From the Archives

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

In a little less than a month, the Kelsey’s latest exhibition, Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: the Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii, will, sadly, come down for good. This was the Kelsey’s most grandiose exhibition to date, the culmination of several year’s work and planning. For this exhibit, the Museum borrowed just over 230 artifacts from the ancient villas at Oplontis, many of them out of Italy for the first time ever, only a few ever even exhibited previously. This endeavor was a major undertaking by the Kelsey, spearheaded by curator Elaine Gazda, with the assistance of many staff. Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive and reassuring that our efforts were well worth it.

The exhibition showcases beautiful artwork from Roman times when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. These were covered in ash for nearly two millennia, awaiting discovery but perfectly preserving spectacular sculptures, frescoes, jewelry, and daily household objects. With this exhibition, Professor Gazda shows the contents from two villas, and what life was like at the time. Come mid-May, the exhibition will begin its journey to two different museums in the US, and with that these beautiful objects will be gone.

But friends of the Kelsey are well aware that once Oplontis leaves the Kelsey, we will still have beautiful artwork from Pompeii on display. The Barosso watercolors, the 1926 replicas of a room at the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, are still visible in the Upjohn Exhibit Hall, in their own special room. These watercolors will be with us past the current exhibition, allowing visitors to gaze upon the level of craftsmanship not only of Maria Barosso, but of the original Roman artists as well. This space is a highlight of the collections, a must see for any visit to the Kelsey.

What some of our newer friends will not know is that the watercolors were not always on display in such a space. In fact, the artwork was rolled up and put away in storage for the majority of its life. In 1926, Maria Barosso painted these at the behest of Franics Kelsey. They were soon put on display in Italy under the auspices of Benito Mussolini, then rolled and shipped to Michigan where they lay dormant for over 70 years. Throughout its history, before the construction of the Upjohn Exhibit Hall and its opening in 2009, the Kelsey simply did not have the space to properly display these paintings. They were too large to display in the spaces of Newberry, and the building did not have the proper climate control and lighting to safely exhibit them. Instead, they were kept in a locked cabinet in collections storage where they teased potential use in an unknown future.

This month’s From the Archives reminds some of our longtime friends, and brings to light for our newer friends, an endeavor to have these out for view. In 2000, Professor Gazda curated the exhibition The Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii: Ancient Ritual, Modern Muse. This was the Kelsey’s first successful attempt at having the watercolors out and visible, not just locked where no one could see them. However, even then the Kelsey was not able to show all the panels as they should be viewed. The temporary exhibition space, where the current gift shop is now located, was simply not large enough for all the panels. In order to do this, the Kelsey had to partner with the Museum of Art. This exhibition was a multi-venue show, with part on view at the Kelsey, including some complementary artifacts and the full-size mirror group panel, and the complete room on view at the Museum of Art.

The Kelsey archives do not only contain the history of the archaeological excavations and forays into Europe by Kelsey and Swain and friends, but we also maintain the history of the Museum into modern times. Every exhibition we have put on is carefully recorded, making it possible for us to learn from our past, see what we have done, how it was done. It is humbling to see where the Kelsey was just 16 years ago, and the limits we had to face. Despite these limitations, however, the staff and curators were able to overcome and do the best we could with the resources we had. Back then, we had no idea a space such as Upjohn would be coming to us, we could only hope.

The files in the exhibition archives contain old posters, flyers, photos, even layout designs. These are a few of the examples we present this month. And it acts as a reminder that even though Oplontis will soon be going away, we still have the beautiful Barosso watercolors to enjoy for many years to come.

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Analyzing Roman wall paintings

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

When I think about color in antiquity, I like to imagine how colors have weathered, or changed chemically over time, and the ways these changes impact how we see ancient paint surfaces. Ancient paint can be found on terracotta figurines, marble sculpture, and – most visibly – on wall paintings. The Kelsey Museum preserves a number of Roman wall painting fragments, and Curator and Professor Elaine Gazda has incorporated these artifacts into her history of art classes. One of Professor Gazda’s students, UM senior D’Arcy Cook, has taken on the challenge of identifying the pigments from a group of these wall painting fragments.

D’Arcy is a chemical engineering major who is interested in archaeological chemistry and conservation science. Her primary research question was whether pigments on the Kelsey wall painting fragments matched what she had learned to expect based on published literature. To answer this question D’Arcy used analytical techniques available in the Kelsey Conservation Laboratory and across campus. I felt this would be a great opportunity to learn more about artifacts in the Kelsey collection and to provide D’Arcy with experience analyzing ancient materials.

