Ugly Object – April

By Caitlin Clerkin, PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

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Bone figurine with pigment. 6.5 x 1.3 cm. 150 BCE–200 CE. University of Michigan excavations at Seleucia, Iraq. KM 16200.

Is the end of the school year getting you concerned? Are you worried that this winter will NEVER end? Are you stressing about the summer heat and humidity to come? Well, whatever they are about, you and your worries have NOTHING on our ugly friend this month, because he has been worried for around 1,900 years.

This anxious-looking anthropomorphic figurine is from Seleucia on the Tigris, an ancient city located in modern-day Iraq. The University of Michigan excavated Seleucia in the 1920s and ’30s and found a whole bunch of these worried carved-bone guys (among lots of other things — check out the Seleucia cases in the permanent galleries). Our friend here is pretty schematic looking, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t communicate BIG emotions.

Look at those eyes! They might not have had headlights in 1st and 2nd century CE Seleucia, but if they had, the local gazelles would have probably looked like this when caught in the path of a speeding cart. Look at that mouth! It is definitely saying “MEEP!” Look at those little clothespin-like legs! Those legs are not going to carry him anywhere — no escape is possible! No wonder he is so worried. So, buck up, blog-reading friend! This little fellow is going to be worried way longer than you are.

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Bone figurine. 7.1 x 1.3 cm. 150 BCE–200 CE. University of Michigan excavations at Seleucia, Iraq. KM 16182.

Go visit this figurine on the ground floor of Upjohn Exhibit Wing, where it has some equally expressive buddies, including a ready-to-brawl, angry, cock-eyed fellow (shown below — see its angry eyebrows and ready stance? Don’t mess with it!). Maybe you can soothe their worries a little by beaming affirming messages at their ugly little heads. But I’m not sure it is going to help: they have made those faces so long that I think they are stuck that way….

 

 

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From the Archives #28 March 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

As many of our friends have noticed, there is a lot of construction happening around the Kelsey Museum. To the north, the Trotter Multicultural Center is creating a new home for itself. To the south, LSA is expanding in order to house the Opportunity Hub. Both of these are exciting projects that will pay dividends for the Kelsey, with new guests and neighbors we can partner with, bring to the Museum, and be friends with.

The construction around us speaks to the long and constantly changing history of the U-M campus. For years, we have become accustomed to our neighbors: the trees to our north and LSA to our south. But as we have seen around campus, nothing remains the same for too long.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present two photographs showing how  Newberry Hall appeared in the early 1900s, when it was still the future home of the Kelsey Museum (the Kelsey occupied Newberry Hall in 1928). In these photographs, taken by George R. Swain, Newberry Hall had different neighbors. To the north, trees and the Helen Newberry Residence, which still stands. To the south, a house — though not much in the photos gives us any clues about it, or indeed if it was a house at all.

For people who have been working at or visiting the Kelsey for years, the surprise lies to the west. Where Upjohn is now there used to be a parking lot, big enough for 20 cars. However, in these photos, particularly M8.1087, we see the structure that the parking lot replaced. It  looks like a house, though no further information accompanies these images.

Through word of mouth, there have been suggestions that gas stations also used to be near the Kelsey, but we do not see that in these images.

Spend enough time on the U-M campus and you will notice much construction throughout the area. It seems the University is constantly expanding and changing. Going through the archives and photographs, we begin to understand  that this is not new. Changes have been happening since U-M arrived in Ann Arbor. And it is safe to say changes will continue for many years to come.

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M8.1087: View of Newberry Hall, future home of the Kelsey Museum, ca. 1900. Photo by George R. Swain.

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M8.1088: View of Newberry Hall, ca. 1915–1920. Photo by George R. Swain.

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March’s News from the Conservation Lab: Reconstructing Color on a Roman Marble Head

 

Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month I’ve been getting to know Bacchus (Dionysos to the Greeks), a Kelsey Museum favorite normally on display outside the Villa of the Mysteries room. Bacchus’s head dates from the early to mid- second century AD. It is made of carved white marble and was once part of a larger standing figure which would have been pretty impressive given how great its noggin is! I’m examining the head because, believe it or not, there are traces of color on it. There is an abundance of red in the hair that is visible to the naked eye, but there are also traces of red in less noticeable areas. Using a Dinolite digital microscope I’ve spotted tiny deposits of red pigment in the tear ducts of Bacchus’s eyes and at the corner of his mouth. Using an imaging technique called Visible induced infrared luminescence (or VIL), I’ve also found traces of Egyptian blue on the leaves of the god’s ivy wreath. This could mean that the wreath was painted blue, or perhaps green if the blue was mixed with yellow.

