New Kelsey Museum publication hot off the press

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The cover of the Kelsey’s latest publication, Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile and Beyond.

If you want a sneak peek into our upcoming exhibition Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan, which opens to the public on Friday, August 23, you can’t do better than to download the free PDF of the exhibition catalog and get reading.

Chapter one outlines the history of ancient Kush and provides some historical and archaeological context for the graffiti at El-Kurru. Then, seven richly illustrated essays by international scholars explore the phenomenon of graffiti in ancient and Christian-era Sudan, as well as an overview of Nubian rock art and a look at graffiti at Pompeii.

Some questions that are tackled in this book include:

  • What the heck, Meroitic pilgrims. Why are you eating the temple? (chapter 2)
  • Man, some people really love to carve pictures of boats. A whole lotta boats. (chapter 3)
  • Can’t we just rebury it all? Really, it’s for the best. (chapter 4)
  • Beneseg, it would have been great if in the graffito you left on the church wall in Banganarti you could have gone into a little more biographical detail and expanded on your personal ambitions and especially your trip to Nubia from France instead of just saying hi to the Archangel Rafael, thanks. (chapter 6)
  • Were “rock gong” concerts more like Chopin’s nocturnes or an Iggy Pop show? (chapter 7)
  • Graffito 1: Dude, did you see that gladiator match?! Graffito 2: OMG bro, that was off the chain!! (chapter 8)

While not exactly a fluffy summer beach read, Graffiti as Devotion is nonetheless written to engage non-specialist readers. And anyway, there are a lot of pictures. So go ahead! You’ve got nothing to lose! Download the PDF (did we mention that it’s free?) and have a look.

The book itself is a handsome paperback and will soon be available for purchase through our distributor, ISD. Better yet, come to the Kelsey and pick up a copy at our gift shop. While you’re here, stop in and take a stroll through the exhibition.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile and Beyond

Table of Contents

List of Contributors
Overview Map
Timeline of Kush and Nubia
List of Abbreviations
Foreword. “Graffiti in Ancient Kush and Medieval Nubia: An Introduction,” by Geoff Emberling and Suzanne Davis

  1. “A Cultural History of Kush: Politics, Economy, and Ritual Practice,” by Geoff Emberling
  2. “Graffiti at El-Kurru: The Funerary Temple,” by Suzanne Davis and Geoff Emberling
  3. “Boat Graffiti on the El-Kurru Pyramid,” by Bruce Beyer Williams
  4. “Conservation and Documentation of Graffiti at El-Kurru,” by Suzanne Davis
  5. “Figural Graffiti from the Meroitic Era on Philae Island,” by Jeremy Pope
  6. “Discourses with the Holy: Text and Image Graffiti from the Pilgrimage Churches of Saint Raphael the Archangel in Banganarti, Sudan,” by Bogdan Żurawski
  7. “An Overview of Nubian Rock Art in the Region of the 4th and 5th Cataracts,” by Fawzi Hassan Bakhiet
  8. “Graffiti at Pompeii, Italy,” by Rebecca Benefiel

Epilogue. “Hajj Paintings in El-Araba and El-Ghabat, Egypt: A Photo Essay,” by Ayman Damarany
Catalog of Selected Graffiti from El-Kurru, by Suzanne Davis, Geoff Emberling, and Bruce Beyer Williams

Join the Conversation about the Special Exhibition, Urban Biographies!

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On August 24 the Kelsey Museum’s latest special exhibition, Urban Biographies, Ancient and Modern, opened to the public. It will be on display until January 8, 2019. An online version of the exhibition will remain available on the Kelsey website even after the museum show closes. 

The exhibition features Kelsey-sponsored archaeological research at Gabii in Italy, Olynthos in Greece, and Notion in Turkey and compares these ancient cities with modern Detroit. Comments on both the exhibition and the website are very welcome.

What does the concept of an “urban biography” mean to you? What do you think we can learn by comparing past and present? What are some of the details of the biography of your hometown, or of another city you know well? Please leave a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of this page.

Ugly Object of the Month — October 2016

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator

It’s October, folks, and that means the season of decorative gourds and dressing up in festive costumes is upon us. This is partly why I chose this ceramic figurine of Harpocrates as October’s Ugly Object.

