News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

I love many things about working as a conservator, but Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is not one of them. Thankfully, my colleague Carrie is quite into this activity, which is part entomology and part detective work. IPM is an important part of “preventive conservation,” a phrase that refers to the actions you can take to prevent conservation problems before they ever start. Like, for example, having your valuable library chewed up by book lice.

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Carrie Roberts, Conservator, with a month’s haul of sticky bug traps from around the museum.

Once a month, Carrie collects bug traps from all around the museum and then examines them to see what critters are getting in and where they’re hanging out. We have some repeat visitors: silverfish, spiders, house centipedes…. But every now and then, look out!!! Stranger Danger! Carpet Beetle who could eat all our textiles! Wood-boring beetle who could eat up the wood! Where did they come from??!! Where are they going? How many are there? How close are they to the objects we don’t want them to eat?

These gripping questions – and more – can be asked and answered, all with the help of sticky bug traps and Carrie’s careful tracking. Yes, sometimes STEPS must be taken, and Carrie is on it. That’s IPM. Glamorous it’s not, but I’ll tell you – there’s never a dull minute here in conservation at ye olde Kelsey.

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – September

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

It’s back-to-school time, and town is certainly feeling lively as ~30,000 students return to campus. It’s also the harvest season here in Michigan, where it’s already starting to feel like fall. That is sort of, maybe, a decent lead-in to this month’s ugly object which is…wait for it…some pieces of wheat!

 

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Wheat. 1st – 3rd c AD. University of Michigan excavations at Karanis, Egypt. 3958.

 

This is some bonafide archaeological grain-stuff here and, while it might not be considered a typical museum-quality artwork, I think it looks pretty amazing. According to Kelsey Curator and Director Terry Wilfong, wheat was the biggest and most important crop for ancient Karanis. Egypt was a major producer of grain for the Roman Empire, and Karanis had ten large granaries to store it prior to its shipment to Alexandria and then Rome. Some of this wheat’s brethren might have been eaten by emperors! But if, for some reason, it fails to impress you with its extreme ancient awesomeness, be aware that we also have garlic bulbs and a bunch of other fantastic 1,700 year-old seeds on view. Come enjoy the Kelsey’s cornucopia of ancient – if not always attractive – agricultural delights.

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From the Archives #23

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum

In the coming months, the Kelsey Museum is going to be seeing some changes to our neighborhood. The new Trotter Multicultural building as well as the expansion of LSA for their Opportunity Hub will both be commencing shortly. Normally, any construction is nerve-wracking for museums, as vibrations can cause deterioration to artifacts. With this activity being so close to the Kelsey, we will be seeing even more potential movement in the galleries and storage. Throw on top of all this the fact that there will be construction on two fronts, so vibrations will be steady and ongoing for a long period of time.

Small and big vibrations will cause artifacts to move, but the shaking can cause flaking and other breaking to occur. If you wander the galleries and see something amiss, please inform security or notify museum staff if they are in the galleries at the time.  Fortunately, the Kelsey is staffed by high caliber professionals who are already on top of this, and have a plan to mitigate the situation. Thanks to them, we expect to see no damage during this construction period.

For this month’s From the Archives, we look back when the opposite situation was taking place. Back in 2007, the Kelsey was undergoing its own construction. This project affected our neighbors, the students living in Newberry and Barbour Residences, as well as our colleagues in LSA. For the Kelsey, this was a long time coming, as calls for a new building for the collections had been written decades before. Finally, in 2009, the doors at Upjohn Exhibition Wing opened to the public, the culmination of several years’ worth of work.

Those who have been with the Kelsey Museum for a long time will remember that the space where Upjohn is now was a parking lot. About 20-25 cars could fit here, often for staff of the residences and the Kelsey. Much to the chagrin of several people who enjoyed parking close to work, the lot was removed and the new wing went up instead.

Images shared here show the construction at different phases. While construction was underway, Collections Manager Sebastian Encina went around photographing the progress from various angles, including the roof of LSA, the Student Activities Building, the former Kelsey archives room, even street views. We are now fortunate to have this collection of images that encapsulate a portion of our own history. It reminds us how much work goes into the planning and actualization of a construction project. At the time, it was difficult to imagine what the end result was going to look like. Now, 10 years later, we have a whole history in this building already, many stories shared, many names and voices passing through.

 

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News from the Conservation Lab: A Fond Farewell

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Last Friday we said goodbye to our first-ever summer intern in conservation, Amaris Sturm. Amaris is a graduate student in the Winterthur / University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, and has a special interest in archaeological conservation. During her two months at the Kelsey, Amaris treated twelve artifacts (many in preparation for the Museum’s upcoming Bicentennial exhibition), familiarizing herself with some of the “bread and butter” activities of a museum archaeological conservator.  She brought thoughtfulness and skill to each of her projects, and approached each new treatment as an opportunity to learn. As is often the case with interns and fellows in the lab, we learned a great deal from her as well.

We will miss having Amaris in the lab, and wish her all the best as she moves on to her internship year at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Thank you Amaris!

