From the Archives #29

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Digital photography has made documenting our lives a much easier endeavor. Now, anyone with a cell phone can capture almost any moment with photos and even movies. Digital photography has become ubiquitous, and sharing these files becomes increasingly more feasible.

Archaeologists are using this tool more and more on their excavations, and even the Kelsey Museum has gone fully digital. The Kelsey used to insist on film photography when documenting its collections, but greater access to storage space and proper archival methods for digital photography has paved the way for this change.

The same option was not available, obviously, to those who came before us. George R. Swain, University of Michigan photographer from 1913 to 1947, had to use the methods available to him at the time. This meant taking his wood view camera with him on his travels through the Mediterranean, along with hundreds of glass plates. These plates were heavy, and he often needed help carrying them (often his son provided this service).

His view camera was not Swain’s only tool in the field. In the 1920s, easier means of photography were available, though they were of lesser quality. Thanks to the innovations of George Eastman, film photography had become popular. Film rolls were small and easy to carry, but one was limited by the number of frames on each roll, and the photographer couldn’t see what they captured until later, when the film was developed. Swain carried a film camera, likely a Kodak (the model is lost to us), and often he had others do the same. He would take meticulous notes about who shot what, when, and where. These notes are reflected in our current records.

The Kodak shots often captured scenes that are less formal but equally as important. The glass slides were reserved for artifacts and excavations; the Kodak captured everything else, including people, humorous moments, animals, and anything else happening during the excavations and travels.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present one roll of Swain’s film that reflects this. In April 1920, only 98 years ago, Swain and company traveled to Dimé, in the Fayum region of Egypt, likely on a reconnaissance mission to see where Michigan could excavate in years to come. Dimé was eventually excavated, but was not one of the original projects of the 1924 season. In this roll, we see what Swain encountered during this trip. People holding fish. The train and the train station. Farmers working the fields. A village scene. Dr. Askren posing. Hiking over the sands.

Fortunately for us, making this kind of trip is easier now without having to haul so much photography equipment (though we are lost without an energy source). Swain did not have the luxury, but we are thankful for the work he did to capture these moments.

April’s News from the Conservation Lab: El Kurru 2018 Season Retrospective

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Last month, I returned from fieldwork at El Kurru, the Kelsey’s excavation project in Sudan. It was a good season overall, but also a bit odd. It felt to me like a season where almost nothing worked out the way we’d planned. For example, the conservation worklist included stabilization of cracked columns in the funerary temple with a lime-based mortar. I’ve done work like this on many other projects and expected it to go smoothly, but it didn’t. Amaris Sturm — conservation intern this year at El Kurru, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in conservation at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation — ended up testing twenty-six (!) different grout mixtures before hitting on one we were happy with. For other team members, equipment was delayed or couldn’t get through customs, supplies didn’t arrive, and work plans had to be altered mid-season.

In retrospect, it was a season of significant progress on multiple fronts, but at the time … at the time, I often felt like nothing was working and it was seriously frustrating. When I think about it now, my time onsite this year was a small lesson in persistence and a demonstration of the power of kaizen. This philosophy (which originated in the U.S. but became popular in Japan following WWII) advocates continuous improvement by making small changes or taking small steps. In Arabic, people often say, “shwaya-shwaya” to mean, “a little bit,” or “little-by-little.” For me, it was a shwaya-shwaya season, and in the end we accomplished most of what we’d set out to do.

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Amaris Sturm at work in the El Kurru funerary temple. Photo by Suzanne Davis.

 

Ugly Object – April

By Caitlin Clerkin, PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

photo 1_16200
Bone figurine with pigment. 6.5 x 1.3 cm. 150 BCE–200 CE. University of Michigan excavations at Seleucia, Iraq. KM 16200.

Is the end of the school year getting you concerned? Are you worried that this winter will NEVER end? Are you stressing about the summer heat and humidity to come? Well, whatever they are about, you and your worries have NOTHING on our ugly friend this month, because he has been worried for around 1,900 years.

This anxious-looking anthropomorphic figurine is from Seleucia on the Tigris, an ancient city located in modern-day Iraq. The University of Michigan excavated Seleucia in the 1920s and ’30s and found a whole bunch of these worried carved-bone guys (among lots of other things — check out the Seleucia cases in the permanent galleries). Our friend here is pretty schematic looking, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t communicate BIG emotions.

