Ugly Object of the Month — March 2020

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Hey, all you March babies! What’s your sign? Are you a wise and artistic Pisces? Or a quick and competitive Aries? I happen to be a Pisces myself, and I can tell you that this month’s Ugly Object is a real catch. This rotund Roman fish is made of free-blown glass, and whoever made it was clearly working fast. In spite of its speedy manufacture, all the fishy elements are there — apart from the tail, which might actually have served as an attachment point to a larger vessel or piece of jewelry. In my view, the best thing going for this fish is its expression, which reminds me of the protagonist of the modern children’s classic The Pout-Pout Fish (read it and you will understand!).

small glass fish
Free-blown glass fish. Length: 3.7 cm. Roman, 4th century CE. Gift of Alexander G. Ruthven. KM 1970.3.952.

I’ve never blown glass myself, but I imagine it would have taken some serious skill to execute details such as tiny pouty fish lips out of molten glass. As imperfectly blobby as this fish is, there was little room for error in the furnace-filled workspace of its creation.

You can pay this fish a visit in the Kelsey’s Ancient Glass gallery on the first floor. And make sure to check out his piscine pal in the case on the opposite wall!

Ugly Object of the Month — May 2017

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Are you ready for swimsuit season? No? Me neither, which is just as well, because it’s SHARK MONTH at the Kelsey. This is one of the all-time cutest, weirdest, made by the most amazingly skilled craftsperson Ugly Objects ever: a mosaic glass fish head.

 

Ugly_May
Glass mosaic fish head inlay fragment. 1st century BC–1st century AD. Egypt. Gift of Alexander G. Ruthven. KM 1965.3.135.

What do we know about this tiny bit of a scary-looking fish? Not much, because it’s got zero excavation provenance. One, I do know that whoever made it had enviable motor control. Mosaic glass is made of small pieces of colored glass rods, or “canes,” which have been sliced up, placed close together, and then fused with heat. Two, inlays like this one would have decorated Roman Egyptian walls or furniture.

Three, former U-M graduate student Lindsay Ambridge wrote an article about this object, in which she discusses the meanings of fish in ancient Egypt. Bottom line: fish were important for many reasons, chief of which was as a food source.

To me, this fish looks more like predator than prey — check out the pink gums and very, very pointy teeth. See it in all its splendor in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing — look in the glass case on the south side of the back hall.