From the Archives #48 — November 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

November 2019 marks the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Kelsey Museum’s William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. Last month’s “From the Archives” showed the old exhibition spaces of the Kelsey Museum. Though Newberry Hall served the Kelsey well for many years, it was not designed as a museum space. Security, climate control, and space constraints limited what the museum staff could do. Only a few hundred artifacts were ever on display at any time, and the temporary exhibition space was small, allowing for only a few additional artifacts to be brought out. From early on, museum staff knew a new space was needed to make the best of the collections.

When Ed and Mary Meader offered to make this dream possible, the process of imagining the new space and preparing for the eventual opening began. This was a big endeavor for the Kelsey staff, as we had to imagine something from nothing. Where would walls be? What cases would we have? At first, these considerations were just figments of our imagination. We worked closely with University of Michigan architects to plan the new space, eventually hiring an outside firm to design the Upjohn Wing.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a sample of the planning that went into the new building. While we do have the architectural plans of Upjohn (the original designs did not have a second floor, instead offering just a loft), here we show what it takes to plan for the display of an artifact, and how much can change between concept and implementation. In these files, we see the planning that went into how the coffin of  Djheutymose was going to be displayed. For those who remember, Djheutymose was displayed horizontally for many years, on pins above a mirror. In this way, visitors were able to see the top of the coffin while the mirror showed the interior. With the new display, the Kelsey’s curator of Dynastic Egyptian Collections, Janet Richards, wanted Djheutymose to be vertical, making it easier for visitors to see the coffin’s interior decorations.

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In order to make this happen, the entire Kelsey team had to be involved. Janet and other curators lent their vision; the exhibition team, the architect, and the consultant lent their eyes and ideas for design; the conservators assessed the viability of the plans. We looked at examples of coffin displays at other museums, assessing how those coffins were supported and how stable they were. The object list included among these images shows artifacts envisioned for this case that were cut for various reasons. Much changes during the course of an exhibition installation.

This kind of painstaking work happened over and over for all the cases, pedestals, and displays that are now on view in Upjohn. For years, each case was planned in a very similar fashion. Lists were made, visions shared, all of it altered time and again until we settled on the designs seen currently. And after ten years, some have changed and others will continue to change. Be sure to check back often over the next ten years to see how much more changes between now and 2029.

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