Using a scalpel, I removed milligram-sized samples of paint from the fragments. D’Arcy analyzed the samples using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), an analytical technique that identifies materials by detecting signals produced by their molecular bonds. Among other results, her analysis confirmed that Egyptian blue is present on one of the fragments – a pigment I also detected with a modified camera, and which we both observed using a polarized light microscope. Egyptian blue pigment was commonly used by the Romans on wall paintings and sculpture.

This project illustrates how technical research works best by incorporating multiple, cross-checking analytical techniques, and depends on scientists, art historians, and conservators to happen. Many thanks D’Arcy, to Elaine and the Kelsey curators, and to the UM Chemistry department and EMAL laboratory for their help with this research!

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Figure 1: Sampling photograph showing plaster and paint layers

 

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Figure 2: Visible (VIS), infrared reflected (IRR), infrared reflected false color (IRR-FC), and visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL) images. The white luminescence in the VIL image shows the presence of Egyptian blue.

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Ugly Object of the Month – April

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Museum’s current special exhibit – Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero – is full of insanely gorgeous objects from the Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. But guess what? The Kelsey has a few objects on view in this exhibit, too, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that some of them are, you know, not insanely gorgeous.

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Polished architectural facing fragment. KM 29617.

This month’s ugly object is a marble sample – basically, a polished rock – and it’s on view in a section of the exhibit that demonstrates how the villas’ surfaces were adorned with decorative stones. You see the object here before conservation treatment to remove the collector’s label. The label – which we saved, of course – says: From the Great Theater at Ephesus, Sept 6th 1867.

It was collected and given to the Kelsey by James D. Candler, a businessman, builder, and traveler who was based in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This stone sample and others like it have been the focus of recent research at the Kelsey. IPCAA alumnae Leah Long and Lynley McAlpine, UM Professor and Kelsey Curator Elaine Gazda, and University of Akron emeritus professor Clayton Fant have been studying the Kelsey’s stone samples, in part to see if analytical techniques like stable isotope analysis can connect samples like this one to their sources and buildings of origin.

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From the Archives

BY SEBASTIAN 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 #1, 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 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

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RTI at Kurru!

JANELLE BATKIN-HALL, Graduate Intern in Conservation

I’ve just returned from a fantastic six-week field work experience at the El-Kurru archaeological site in North Sudan. There, Kelsey conservator Suzanne Davis and I documented ancient figural and geometric graffiti in a funerary temple at the site. Each day, Suzanne and I would make our way through a maze of mud-brick alleys to the edge of the village, where the funerary temple and several royal burial tombs and pyramids are located in the desert.

We photographed  the graffiti using a process called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) (fig.1).  RTI is an excellent technique for documentation because each pixel records surface texture in addition to color.  Since the sandstone is subject to ongoing disintegration and loss, the resulting RTI images provide an excellent record of the graffiti’s current condition, as well as a highly detailed image of the column’s surface texture.

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Fig. 1 Conservators Suzanne Davis (left) and Janelle Batkin-Hall (right) performing RTI imaging at El-Kurru. (photo: Walter de Winter)

The Kurru graffiti were documented using highlight image capture where the camera remains fixed and a portable flash is moved at intervals which create a dome of light over the surface.  In a single photo sequence of one object (or in this case, graffito), approximately 48 digital images are taken.  Two reflective black spheres are also fixed within the image frame, and the reflection of the flash on these spheres allows the processing software to calculate the light direction for each image. The resulting images are combined with software, resulting in a single file. In this file, the viewer can move the light source across the surface in order to examine the surface details and topography from any angle (fig. 2).  As a result of using this technique, 64 “new” ancient graffiti were positively identified and additional surface details became visible.  In a couple of instances, a graffito was initially misidentified.  For example, in 2015 a particular graffito was identified as an arrow.  After performing RTI, it was clearly a human figure.

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Fig. 2 Screen capture of bull graffiti using CHI’s RTIViewer software.

 

For me, this was a great experience because I was able to use a technique I recently learned in graduate school. Being able to apply it onsite and share the results with our colleagues was very rewarding.

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – March

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Our current special exhibition, Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero, features objects from the Villa Oplontis, one of the big Roman villas near Pompeii, Italy. Most of the objects are on loan to us from Italy, and let’s face it – they are gorgeous. But don’t worry, because when you start to swoon from the beauty, the Kelsey can apply smelling salts; we have some fantastically ugly objects from the same part of Italy.

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Hoe. Iron. Roman, 1st c AD. KM 1948.