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Ceramic Harpocrates figurine, with intact ground and paint layers. 2nd–3rd century AD. KM 6449.

Who, you might ask, is Harpocrates? He was a deity worshipped in Ptolemaic Egypt, a child version of the sun god Horus. This ceramic figurine bears many of Harpocrates’ signature traits, such as a finger raised to his mouth, the double crown and crescent moon, and a garland. This figurine is also probably one of many identical ceramics produced for mass consumption.  But what’s really cool, to me, is what’s going on the surface: this Harpocrates is seriously decked out in a variety of well-preserved paint colors, which include black, pink, red, yellow, and blue. Equally cool is the likelihood that other ceramics like this one, many of which retain no polychromy at all, were just as colorful.

While documenting the figurine I thought it might be worth doing some technical imaging of the pigments, to get a preliminary idea of what they could be. The longwave ultraviolet luminescence (UVL) image revealed that the pink garland is likely made of rose madder pigment, and the visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL) image showed traces of Egyptian blue pigment on the structure next to Harpocrates, as well as on his crown. The remaining colors are likely iron-based earth pigments, and the black carbon-based. Other techniques that could help us confirm these results include XRF or FTIR spectroscopies, the first of which (like imaging) is non-invasive.

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Left: UVL image showing orange autofluorescence of madder in the garland. Right: VIL image showing luminescent Egyptian blue stripes to the right of the figure, as well as in the crown.

This highly colorful Harpocrates will be on display at the Kelsey starting February 10, 2017, as part of the upcoming special exhibition The Art of Science and Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance, curated by Pablo Alvarez.

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.

From the Archives — May 2016

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

In a little less than a month, the Kelsey’s latest exhibition, Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: the Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii, will, sadly, come down for good. This was the Kelsey’s most grandiose exhibition to date, the culmination of several year’s work and planning. For this exhibit, the Museum borrowed just over 230 artifacts from the ancient villas at Oplontis, many of them out of Italy for the first time ever, only a few ever even exhibited previously. This endeavor was a major undertaking by the Kelsey, spearheaded by curator Elaine Gazda, with the assistance of many staff. Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive and reassuring that our efforts were well worth it.

The exhibition showcases beautiful artwork from Roman times when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. These were covered in ash for nearly two millennia, awaiting discovery but perfectly preserving spectacular sculptures, frescoes, jewelry, and daily household objects. With this exhibition, Professor Gazda shows the contents from two villas, and what life was like at the time. Come mid-May, the exhibition will begin its journey to two different museums in the US, and with that these beautiful objects will be gone.

But friends of the Kelsey are well aware that once Oplontis leaves the Kelsey, we will still have beautiful artwork from Pompeii on display. The Barosso watercolors, the 1926 replicas of a room at the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, are still visible in the Upjohn Exhibit Hall, in their own special room. These watercolors will be with us past the current exhibition, allowing visitors to gaze upon the level of craftsmanship not only of Maria Barosso, but of the original Roman artists as well. This space is a highlight of the collections, a must see for any visit to the Kelsey.

What some of our newer friends will not know is that the watercolors were not always on display in such a space. In fact, the artwork was rolled up and put away in storage for the majority of its life. In 1926, Maria Barosso painted these at the behest of Franics Kelsey. They were soon put on display in Italy under the auspices of Benito Mussolini, then rolled and shipped to Michigan, where they lay dormant for over 70 years. Throughout its history, before the construction of the Upjohn Exhibit Hall and its opening in 2009, the Kelsey simply did not have the space to properly display these paintings. They were too large to display in the spaces of Newberry, and the building did not have the proper climate control and lighting to safely exhibit them. Instead, they were kept in a locked cabinet in collections storage where they teased potential use in an unknown future.

