Greetings, Ugly Object fans! I thought it would be fitting to acknowledge 2020’s halfway point (can you believe it?) with a pointy piece of volcanic stone. This object is likely a single unit of opus reticulatum, a Roman wall-building technique that sets hundreds of these angular stones into mortar. The effect was a visually pleasing diagonal pattern that was also — according to Vitruvius Pollio — inherently flawed and prone to cracking. This particular block is from Pompeii and traveled here to Ann Arbor under the auspices of Francis Kelsey.
From time to time I’ll encounter an object that works a bit of magic on me. When I look at this unassuming piece of wall stone, I’m transported directly to Pompeii. In my mind, I would walk by the old Hotel Suisse where Francis Kelsey stayed during his visits to the area, and wander around the archaeological park. I’d travel to nearby Stabiae and take a second look at some of the colorful wall paintings at Villa Arianna. And I’d take a boat ride (assuming you can do that!) over to the seaside city of Baiae, which I’ve never seen in person. Artifacts have a power to activate memories and spark our imaginations in a way that is hard to replicate.
Keep tuning in to the Kelsey blog for more glimpses into our collections and archives!
This May, longtime Kelsey curator and former director Elaine Gazda retired from the University of Michigan. Since her arrival in Ann Arbor in 1974, Elaine has had an incredible impact on the Kelsey Museum. She has not only contributed her scholarship to the field and collections, but her leadership has set the foundation for so much of what makes the Kelsey what it is today.
The archives are rife with Elaine’s presence. The exhibition files alone show her reach, as we find countless exhibitions she has curated, co-curated, and assisted with. The design and planning of the Upjohn Exhibition Wing, completed in 2009, were a result of her hard work. Elaine has numerous exhibition catalogues and publications under her name.
Over the years, Elaine has worked closely with a wide range of artifacts, both in her personal research and through the classes she has taught. She often used artifacts in the classroom, allowing her students to hold and examine up close the sculptures, wall paintings, and other materials in the Kelsey’s collections.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we highlight Elaine’s relationship with her students, but in a slightly different manner. In 2004, Elaine took several of her IPCAA students — Lydia Herring, Matthew Harrington, Hima Mallampati, Diana Ng, Adrian Ossi, and Ben Rubin — on a trip to Turkey to learn about the sites, the architecture, and the art found there. The photographs from this trip, taken by Elaine and the students, were turned over to the Kelsey Museum. In these, we see visits to museums, the architecture of Aphrodisias and Ephesus, and their visit to Antioch. However, we are presenting the team itself, and honoring Elaine and how her students saw her. Sprinkled throughout we also see Elaine’s family, who accompanied her on this trip.
This is not goodbye to Elaine, as she will continue working with the Kelsey on numerous projects. But we do appreciate all her work and the years she has given to the museum. Her impact will be felt for a very long time. Thank you, Elaine, for all you have done, not only for the Kelsey, but for each person who has come into contact with you. You have had a profound impact on many careers. Best of luck to you.
These past few weeks have been horrific, and have made me question things I’d previously taken for granted. Among them is the idea that a person in my profession should remain neutral, objective, and scientific in their approach to preserving cultural heritage. As I see other conservators grapple with ethically problematic projects — like the removal of graffiti left by peaceful protesters — I’m beginning to understand the limits of this approach. None of us can fully separate our work from our values. We conservators can and should be active participants in determining how to make our country’s often painful cultural heritage accessible for the future while supporting the need for people to speak out, reject hate, and heal. And now more than ever we need to ensure that a greater number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color are part of this decision-making.
The American Institute of Conservation’s Equity and Inclusion Committee has presented the field with guidelines for how to increase diversity in our profession. The ECPN-HBCU mentorship program, along with similar programs run through the conservation graduate schools, is matching students from underrepresented groups with mentors in an effort to actively recruit at the undergraduate level. And Sanchita Balachandran’s Untold Stories initiative seeks to make the conservation profession more representative of the heritage we preserve. There is still a lot of work to do, and we need to acknowledge the barriers that remain in place for people of color pursuing careers in conservation. We have a responsibility to sustain these efforts, for the good of our profession and for the future.
Greetings, Kelsey blog fans! You are in for a treat. This month’s Ugly Object is another rarely-before-seen feature from our vaults. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you (drumroll please …) a box full of rocks!
I can guess what you’re thinking, but bear with me. Let’s virtually “unpack” this box.
What we’ve got here is a collection of high-quality marble samples. I can see some white and gray marbles and what could be a yellow giallo antico marble, among others. The samples are weathered so it’s hard to classify their exact marble type. But it’s safe to say they are the sort of decorative stones you’d find on the interior and exterior surfaces of buildings in ancient Rome.
These particular samples come from Carthage, Tunisia, and were purchased in 1893 by none other than Francis Kelsey himself from the Jesuit priest and archaeologist Père Delattre. Kelsey acquired construction materials like these to support his teaching, and they remain important access points to understanding ancient materials and technology. They also provide evidence of trade and connectivity in the Roman world. Marbles with specific colors and inclusions were highly sought after, and many of the rocks in this box probably traveled from another place in the empire before being cut and mortared onto a building at Carthage. For the geology enthusiasts in our audience, a number of Kelsey’s marble samples were part of a recent archaeometric study to identify where they were quarried. I for one can’t wait to read more about this!