 

This one, a hoe blade, is one of my favorites. Roman villas were farm houses. Yes, some of them were very fancy farmhouses (witness Oplontis), but farming was occurring! Then and now, the grain for our daily bread does not grow itself. On the second floor of the Kelsey near the top of the stairs, you can see a variety of Roman farming implements, including this hoe. It is a large, industrial-sized hoe, much larger than my little garden hoe (although the Romans had small ones, too). A lot of the original metal is lost, but you can see some details. For example, at the top you can see the where the metal starts to curve upward – this is where the wood handle would have attached. You can also see how the sides start to curve in near the top, giving the hoe a shape sort of like a flat shovel blade. The chunks you see on this blade are little rocks that got stuck in the mineralized corrosion layer that formed while the blade was underground for almost 2,000 years.

If you feel like the Romans lived in a world apart, which is how it can seem if you imagine only the people who lived in fancy houses like Oplontis, take a few steps and reconnect with the reality of this hoe. If you are a gardener, you can also think about this when you turn your garden over for early spring planting (maybe this very month!); your springtime chore is one that has been performed by people for millennia.

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From the Archives

BY SEBASTIAN 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.

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Installing Oplontis

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

For the past four weeks it has been all hands on deck at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Indeed, it has taken the entire Kelsey village – curators, registrars, conservators, educators, and exhibit coordinators – to bring Oplontis to life.

The first step in installing Oplontis was to receive the objects. Over 30 crates of artifacts arrived from Italy nearly five weeks ago. Kelsey collections managers were at the Museum (very) early in the morning to oversee the movement of the crates from truck to loading dock to gallery. The crates were allowed to adjust to the climate of the Kelsey galleries for about a day before being opened.

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The Nike sculpture travels from the first to the second floor galleries

 

Our next step was to unpack and install the artifacts. We did this with the help of two couriers, Giuseppe Zolfo, Head of Conservation at Herculaneum, and Stefania Giudice, Conservator at Pompeii. Giuseppe and Stefania checked the condition of artifacts as they were unpacked and helped install them in cases, on stands, and on top of columns. Both Giuseppe and Stefania have traveled to numerous museums around the world to assist with the installation of artifacts from the Pompeii area, and we’re grateful for their help in installing the Oplontis artifacts and sculpture.

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Stefania Giudice examines a wall painting fragment

 

The wall painting fragments that appear suspended on the gallery walls took many days to install, their positions needing to align with their reconstructed backgrounds. The coins and jewelry in the Villa B area were expertly mounted by Stefania and Giuseppe using covered pins and shaped metal rods. You may wonder how we moved the massive strong box onto its base. The box is too fragile to lift manually, but it is set on wheels, which allowed us to roll it from its crate onto the base with the help of a wooden block. We installed the large sculptures with the help of a company specializing in the movement and installation of works of art.

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Giuseppe and Scott install wall painting fragments

 

Our final steps will be to install the lighting and text before the exhibition opens. This is by far the largest installation I have been a part of, and it has been a fantastic learning opportunity. Among other things, I feel much more adept at using a drill.

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Check out the latest from the IPCAA Students

IPCAA alumna Dr. Katherine Larson talks about her dissertation research in the most recent post on the IPCAA student blog.  Check out what she is up to at:

http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/ipcaa-alumni/2015/12/29/update-from-dr-katherine-larson-ipcaa-phd-2015/

 

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – February

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Our galleries are closed at the beginning of this month as we install a major exhibit from Pompeii, Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero. So I’m taking this opportunity to feature a favorite Kelsey ugly object that is rarely on view: an ancient dirty sock. In the photo below, you see the part of the sock that would cover your toes and the front part of your foot (the heel and ankle are missing).

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Knitted Sock. Wool. 2nd – 4th c AD. KM 22558.

The sock was excavated at Karanis, Egypt, during the University of Michigan’s 1928 field season. This object is hideous, accessible (who doesn’t have daily experience with dirty socks?), and interesting. It’s obviously old, stained, and worn, with a large hole in one toe. But it’s also a very cool, very early form of knitting called single needle knitting or naalbinding.

I could tell you more about this technique, but why not try it yourself by making your very own ancient-Egyptian-style sock? The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London did this in 2009 and 2010, in an experimental archaeology project called “Sock It!” Scholars used ancient techniques to recreate a pair of socks just like this one. Click here to read their blog about the project, and here for instructions and a pattern to do it yourself. February is a great month to make yourself a cozy pair of ancient ugly socks!

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