From the Archives — March 2016

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

The exhibition Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero has now been open at the Kelsey Museum for just over a month, and it continues to bring in large crowds of people who marvel at the luxuriousness of a Roman settlement at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius. That devastation wreaked havoc on a large swath of land across the Italian countryside. Entire towns were demolished, enveloped by the falling ash and pumice. Thousands of lives perished, buildings destroyed, the geography permanently altered. The aftermath left carnage, but it also provided an opportunity to freeze the city of Pompeii and the town of Herculaneum and surrounding areas in a manner that shows the modern viewer what life was like at that particular moment when the world ended for so many.

The site of Pompeii has fascinated the public and scholars for centuries. It is an opportunity to view the ancient world almost directly, without the inevitable change that affects every other society. There is still much to learn about the site, and about ancient Roman life.

In the 1890s, a young Latin scholar by the name of Francis W. Kelsey visited Pompeii, as it was an area of interest for him. There, he met renowned Pompeii authority August Mau, a German scholar who was directed by his doctors to move to a warmer climate for his health. Mau obliged, and moved to Italy. There, Mau and Kelsey formed a strong bond, such that Kelsey was invited to pose with Mau’s “Giro,” his group of students (From the Archives — September 2015).

Through this strong relationship, Kelsey was given the opportunity to translate Mau’s book on Pompeii into English. Kelsey proved to be quite an adept scholar, publishing the translation before Mau could publish the original. Kelsey even managed to insert additional materials into his edition, information not found in the Mau publication.

The Kelsey archives hold evidence of this work, and that is the topic for this month’s “From the Archives.” The holdings of an archives is often thought to be the papers of an institution, letters, manuscripts, photographs. In the world of archives, libraries, and museums (ALM, or LAM), there is increasing overlap in the materials held by each. All three could hold materials normally found in the others. In the Kelsey, we sometimes come across atypical archival items, such as this box full of copper plates. Francis Kelsey’s handwriting is found throughout the box and on notes found within. We know it was he who stored these plates that were used for printing the Pompeii book in the box originally. These plates, made of copper and wood, while some are rubber and wood, contain the images of Pompeii used during the printing process. A faint image of a scene from the site can be seen in the example.

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Image of Pompeii copper plates and box.

While the original intent of Kelsey was to safeguard the plates, his act has a secondary function. The box itself, perhaps seen as nothing of note at the time, gives us a view of life at the turn of the century (from 19th to 20th). Chiozza & Turchi was a soap making company in Italy (Pontelagoscuro). From this box, we note the decorations used in commercial products. What were denizens of the early 1900s seeing when they went to market? What companies existed then, and what products were they selling?

A quick search for the company returns discussion of other Chiozza e Turchi advertisements, and how people are collecting them. There may be no value to the box itself, but it is interesting to hold an article viewed as commonplace then but so full of intrigue now. And this is how many museum workers and archaeologists feel when working with their collections. A chance to see a glimpse of life thousands of years ago, or even 100 years ago, is exciting. But these objects that were modern in 1900 depicting a time nearly 2000 years earlier, are now themselves historical artifacts. In time, the objects I use every day will meet this same fate, and a future archivist or archaeologist will marvel at something I overlooked every day. And the process will continue.

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Detail of Pompeii plates’ box.

 

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Image of Pompeii plates and box.

 

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Detail of Kelsey’s note from the Pompeii plates’ box.

From the Archives

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

It is February, and Love is in the air. Though it is cold in Michigan, we can think about those warmer places around the world where they are enjoying more temperate weather and no snow. A location like southern Italy would be a nice place to get away just about now, where you can wear shorts and t-shirts and not worry about frostbite.