This month’s “From the Archives” reminds some of our longtime friends, and brings to light for our newer friends, an endeavor to have these out for view. In 2000, Professor Gazda curated the exhibition The Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii: Ancient Ritual, Modern Muse. This was the Kelsey’s first successful attempt at having the watercolors out and visible, not just locked where no one could see them. However, even then the Kelsey was not able to show all the panels as they should be viewed. The temporary exhibition space, where the current gift shop is now located, was simply not large enough for all the panels. In order to do this, the Kelsey had to partner with the Museum of Art. This exhibition was a multi-venue show, with part on view at the Kelsey, including some complementary artifacts and the full-size mirror group panel, and the complete room on view at the Museum of Art.

The Kelsey archives do not only contain the history of the archaeological excavations and forays into Europe by Kelsey and Swain and friends, but we also maintain the history of the Museum into modern times. Every exhibition we have put on is carefully recorded, making it possible for us to learn from our past, see what we have done, how it was done. It is humbling to see where the Kelsey was just 16 years ago, and the limits we had to face. Despite these limitations, however, the staff and curators were able to overcome and do the best we could with the resources we had. Back then, we had no idea a space such as Upjohn would be coming to us, we could only hope.

The files in the exhibition archives contain old posters, flyers, photos, even layout designs. These are a few of the examples we present this month. And it acts as a reminder that even though Oplontis will soon be going away, we still have the beautiful Barosso watercolors to enjoy for many years to come.

Ugly Object of the Month — April 2016

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

The Kelsey Museum’s current special exhibit Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero is full of insanely gorgeous objects from the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. But guess what? The Kelsey has a few objects on view in this exhibit, too, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that some of them are, you know, not insanely gorgeous.

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Polished fragment of architectural facing. KM 29617.

This month’s Ugly Object is a marble sample — basically, a polished rock — and it’s on view in a section of the exhibit that demonstrates how the villas’ surfaces were adorned with decorative stones. You see the object here before conservation treatment to remove the collector’s label. The label — which we saved, of course — says: “From the Great Theater at Ephesus, Sept 6th 1867.”

It was collected and given to the Kelsey by James D. Candler, a businessman, builder, and traveler who was based in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This stone sample and others like it have been the focus of recent research at the Kelsey. IPCAA alumnae Leah Long and Lynley McAlpine, U-M professor and Kelsey curator Elaine Gazda, and University of Akron emeritus professor Clayton Fant have been studying the Kelsey’s stone samples, in part to see if analytical techniques like stable isotope analysis can connect samples like this one to their sources and buildings of origin.

Installing Oplontis

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

For the past four weeks it has been all hands on deck at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Indeed, it has taken the entire Kelsey village – curators, registrars, conservators, educators, and exhibit coordinators – to bring Oplontis to life.

The first step in installing Oplontis was to receive the objects. Over 30 crates of artifacts arrived from Italy nearly five weeks ago. Kelsey collections managers were at the Museum (very) early in the morning to oversee the movement of the crates from truck to loading dock to gallery. The crates were allowed to adjust to the climate of the Kelsey galleries for about a day before being opened.

Oplontis 3
The Nike sculpture travels from the first to the second floor galleries

 

Our next step was to unpack and install the artifacts. We did this with the help of two couriers, Giuseppe Zolfo, Head of Conservation at Herculaneum, and Stefania Giudice, Conservator at Pompeii. Giuseppe and Stefania checked the condition of artifacts as they were unpacked and helped install them in cases, on stands, and on top of columns. Both Giuseppe and Stefania have traveled to numerous museums around the world to assist with the installation of artifacts from the Pompeii area, and we’re grateful for their help in installing the Oplontis artifacts and sculpture.

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Stefania Giudice examines a wall painting fragment

 

The wall painting fragments that appear suspended on the gallery walls took many days to install, their positions needing to align with their reconstructed backgrounds. The coins and jewelry in the Villa B area were expertly mounted by Stefania and Giuseppe using covered pins and shaped metal rods. You may wonder how we moved the massive strong box onto its base. The box is too fragile to lift manually, but it is set on wheels, which allowed us to roll it from its crate onto the base with the help of a wooden block. We installed the large sculptures with the help of a company specializing in the movement and installation of works of art.

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Giuseppe and Scott install wall painting fragments

 

Our final steps will be to install the lighting and text before the exhibition opens. This is by far the largest installation I have been a part of, and it has been a fantastic learning opportunity. Among other things, I feel much more adept at using a drill.