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Amaris removes an old coating from a copper alloy dish

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One of Amaris’s treatment projects: a reconstructed ceramic vessel from Karanis

 

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Ugly Object – August

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

This month’s ugly object is bound to give its competitors a run for their money. It is not much to look at, but it’s definitely worth getting to know. What exactly is it? It’s an ancient Egyptian mudbrick.

Mudbrick is a material used in building construction worldwide. It was used in antiquity and continues to be used today, from the painted mudbrick complexes of El Kurru village to my grandmother’s old ranch house in Fresno, CA. The components of mudbrick vary but usually include clay or clayey soil, sand, plant fibers and, in the case of the Kelsey brick, pieces of fired ceramic. Each brick would have been shaped, dried in the sun, and then used to build things. There are countless ancient mudbrick structures in Egypt, including the houses excavated at Karanis.

This mudbrick has seen better days, but it’s fun to imagine what kind of structure it might have been a part of once. Was it part of the wall of a house? A pyramid? We don’t really know. There are a number of ancient mudbrick structures still around, but (as shown by the poor condition of our brick) they can be a challenge to preserve.

You can find out more about the Kelsey’s ancient mudbricks in our exhibition Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, on view starting October 18.

 

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Mudbrick architectural remains at Karanis, Egypt

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From the Archives #22

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum

Walking through the galleries of the Kelsey, one will encounter many fantastical creatures. These are spoken about in ancient myths, and read about in stories or seen on film. They litter the displays, appearing on stelae, as figurines, on coins, and in paintings. The sphinx in the Egyptian galleries, the sea creatures in the Roman bath. Satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, cupids, gorgons, griffins, and all the Egyptian half-animal half-human deities, greet our visitors as they peer into each case.

These depictions are coupled with real animals as well. We see camels, dogs and cats, falcons, crocodiles, snakes, bulls, sheeps and goats. There is a nice mix of animals, both friendly and not friendly, meant to protect, guide, or attack. There are enough animals on display that the Kelsey had its own exhibition “Animals in the Kelsey: An Undergraduate Exhibit of Animals in the Ancient World” in 2000/2001. Clearly, animals, both real and imaginary, played an important role in the ancient world.

Recently, SMU professor Dr. Stephanie Langin Hooper visited the Kelsey Museum to conduct some research on the Museum’s holdings on artifacts from Seleucia. Many will remember Dr. Langin Hooper as the curator of the exhibition “Life In Miniature” (2014). That exhibition showcased a number of figurines from Seleucia, held by the Kelsey Museum and Toledo Museum of Art.

Along with the artifacts, Dr. Langin Hooper also spent some time looking through the archives from Seleucia. In the end, she selected a number of artifact cards created by the excavators as a means to document the finds with images. These were scanned by the Kelsey Registry in order to share.

During the scanning process, a few of these cards stood out. It is these that are this month’s choice for From the Archives. Animals were a popular motif in Seleucia, but even these caught our attention. We present to you the Seleucia unicorn. Cast in bronze, the distinguishing horn is prominent even on these small black-and-white photographs. The cards give us more information, such as find spot, field number, and additional notes (“Note: bridle!”). These three show the same statuette from two angles, one depicted twice.

Not much else is known about this artifact. We do know it was left at the Baghdad Museum. It was discovered in 1936.

 

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Investigating color on a Roman-Egyptian mummy portrait

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

This week a team from the Detroit Institute of Arts conservation department traveled to the Kelsey to take a closer look at one of our Fayoum mummy portraits. The portrait is normally on display in the Dynastic Egypt gallery and is dated to the Roman period of Egypt (79 – 110 AD). The woman featured in the portrait is clearly of means, as her gold earrings and necklace, colorful gems, and purple robe indicate. We were curious to learn more about the colorants that were used to paint her portrait and to look for painting details that have become harder to see over time.

Christina Bisulca, conservation scientist at the DIA, brought along a portable spectrometer to identify pigments on the painting. She found evidence of pigment mixtures in multiple areas of the portrait, including the flesh tones, the oval gem at the center of the woman’s pendant, and the drapery of the robe. It appears that the various shades of purple in the robe were likely created by mixing and laying blue and red pigments and dyes, for example. Further analysis is needed to verify these results.

Aaron Steele, the DIA conservation department’s imaging specialist, brought along their powerful infrared camera to see if underdrawing might have been used to sketch the sitter before paint was applied. Although underdrawing was not immediately visible, details of curls along the hairline and sectioning of the woman’s hair could be seen in the infrared images. Details of paint application next to the woman’s face are also much more visible in the infrared. I also had the chance to capture ultraviolet images and produce infrared false color images which provide good information on the distribution of certain pigments (including rose madder and Egyptian blue) over the surface.

We look forward to learning more about the Fayoum portrait over the next year and to featuring the results in an upcoming Kelsey exhibition about color in the Roman world. Many thanks to our friends at the Detroit Institute of Arts for their support of this project!