Look at those eyes! They might not have had headlights in 1st and 2nd century CE Seleucia, but if they had, the local gazelles would have probably looked like this when caught in the path of a speeding cart. Look at that mouth! It is definitely saying “MEEP!” Look at those little clothespin-like legs! Those legs are not going to carry him anywhere — no escape is possible! No wonder he is so worried. So, buck up, blog-reading friend! This little fellow is going to be worried way longer than you are.

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Bone figurine. 7.1 x 1.3 cm. 150 BCE–200 CE. University of Michigan excavations at Seleucia, Iraq. KM 16182.

Go visit this figurine on the ground floor of Upjohn Exhibit Wing, where it has some equally expressive buddies, including a ready-to-brawl, angry, cock-eyed fellow (shown below — see its angry eyebrows and ready stance? Don’t mess with it!). Maybe you can soothe their worries a little by beaming affirming messages at their ugly little heads. But I’m not sure it is going to help: they have made those faces so long that I think they are stuck that way….

 

 

From the Archives #28 March 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

As many of our friends have noticed, there is a lot of construction happening around the Kelsey Museum. To the north, the Trotter Multicultural Center is creating a new home for itself. To the south, LSA is expanding in order to house the Opportunity Hub. Both of these are exciting projects that will pay dividends for the Kelsey, with new guests and neighbors we can partner with, bring to the Museum, and be friends with.

The construction around us speaks to the long and constantly changing history of the U-M campus. For years, we have become accustomed to our neighbors: the trees to our north and LSA to our south. But as we have seen around campus, nothing remains the same for too long.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present two photographs showing how  Newberry Hall appeared in the early 1900s, when it was still the future home of the Kelsey Museum (the Kelsey occupied Newberry Hall in 1928). In these photographs, taken by George R. Swain, Newberry Hall had different neighbors. To the north, trees and the Helen Newberry Residence, which still stands. To the south, a house — though not much in the photos gives us any clues about it, or indeed if it was a house at all.

For people who have been working at or visiting the Kelsey for years, the surprise lies to the west. Where Upjohn is now there used to be a parking lot, big enough for 20 cars. However, in these photos, particularly M8.1087, we see the structure that the parking lot replaced. It  looks like a house, though no further information accompanies these images.

Through word of mouth, there have been suggestions that gas stations also used to be near the Kelsey, but we do not see that in these images.

Spend enough time on the U-M campus and you will notice much construction throughout the area. It seems the University is constantly expanding and changing. Going through the archives and photographs, we begin to understand  that this is not new. Changes have been happening since U-M arrived in Ann Arbor. And it is safe to say changes will continue for many years to come.

M8_1087
M8.1087: View of Newberry Hall, future home of the Kelsey Museum, ca. 1900. Photo by George R. Swain.
M8_1088
M8.1088: View of Newberry Hall, ca. 1915–1920. Photo by George R. Swain.

March’s News from the Conservation Lab: Reconstructing Color on a Roman Marble Head

 

Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month I’ve been getting to know Bacchus (Dionysos to the Greeks), a Kelsey Museum favorite normally on display outside the Villa of the Mysteries room. Bacchus’s head dates from the early to mid- second century AD. It is made of carved white marble and was once part of a larger standing figure which would have been pretty impressive given how great its noggin is! I’m examining the head because, believe it or not, there are traces of color on it. There is an abundance of red in the hair that is visible to the naked eye, but there are also traces of red in less noticeable areas. Using a Dinolite digital microscope I’ve spotted tiny deposits of red pigment in the tear ducts of Bacchus’s eyes and at the corner of his mouth. Using an imaging technique called Visible induced infrared luminescence (or VIL), I’ve also found traces of Egyptian blue on the leaves of the god’s ivy wreath. This could mean that the wreath was painted blue, or perhaps green if the blue was mixed with yellow.

Bacchus will return to display in the Roman galleries this summer and will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Ancient Color, opening February 8, 2019. Visitors to the exhibition will get a chance to see Bacchus’s colorful hair through digital color reconstructions that will illustrate how he might have appeared in antiquity, based on material evidence.

