustrates what the close examination of a broken and incomplete artifact can reveal.

From the Archives #53 — April 2020

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Just over one hundred years ago, in April of 1918, Francis W. Kelsey reached out to colleagues across the Atlantic. Over the years, Kelsey corresponded with a number of people in Europe, particularly Italy. He wrote many letters to advance his own research on the Roman world, and did so also on behalf of his colleagues. The archives at the Bentley Historical Library and the Kelsey Museum showcase this abundantly, and John Pedley’s 2011 book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts, provides great context for this aspect of Kelsey’s life and career.

The archives — this collection of letters, journals, photographs, and receipts — paints a picture of a man who traveled often, was constantly working, and had a wide range of interests. A single day’s journal entry gives us a glimpse of his busy schedule, with various appointments, lunch and tea meetings, travel, and time at the end of the day to write letters to his family and other contacts. 

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a letter written by Kelsey asking for 2,000 color reproductions of a mosaic of Virgil from Hadrumetum. We also have the reply from Italy, in both English and Italian, along with the actual image of the mosaic. In his letter, Kelsey expresses regret for not being able to travel overseas to procure the image himself. He had plans to return after his last visit in 1915, but circumstances outside his control prevent him from doing so. 

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Correspondence between Francis W. Kelsey and Italian representatives regarding the release of the color reproduction of the Hadrumetum mosaic, “Virgilio Meditante L’Eneide” in 1918.
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Color reproduction of the Hadrumetum mosaic, “Virgilio Meditante L’Eneide.”

One hundred years ago, Kelsey found himself in a situation where he couldn’t travel as he had hoped. He used the tools available to him to proceed with his work. This is a simple request, just under strenuous circumstances. He would get his chance to return to Europe the following year, in 1919. When he did, he and his team made the most of their trip, traveling about the Mediterranean, to North Africa, Turkey, as well as Europe. And now, our archives are filled with the amazing photographs from this expedition.

News from the Conservation Lab — Reflections on Grant Writing from Home

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Greetings, Kelsey Conservation blog readers! I welcome you all to my home office/kitchen table, where I have spent the past several weeks writing an application for a federal grant.

Woman at computer looks at baby in high chair.
Carrie’s son Jamie offers constructive feedback while sampling graham crackers.

There is a method to my madness. If we are successful, we’ll receive funds that will support research at the Kelsey. But even if we are not successful, the ability to put together a grant and write a compelling narrative is a major skill for any researcher. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  1. Once you’ve found the grant you want to apply for, read the solicitation/funding notice a few times. Pretend you are making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon from scratch, and follow the instructions carefully. Otherwise … catastrophe.
  2. Read successful project narratives from past grant cycles. This is especially important if this is your first time writing a narrative (also see step 3).
  3. The first narrative draft you write is not going to be your best. Do NOT plan to submit the first thing you write! Ask someone to read your proposal. Get their honest opinion. Things will become clearer (and more intelligible to reviewers!) as you write.
  4. Remember that the people reading your narrative aren’t you. They are probably in a different field than you and, unlike you, they are reading a lot of proposals in addition to yours. Make it easy for them.
  5. Don’t overlook your budget. Planning it out can help solidify your thinking around how your project is going to work.

I’ve got Suzanne to thank for a lot of these insights, and for helping me shape my ideas into a story someone might want to read.

The Kelsey Staff Carry On — From Home

In these days of quarantine, you may be asking yourself, How are museum professionals able to work from home? After all, we can’t take the objects home with us. Here’s how a few of the Kelsey staff are getting things done in the days of social distancing.


  • MalloryCommunity and Youth Educator Mallory Genauer is preparing for the Kelsey’s upcoming docent training, which may go virtual. She is researching techniques for digital learning and creating digital galleries that the new docents can use to learn their way around the museum without actually being in the galleries. All of this will also help with the digital outreach program that she is working on, some activities of which we are hoping to preview shortly on the Kelsey website.

 



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  • Administrative Specialist Lisa Rozek finds she is able to do almost everything she needs to from laptops at home, and is pleased to report that her new office assistant, pictured here reconciling accounts, is both enthusiastic and capable.

 

 


Ugly Object of the Month — April 2020

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Greetings, Kelsey blog fans! I hope that you are all safe, healthy, and keeping it real at a sound social distance. We weren’t about to let today’s uncertainty get in the way of our ongoing celebration of Ugly Objects. So, it brings me great pleasure to present April’s pick: a seated female figurine from Seleucia. Seleucia on the Tigris was a Hellenistic capital city located south of present-day Baghdad and excavated by the University of Michigan from 1927 through 1937. Over 3,500 objects were recovered from Seleucia, including a myriad of figurines made of bone, ceramic, and stone.

Seated figurine carved from alabaster
Seated female figurine carved from alabaster, with bitumen repair resin at the neck and on the base. H. 12.8 cm. Seleucia on the Tigris, Iraq, 150 BCE–200 CE. KM 15879.

Our seated figurine is made of alabaster, a soft sedimentary stone with a uniquely translucent quality that made it a suitable material for window panes. Alabaster is easy to work, so we find a lot of vessels and figurines carved from it. But that same quality causes the stone to deteriorate easily. The alabaster block used to create this seated figure has broken along its bedding planes, causing the right arm to shear clean off the front of the statue. This type of inherent flaw might be what caused the head to detach — probably while the figurine was in use. Look closely and you can see traces of bitumen resin along the neck and on the base, signs of someone’s effort to repair the figurine in antiquity.

It amazes me how much we can learn from artifacts that were excavated nearly a century ago! Please keep reading our blog and visit the Kelsey website for opportunities to learn more about our collection.