Bacchus will return to display in the Roman galleries this summer and will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Ancient Color, opening February 8, 2019. Visitors to the exhibition will get a chance to see Bacchus’s colorful hair through digital color reconstructions that will illustrate how he might have appeared in antiquity, based on material evidence.

 

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Marble head of Bacchus, early to mid-2nd c. AD. Height: 32.5 cm. Joint purchase of the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 1974. KM 1974.4.1.

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Left: visible light image, proper left side; right, VIL image showing Egyptian blue under a leaf on Bacchus’s ivy wreath (the whitish spots in the middle of the image)

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Ugly Object – March

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Kelsey Museum Conservator

Greetings, Ugly Object fans! This month’s featured artifact is not really an object. It is, rather, a somewhat unseemly chunk of … any ideas? Here’s a clue: it is a thing greater than the sum of its parts. It is made up of large fragments of yellow marble, tufa, and travertine embedded in a gray pozzolan/lime mortar. In other words, it’s a mixture of aggregate and cement, which are the necessary ingredients for — you guessed it — Roman concrete! This particular fragment of concrete was brought to Michigan in 1901 by none other than Francis Kelsey, undoubtedly for the benefit of his students. Our records say that it is in fact a piece of wall core from the Diocletian baths in Rome. That is quite a pedigree!

Although this chunk is not much to look at, it is an example of a pretty remarkable form of Roman construction technology. You can visit this and other artifacts of Roman construction on the second floor of the Kelsey Museum’s Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

 

Ugly_Mar 2018

Concrete fragment, KMA 2373.

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February’s News from the Conservation Lab: analyzing rocks from Notion

(Apologies to our readers for getting this post up late.)

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator

This semester, the Kelsey Conservation Department is taking an analytical look at rock samples from the archaeological site of Notion. Suzanne Davis and Peter Knoop documented and collected the samples from the site during the 2017 field season. They represent the types of stone that were used to build the ancient Greek city’s numerous structures, an example of which is the Heroon – or shrine – shown below. As one might expect of structures that are over two thousand years old, Notion’s building stones are fragile and in need of conservation. Analyzing the rocks will help us figure out what has caused Notion’s building stones to deteriorate, and what we can do to slow this process.

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Left: The Heroon at Notion; Right: Peter Knoop, Noel Grant, and Carrie Roberts examine Notion rock samples in the Kelsey Conservation Lab

We are working with the Earth and Environmental Science Department’s EMAL lab to study the rocks, and we’ve had some additional help from UROP student Noel Grant. Noel is assisting us with bibliographic research, sample preparation, and instrumental analysis. We are using a variety of techniques to study the rocks’ physical and chemical characteristics, including microscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). During each round of analysis we look for clues as to the type of rock we’re looking at and whether there are materials like salts and clays present in the sample. This information will help us develop a conservation and site preservation plan for Notion, and determine the best approaches for protecting the site’s ancient structures.

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Left: Carrie examines a rock sample using an SEM microscope; Right: SEM image of a schist rock sample

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From the Archives #27 February 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA

The exhibition Excavating Archaeology presents a look back at the history of archaeological explorations undertaken by the University of Michigan. It was guided by the work of Carla Sinopoli, who co-edited the book Object Lessons & the Formation of Knowledge (with Kerstin Barndt; University of Michigan Press, 2017). This book presents the fabulous history of how the materials that came to make up the various libraries, archives, and museums at U-M —  including the Kelsey Museum — arrived here in the first place.

The collections at the Kelsey have had their own books detailing their histories. Artifacts from excavations are thoroughly discussed in the book In the Field (Talalay and Alcock; Kelsey Museum Publication 4. Kelsey Museum, 2006), while Passionate Curiosities (Talalay and Root; Kelsey Museum Publication 13. Kelsey Museum, 2015) gives us the background of the objects that were collected by individuals.

Books like Object Lessons, Passionate Curiosities, and In the Field owe much to the many people who have, in their own way, written about the collections at Michigan. One of these is the focus for this month’s “From the Archives.”