 

Con Blog March 2018 b
Marble head of Bacchus, early to mid-2nd c. AD. Height: 32.5 cm. Joint purchase of the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 1974. KM 1974.4.1.
Con Blog March 2018 a
Left: visible light image, proper left side; right, VIL image showing Egyptian blue under a leaf on Bacchus’s ivy wreath (the whitish spots in the middle of the image)

Ugly Object – March

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Kelsey Museum Conservator

Greetings, Ugly Object fans! This month’s featured artifact is not really an object. It is, rather, a somewhat unseemly chunk of … any ideas? Here’s a clue: it is a thing greater than the sum of its parts. It is made up of large fragments of yellow marble, tufa, and travertine embedded in a gray pozzolan/lime mortar. In other words, it’s a mixture of aggregate and cement, which are the necessary ingredients for — you guessed it — Roman concrete! This particular fragment of concrete was brought to Michigan in 1901 by none other than Francis Kelsey, undoubtedly for the benefit of his students. Our records say that it is in fact a piece of wall core from the Diocletian baths in Rome. That is quite a pedigree!

Although this chunk is not much to look at, it is an example of a pretty remarkable form of Roman construction technology. You can visit this and other artifacts of Roman construction on the second floor of the Kelsey Museum’s Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

 

Ugly_Mar 2018
Concrete fragment, KMA 2373.

From the Archives #27 February 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA

The exhibition Excavating Archaeology presents a look back at the history of archaeological explorations undertaken by the University of Michigan. It was guided by the work of Carla Sinopoli, who co-edited the book Object Lessons & the Formation of Knowledge (with Kerstin Barndt; University of Michigan Press, 2017). This book presents the fabulous history of how the materials that came to make up the various libraries, archives, and museums at U-M —  including the Kelsey Museum — arrived here in the first place.

The collections at the Kelsey have had their own books detailing their histories. Artifacts from excavations are thoroughly discussed in the book In the Field (Talalay and Alcock; Kelsey Museum Publication 4. Kelsey Museum, 2006), while Passionate Curiosities (Talalay and Root; Kelsey Museum Publication 13. Kelsey Museum, 2015) gives us the background of the objects that were collected by individuals.

Books like Object Lessons, Passionate Curiosities, and In the Field owe much to the many people who have, in their own way, written about the collections at Michigan. One of these is the focus for this month’s “From the Archives.”

For this month, we present a report written by Museum of Classical Archaeology curator Orma Fitch Butler. Butler, a native of Fitchburg, Michigan, and high school student in Mason and Lansing, received her bachelor of arts in 1897 from the University of Michigan. In 1901, she earned her master of arts, and then her doctor of philosophy in 1907, both also from U-M. After some time away, she returned to Michigan in 1912 as Francis Kelsey’s assistant in Latin and Roman Archaeology. In 1928, after several other promotions, Butler was named Curator of the Archaeological Collections, a position she held until her death in 1938.

As part of her duties, she wrote a report on the collections that was presented to the University president. This particular report is from 1930, and covers the time period when the Museum first opened (not yet named the Kelsey Museum). Dr. Butler writes about the collections and how they came to be in Ann Arbor. She tells us about the various people involved in procuring the artifacts, starting with Francis Kelsey. From there, she speaks about other U-M professors, friends from Ypsilanti, and friends from Tunisia, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, Africa, and Asia. What she writes gives us greater insight into the objects we admire in the galleries every day.

Butler writes more than just about the history of the collections in her report. She speaks about the aftermath of Kelsey’s death (in 1927), and how the collections and Museum owe much to him and his legacy. She writes that, with little to no publicity, the Museum still received over 100 people in its third and fourth months. This interest that the public has in classical archaeological materials, Butler notes, is a great sign for the future of the collections. She stresses that the University has a duty to maintain and care for the collections.

Elsewhere, Butler writes about Newberry Hall, and how, even so early on, it is acknowledged that it is not adequate for a museum. However, the museum staff are using the space as best they can, with certain rooms dedicated to different exhibition themes (the long room in the back what is now the gift shop and classroom, long before the elevator was installed).

Ultimately, the collections are in good and sound condition. The future seems bright. The University needs to invest in the collections and care for them. By doing so, they will ensure they can continue being used for two important purposes: exhibitions and instruction. Butler would be heartened to know that, nearly 90 years later, this vision remains true.

Read more about Orma Fitch Butler here: https://www.lib.umich.edu/faculty-history/faculty/orma-fitch-butler

View the report as a PDF here: OrmaButlerReport.

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