From the Archives — August 2016

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Museum Archives are quite an expansive collection. Though small in size, there are plenty of deep wormholes found throughout that will lead the researcher and archivist down a path they will be lost in for hours and hours. Every time a box is opened, a piece of the Kelsey’s history flows out and exposes the reader to new insight. Names only known through vague and incomplete notes are fleshed out, made into a more composite person. An occurrence in the past makes itself known to a group of people who would otherwise not know about it. Sites visited by Kelsey and Swain and others are exposed, informing us we have information from a location that had never been highlighted previously. The Kelsey universe expands, allowing us to share more stories about our past that will be of interest, both for research and for personal purposes.

With such a vast collection, on top of an already full collection of artifacts to care for, it becomes daunting trying to handle the archives and get it to a state where we would like. Better organization, greater knowledge of what the archives contain, more efficient access, are all goals we have. And as archival materials don’t have the same restrictions on them that artifacts do, the archives grow at a greater rate, meaning even more materials to parse through and organize.

Fortunately, the Kelsey has had a great team of interns and volunteers who have helped manage the archives over the years. Without them, much of the work would never have been completed. The archives are in a greater state today because of this team, focused and committed people who have taken their time to assist us in the day-to-day handling of materials, and the greater planning and organization of what we find within.

This page is not long enough to list all those people, but we can take the opportunity to thank one particular person who has worked with us since 2011. In that time, Randall McCombs has assisted the Registry and Kelsey Museum on a number of various projects. His work can be seen in nearly every exhibition we have hosted since 2012. His efforts have made their way to numerous publications. His assistance has led to greater organization of our digital assets, particularly those made as we have been scanning our photographic collections. It has been Randall all these years who has scanned photographs from Turkey, Egypt, Italy, in the various formats we find: glass, prints, negatives, slides, and others.

Sadly for the Kelsey, but a great step for him, Randall left the Museum in August to pursue his Master’s at the School of Information here at Michigan. We know that decision will pay off and will supply Randall with the skills and experience he will need moving forward. However, his presence will be missed.

Randall’s hands have touched a number of different collections, material types, projects, and themes. It would be difficult to limit our showing here to what he has done. Instead, this month’s “From the Archives” will highlight his most recent project. We’ve known for years we had a collection of panorama photos taken by George Swain in the 1920s with the use of a Cirkut camera. All this time those photographs sat in several drawers with barely a glance. One print, of the Athenian acropolis, hung in Kelsey director Christopher Ratté’s office. This daily viewing led Dr. Ratté to inquire into this collection, what else we had, and how could we get it on display. We tasked Randall with the project, for he is quite adept at many things digital. That and he had the skills to stitch together these images, as our scanners are not large enough to capture the image in one scan. Instead, each photo had to be scanned in sections, pieced together in the editing process. Randall was able to do this seamlessly and quickly. A selection of these photographs are now on display in Newberry hallway (Athens, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Giza). But the project exposed us to the greater collection of panoramas, well over 100 photographs, and all the sites and views Swain captured.

For your pleasure, we present a selection of these panoramas here. You will see images from throughout the Mediterranean, from Libya and Tunisia to Greece and elsewhere. The views show landscapes/seascapes, archaeological remains, current city views, even people as they gathered in a town square.

We owe a great deal of thanks to Randall for his years of service. We wish him the best in this new chapter of his life. Someday, a future archivist will read and learn about Randall and his contributions to the Museum. And they, like us, will be appreciative of what Randall did.

 

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An open letter to ancient people

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Dear Ancient People,

I am writing this letter in response to my recent work on your textiles for the upcoming Kelsey Museum exhibit Less Than Perfect. I am writing this letter because I love you. I do. Please believe that. Your textiles are lovely. Super beautiful. But they are also frankly just crooked as heck, and they are a huge pain to exhibit because they absolutely will not hang straight. Seriously, folks, could you not sew a straight seam? Did you even try?

You guys built canals and aqueducts and enormous buildings. You kept time with complicated water clocks and annual calendars. You dyed fibers using complex chemistry and spent hours doing meticulous embroidery. But you couldn’t sew straight? Am I really supposed to believe that? Really???

I have just spent many hours of my life trying to accommodate your wackadoodle craftsmanship and show it to best advantage. This was not fun or easy. What’s past is past. I get that. There are no do-overs. But friends, if this is your A Game, it needs work. I’m just saying. When you were like, “Whatever! That’s good enough! I mean, who cares if this is perfect? Who’ll notice?” That would be me, y’all. I noticed, and I do not thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Suzanne

 

August Cons Post Photo
Exhibit preparator Scott Meier comments on my attempt to make this textile hang level. It is longer on one side than the other and has wonky seams. So yeah: It’s less than perfect.

Ugly Object of the Month — August 2016

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

 

Ugly_August
Woolen sleeve from a child’s tunic. 2nd–4th century AD. KM 13995.

 

This month’s Ugly is a hideous but sweet little specimen: the ripped sleeve of a child’s tunic. It looks pretty bad. It’s the kind of raggy little thing which, if you found it in your house, you’d probably throw away. And in fact, that seems to be what happened: when University of Michigan excavated Karanis, Egypt, in the 1920s, the team found this in the ancient town’s street.

This grotty little rag will soon be featured in the exhibit Less Than Perfect, on view at the Kelsey August 26, 2016, through January 8, 2017. The exhibit explores three themes: failed perfection, deliberate imperfection, and — my favorite — restoring perfection. The sleeve occupies this latter category, because of the elbow patch designed to extend the life of the garment.

Was the sleeve ever perfect? This seems debatable to me, but its seamstress did take care to make it attractive. The rolled hem is nicely finished with an overcast stitch in a contrasting red thread, and the elbow patch or applique (originally twice as big as what remains today) has an interesting woven design in blue and cream.

Today, of course, the wool has yellowed, the sleeve is ripped, the seams have failed, and half the original patch is missing altogether, as is the rest of the tunic. But I can imagine that someone treasured it for a long time, before finally giving up on the garment and throwing the remains in the street. Come see this cute-ugly bit of ancient detritus for yourself!