Unfortunately for many of us, our responsibilities keep us in Michigan, and we cannot fly off to Europe on a moment’s notice. Fortunately for us, Italy is now here in Michigan, for Kelsey visitors to enjoy. This month marks the opening of Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii, our latest exhibition, curated by Dr. Elaine Gazda. With this exhibition, over 225 objects from Oplontis have been brought to the United States for a special showing, including fresco fragments, coinage, glass, bronze, and ceramic vessels, as well as sculptures of marble. Among those marble sculptures are Venus, Diana, a male and female centaur, two Hercules herms, and the stunning Nike landing softly on the ground. The exhibition runs through May, so be sure to stop by for a view of this magnificent show.

Oplontis brings the vision of Francis Kelsey to Michigan. Kelsey was a strong advocate of teaching with collections, giving students the opportunity to see, firsthand, the materials which they read in their Latin and Greek books. It was this push that started the collections that would one day be the Kelsey Museum. Materials purchased in Italy, or in Tunisia, or Greece, were collected for education purposes, and eventually found a new home in Ann Arbor.

Kelsey could not bring everything back, however. Many of the artifacts art historians study have permanent homes in their places of origin, and due to size, finances, and other constraints, they cannot travel outside of their country. And in the early 1900s, there was no Kelsey Museum where such materials could be stored and displayed. Instead, Kelsey did as many art historians do, which is to photograph museum collections with the aid of George Swain. And before Swain worked for the University, Kelsey purchased postcards on sale in, say, Italy that depicted the same works of art students were learning about.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present a few of these postcards. Shown here are two sculptures in Naples, a Diana and a Venus. Kelsey would use these postcards to teach, demonstrating the art of sculpture in the Roman world, much like Dr. Gazda does with her students today. Images such as these would be routinely sold to tourists, as not everyone had a camera then (the original Kodak was introduced just a few years prior, but was still not something everyone carried with them). Kelsey returned with these and in 1906 the General Library took them, and perhaps later the Latin Department acquired the set. Eventually they made their way to the Kelsey Museum, where they now reside in the Archives.

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Along with the postcards themselves, we also have the original dividers Kelsey used to organize them. Run through the stacks and you will find a section on portraits, Cupid, Cupid and Psyche, Psyche, Diana, Artemis (“see Diana”), Laocoon, and many others. The interesting aspect for the archivist and historian is that these cards’ titles are in Kelsey’s handwriting. Knowing this, we can begin identifying other cards and letters and journals in the archives as Kelsey’s. Kelsey was a meticulous man, taking much time out of his day to organize materials, jot them in a journal, write letters, have meetings, dine, see a show, and still write an entry in his daily diary.

The same organization manner Kelsey used has not been changed. Other than the container where the postcards are now stored, all remains as Kelsey left it. There is the archival philosophy of respect des fonds, that we should not change the organization method of the original material, but we also have no need to right Kelsey’s original work.
These postcards showing materials from Naples, near Oplontis, were collected for teaching, and now we are able to bring actual objects from the same region straight to Ann Arbor. Dr. Gazda will use these objects for her classes, but already there is interest from a number of other professors who want to use the exhibition in their own classes. In this way, Kelsey’s original mission has been fulfilled.

From the Archives — October 2015

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

Halloween is upon us, and it is normally a time to dress up as monsters and ghouls and scare each other for candy and treats. But not all dressing up is solely for the purpose of frightening. Often we dress up for enchantment, amazement, and entertainment. The Kelsey family was no stranger to this.

Francis Kelsey was not only an influential force on the field of archaeology and the University of Michigan campus, he was also a caring father to three children. Easton Kelsey is often seen traveling with Francis to Egypt, Europe, and other points. Even Mrs. Kelsey would accompany her husband on occasion to Tunisia or Italy. Less visible in the Kelsey archives are Kelsey’s daughters, Ruth and Charlotte. However, they all were important in the life of Francis Kelsey. While overseas, Francis would write them letters and lovingly sign each “pater.”