 

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Ugly Object – July

BY AMARIS STURM, Visiting Graduate Student in Conservation

Were Bigfoot’s ancestors Egyptian? This heavy hunk of dirt-covered limestone might just provide the answer. July’s ugly object installment is an Egyptian foot impression, excavated in Karanis in 1928. Karanis is located in modern Kom Aushim, and was previously an agricultural town in its earliest days. Archeologists from the University of Michigan excavated the ancient site from 1924-1935. This Karanis artifact consists of a limestone block with a 58 cm long by 25 cm wide foot impressed on the surface, appearing as if someone had stepped through wet concrete.

Although I like the idea that an ancient Bigfoot made its mark in Egypt, this “impression” was more likely cut into the limestone, with chisel marks throughout the surface. Although it is not entirely clear how this literal “big foot” was used, why it was produced, or even how it may have been originally displayed, it does shed some light on ancient foot afflictions with a lovely bit of foot fungus. In actuality, this inactive biological activity is likely from the object’s time outdoors or in uncontrolled environments. Any way you look at it, this size 26 foot yields more questions than answers and proves that a simple object can evoke tall tales and thoughtful steps towards understanding our history.

Can the next clue to finding Bigfoot be found in the Kelsey galleries come October? Perhaps, but you can decide for yourself: this foot will be in the upcoming bicentennial exhibition, “Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan,” on view at the Kelsey Museum from October 18, 2017 through May 27, 2018.

Karanis Foot

KM 25878

 

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From the Archives #21

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

“I am very pleased to announce that Terry Wilfong has generously agreed to serve as Director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology effective June 1, 2017 through June 30, 2020.”

With these words, LSA Dean Andrew Martin announced to the Kelsey Museum community that Professor Terry Wilfong, longtime curator of Graeco-Roman Egyptian Collections at the Kelsey Museum, would assume the responsibilities of Museum director. Terry follows a long line of distinguished directors of the Kelsey Museum. Each director furthered the mission of the Museum in their own right, making the institution stronger and a greater presence on the University of Michigan campus and around the world. Without each of these strong leaders, the Kelsey would not be the institution it is now. To each of these we owe a great deal of gratitude.

In honor of the news and Terry’s appointment, this month’s From the Archives presents this B&W image from the 1990s, though no date is associated with the image. It was found during routine cleaning in the archives. Its appeal as history of the Museum and its staff made it an easy addition to the photographic archives (KAP00007).

In the image, we see Dr. Wilfong, perhaps not long after he was hired by the University of Michigan as professor and curator. He is standing in front of the some displays we had in Newberry Hall, long before the Upjohn Exhibition Wing was even dreamed up. In those days, the Kelsey was constricted in exhibition space and possibilities.

Since this photograph was taken, there have been many changes. The Museum has a new building, our staff has grown in numbers, and our reach has expanded with more exhibitions and outreach and excavations. Terry has earned tenure, reached the level of full professor, and now is director. Both have grown together, and much of the Kelsey’s success during that time can be attributed to Terry’s efforts.  With Terry’s directorship, we are excited about the upcoming years.

 

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Professor Terry Wilfong presenting some early Kelsey Museum exhibitions in Newberry Hall.

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Student Research on University Excavations at Dimé, Egypt 1931-1932

Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, UM students

Through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) we each joined professor Arthur Verhoogt’s research project in the fall of 2016. We were interested in the documentation of an excavation at Dimé, Egypt that lasted only a single field season from 1931-1932. Because current archaeologists are revisiting this site, our goal has been to digitize the Dimé material such as field notes, triangulation points, and maps both hand drawn and printed. After we exhausted materials at the Bentley Historical Library we contacted the Kelsey Museum for assistance. With immense help from Museum Collections Manager, Sebastian Encina, we began continuing our research with the Kelsey’s archives. Since then our project has continually been aided by the Kelsey Museum from both their staff and the materials made available to us. The materials we have been digitizing from the Kelsey will be shared with and examined by the archaeologists who have been excavating Dimé recently and will be used as a tool to further their research as well.

Sebastian Encina has assisted us repeatedly in our research with the Kelsey archives. He assisted us in not only the digitization of these maps and documents, but has also helped us obtain valuable experience in how to research efficiently and effectively. Through our research at the Kelsey each of us now has a far greater understanding in scanning documents to TIF files for dense pixel quality, the process of adding and amending metadata to digitized documents, using Photoshop, moving material into a database format, and improving the methods we used in researching these documents.

Aside from the many new archival research skills we acquired, we also were introduced to much of the Kelsey museum staff as well as the Clark Library staff after visiting the map library to scan the largest maps we found. The museum resources we have been able to utilize, including people and technology, have allowed for complete student engagement and a unique opportunity to further our research in this area. With the help of the Kelsey’s resources we created a poster presentation for the UROP symposium and also presented our research during the Department of Classical Studies Research Symposium. The work we have done so far at the Kelsey has been a wonderful opportunity to further our academic experiences on a professional level.

We are extremely thankful for all that the Kelsey has provided to us and added in our research project. We strongly recommend future students to contact the Kelsey and if possible utilize its vast resources to improve their own research and to gain truly unique and valuable experience in the museum’s fields of study. Each of our first years at the University of Michigan have been fantastic academic experience made in a large part by the Kelsey Museum.

 

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Here we are presenting our work at the UROP Symposium

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