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.

News from the Conservation Lab — June 2019

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

Most of the students and faculty have vacated Ann Arbor for the summer break, but it’s always busy here in the Kelsey’s conservation lab! This month we’re hard at work on all kinds of things.

My main work this month is to finish a book and an exhibition with my colleague Geoff Emberling. Focused on ancient graffiti at the site where we work in Sudan (El-Kurru), these projects have been fun. We’ve learned a lot by working on the book, and the exhibition has been an interesting exercise in how to share the story of El-Kurru and its graffiti with people who will probably never travel there.

Many exhibitions can display objects from a far-away archaeological site to tell a story, but in our case, we can’t transport the El-Kurru pyramid and funerary temple to Ann Arbor (although we can try to fake it). So it’s been a big challenge not only for us but for Scott Meier and Eric Campbell, our Kelsey colleagues who are responsible for the exhibition design, installation, and graphics.

man at computer
Kelsey assistant exhibition designer Eric Campbell enhancing a photo of a graffito from El-Kurru for inclusion in the upcoming exhibition.