The study of classics has a long history at Michigan, and even the Kelsey children were involved in the discipline. This month’s “From the Archives” showcases Charlotte Kelsey, then an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, performing in the play Iphigenia. In the 1 October 1917 performance, Charlotte plays the titular role of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon who was set to be sacrificed. Here we see Iphigenia praying at the altar.

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Charlotte Kelsey acting in Iphigenia (GL00687)

It should not be a surprise that Charlotte was so involved in theater. In his book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts, John Pedley demonstrates how important music and theater were to the Kelsey family. Ruth played violin; Isabelle (Mrs. Kelsey) played piano; Francis and Charlotte would sing. Kelsey himself was the president of the University Musical Society, and he and family would often be found at various performances both on campus and off. And Charlotte, according to Pedley, was at home on stage, always performing, even from a very young age. Iphigenia offered a merger of theater and classics, an endeavor that Francis surely appreciated.

This image is taken from a glass slide. Before PowerPoint, and even before 35mm slides, glass slides proved to be a useful means for teaching and entertaining. It was through the sale of such slides that Francis Kelsey met George Swain, who at the time sold slides depicting battle sites from Caesar’s time. Swain was hired by the university and accompanied Kelsey on his international voyages. Back in Ann Arbor, Swain continued his photographic practice as University photographer. Here we see Swain’s handiwork as he captured Charlotte performing, and his hand-coloring skills as well (photography at the time was still black and white).

Though most searching in the archives turns up archaeological evidence and work, we sometimes come across some more personal moments in people’s lives. The archives capture not only the business side of Kelsey, but also the lives of his family, friends, people he regularly interacted with. And sometimes we capture these familiar names and faces playing dress up and having fun.

From the Archives — September 2015

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

Welcome to the inaugural blog post for the series “From the Archives,” where we will present special finds from the Kelsey Museum archives. Besides the magnificent collection of art and artifacts held by the museum, we also have a rich archival collection that is full of surprises. The archives help support the collections and the mission of the museum by documenting the institution’s past and activities. The archives house a vast collection of photographs, maps from excavations, correspondence and journals, the papers of individual collectors, even 16-mm silent film. Several lifetime’s worth of research and work occupy this space.

For our initial post, we dig far back, to 1893. Everyone begins somewhere, including our namesake, Professor Francis Willey Kelsey. Though our exhibition A Man of Many Parts showcased Kelsey’s early years in upstate New York and at the University of Rochester, the Kelsey archives only go as far back as 1893, when a newly hired young professor at the University of Michigan traveled to Italy to further his research. Kelsey worked with Pompeii scholar and specialist August Mau, a German art historian who wrote several renowned books on the site.

In 1893, Kelsey began collecting artifacts that would find their way back to Michigan and eventually be deposited at the Kelsey Museum. It was then that he visited Carthage and picked up a lamp fragment that would become Kelsey accession number 1, currently on display in the permanent galleries. That seed would usher in an era of collecting for Michigan that carried on over a century, forming the core of the Museum’s art and artifacts. As we look back on the numerous names that have formed the Kelsey collections, it is important to remember the young man who helped foster that collecting culture at Michigan.

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Francis Kelsey and his circle at Pompeii, 1893. Kelsey is circled in red.

This photograph was “discovered” recently in the archives, as it had not been previously catalogued. Though we do not know who the photographer was, we do know this photo and others in the same series belonged, in some way, to Kelsey. His unique handwriting is found on the envelope holding this photo, and on many other photographs in the series. For this reason, these photos are called the Kelsey series and use the numbers he assigned. This particular picture is numbered Kelsey 132 II. Kelsey captioned it and two others like it “Pompeii. Dr. Mau and the ‘Giro’.”

The remaining photos in the Kelsey series show Mau and Mau’s wife, views of Pompeii, and other sites around the Mediterranean during Kelsey’s 1893 sojourn. They are all glass, quite fragile, as photography at that time, before the introduction of the original Kodak, was all accomplished using large cameras with glass plate negatives.