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.
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.