For this month, we present a report written by Museum of Classical Archaeology curator Orma Fitch Butler. Butler, a native of Fitchburg, Michigan, and high school student in Mason and Lansing, received her bachelor of arts in 1897 from the University of Michigan. In 1901, she earned her master of arts, and then her doctor of philosophy in 1907, both also from U-M. After some time away, she returned to Michigan in 1912 as Francis Kelsey’s assistant in Latin and Roman Archaeology. In 1928, after several other promotions, Butler was named Curator of the Archaeological Collections, a position she held until her death in 1938.

As part of her duties, she wrote a report on the collections that was presented to the University president. This particular report is from 1930, and covers the time period when the Museum first opened (not yet named the Kelsey Museum). Dr. Butler writes about the collections and how they came to be in Ann Arbor. She tells us about the various people involved in procuring the artifacts, starting with Francis Kelsey. From there, she speaks about other U-M professors, friends from Ypsilanti, and friends from Tunisia, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, Africa, and Asia. What she writes gives us greater insight into the objects we admire in the galleries every day.

Butler writes more than just about the history of the collections in her report. She speaks about the aftermath of Kelsey’s death (in 1927), and how the collections and Museum owe much to him and his legacy. She writes that, with little to no publicity, the Museum still received over 100 people in its third and fourth months. This interest that the public has in classical archaeological materials, Butler notes, is a great sign for the future of the collections. She stresses that the University has a duty to maintain and care for the collections.

Elsewhere, Butler writes about Newberry Hall, and how, even so early on, it is acknowledged that it is not adequate for a museum. However, the museum staff are using the space as best they can, with certain rooms dedicated to different exhibition themes (the long room in the back what is now the gift shop and classroom, long before the elevator was installed).

Ultimately, the collections are in good and sound condition. The future seems bright. The University needs to invest in the collections and care for them. By doing so, they will ensure they can continue being used for two important purposes: exhibitions and instruction. Butler would be heartened to know that, nearly 90 years later, this vision remains true.

Read more about Orma Fitch Butler here: https://www.lib.umich.edu/faculty-history/faculty/orma-fitch-butler

View the report as a PDF here: OrmaButlerReport.

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Ugly Object of the Month – February

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Last month’s ugly object skated perilously close to downright attractiveness, so you will be delighted to see us getting back to our roots in February, with a truly hideous creature.

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Earthenware “sphinx.” AD 1890–1898, Michigan, United States. UMMAA 21492.T.

This bizarre-looking bird-thing, which is trying to pass itself off as a sphinx, if you can believe that, is especially special to me because Francis Kelsey himself was moved to comment on it. It’s a nineteenth century fake, made in Michigan, and it and its brethren were so freakin’ weird and caused such a fuss that the University of Michigan acquired some of them (google “Soper Frauds” — or better yet, come read about them at the Kelsey). In a 1908 article for the journal American Anthropologist , Kelsey wrote,

The interest of the spurious relics to which I have the pleasure of inviting your attention is, in last analysis, more psychological than archeological; so novel are their designs and so crude the workmanship that an archeologist of training in any field could hardly fail to recognize at a glance their true character.

Nicely said, Professor Kelsey!

These forgeries do not represent a high point in Michigan’s state history, but they are really very ugly and make for a great story, which is what we love here in our ugly object blogging. I like how this one — which, again, is supposed to be a sphinx — looks like a cross between a turkey and gargoyle. It has a particularly hilarious facial expression that seems to convey both surprise and confusion, which is probably how a lot of archaeologists felt when they saw it for the first time. Come see it for yourself now in the exhibition Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817–2017, open through May 2018.

 

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And the Winner is….

Many thanks to everyone who submitted their vote for their favorite “Ugly Object” of 2017. The winner this year is… drum roll please…. the fragmented but fabulous mud brick!!!  
Stay tuned for more Ugly Objects from the Kelsey. 
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Attention Ugly Object fans!

The ballot for 2017’s Ugly Object of the Year closes Friday, February 9! Be sure to cast your vote before it’s too late! Click here to vote!

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January’s News from the Conservation Lab: Let’s Destroy Stuff!

By SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Here in the Kelsey Conservation lab, we started the New Year right by totally destroying a few things. Don’t worry — they weren’t from an ancient artifact or building! For conservation work at the Kelsey’s excavation in El Kurru, Sudan, we wanted to know how much weight the local sandstone bedrock could bear. Enter Bob Spence, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who helped me perform compression or breaking strength tests on samples of the sandstone — by which I mean Bob graciously performed the tests, and I watched the samples  be slowly pulverized. A good time was had by all, except maybe the sandstone.

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Bob Spence, Engineering Technician in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, prepares to crush a sample of sandstone from El Kurru.

 

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