Keep tuning in to the Kelsey Blog for more Ugly Objects as we continue to reveal more unseen highlights of the collection!
Each year around May, people in and around Ann Arbor start heading to Nichols Arboretum to see the blooming flowers and trees, the signs of spring returning to our area. This year, Nichols will not be planting their regular peony gardens, but people will still be making their way to the arboretum to see what other colorful flowers are growing.
And as the weather continues getting warmer, more people will venture out to their gardens and start planting their own flowers and plants. Soon our neighborhoods will be full of brilliant, beautiful colors and amazing smells. (Sorry, allergy sufferers!)
Flowers and natural beauty have been a source of joy and happiness for thousands of years. The natural world decorated the walls, pottery, and other items of the ancient world. Stroll through the galleries of the Kelsey Museum and you will see many examples of nature-inspired motifs on a wide range of objects.
So, too, did our predecessors at the University of Michigan appreciate the beauty of flowers. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we bring their flowers to you. Though not as brilliant and vibrant as the flowers you can see and smell in the gardens of Matthaei and Nichols, they evoke the beauty that people share no matter where they are. George R. Swain captured the beauty of flowers in England, France, Greece, Egypt, Belgium, Palestine, and Turkey, in gardens, placed near monuments, growing in the wild, and for sale. In his photographs presented here, we see a funeral procession, a decorated cenotaph, flower vendors in Brussels, someone’s private home garden. Swain was sure to point his camera everywhere while traveling with the U-M teams.
Soon, Ann Arbor will be full of flowers and beauty. We will wander the parks and gardens appreciating what we see, often stopping to snap our own photos to share. We are continuing a practice so many people have enjoyed for so long.
For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of chairing the annual conference of the American Institute for Conservation. It’s an interesting job in which I get to work with a lot of amazing people, read about all the cool research my colleagues are doing, and — once a year — stand up on multiple different stages, introduce people, hear and see their great papers, and then moderate discussions with them. Every year I get nervous about this because our biggest sessions have around 1,000 people, and both our speakers and our audience members are super smart (and also very opinionated). But then, every year, it’s a great experience and I’m so glad I got to be part of it.
This year, however, there’s a new twist. I bet you can guess what it is! Yes: this year, for reasons of health and safety, we’re holding the conference online. Thankfully, there is a great team at AIC managing all the actual logistics, because I still have a paper copy of the newspaper delivered to my door each morning, I’ve never been on the book of faces, and I don’t tweet or ‘gram. So we’ll see how this goes. Fingers crossed! I’m cheering myself up by thinking about the ~100 hours of great content we’re going to have.
In our opening session this Thursday, we’ll have a talk by NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede, and then five presentations by AIC members on topics of importance to the direction of our discipline: how conservation is / should be presented in public outreach, collections care practices that can help us navigate change, considerations for the future of African collections, reworking science curriculum in conservation training, and methods for ensuring pluralistic, values-based decisions in conservation and collections-care. I’m looking forward to this and many other sessions, and will report back on how they go. Wish us luck!
Since our museum isn’t open for physical visits, we’ve decided to be even MORE open virtually. We’re cracking open the storage vaults: last month, this month, and until whatever month we can get back in the galleries, we’re highlighting ugly objects in our storage cabinets.
I was inspired to write about this object during a walk; I don’t know about you, but I am LOVING the spring weather we’re experiencing here in Ann Arbor. I’ve noticed quite a few fairy doors and houses — a well-documented local tradition — during my walks around the neighborhood, and these have inspired our latest, Pan-like Ugly Object pick.
This marble head of a faun was discovered in Carthage, Tunisia, and was carved sometime between the second and third centuries AD. It was probably once a part of a larger sculptural relief, perhaps a sarcophagus. You’ll immediately see that things are more than a bit off with this creature’s face and head. It kind of looks like it’s being sucked into a vacuum — and surprised by this fact. Distortions like this are not uncommon among figures carved in high relief. Our faun probably wasn’t intended to be seen square in the face, but rather at an angle.
This head was one of a number of sculpture fragments selected for Elaine Gazda’s sculpture class this past semester. Students were asked to examine a fragment and determine its likely origin based on its condition, shape, carving detail, and other visual clues. What they were able to learn from these fragments was quite impressive, and illustrates what the close examination of a broken and incomplete artifact can reveal.
Just over one hundred years ago, in April of 1918, Francis W. Kelsey reached out to colleagues across the Atlantic. Over the years, Kelsey corresponded with a number of people in Europe, particularly Italy. He wrote many letters to advance his own research on the Roman world, and did so also on behalf of his colleagues. The archives at the Bentley Historical Library and the Kelsey Museum showcase this abundantly, and John Pedley’s 2011 book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts, provides great context for this aspect of Kelsey’s life and career.
The archives — this collection of letters, journals, photographs, and receipts — paints a picture of a man who traveled often, was constantly working, and had a wide range of interests. A single day’s journal entry gives us a glimpse of his busy schedule, with various appointments, lunch and tea meetings, travel, and time at the end of the day to write letters to his family and other contacts.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a letter written by Kelsey asking for 2,000 color reproductions of a mosaic of Virgil from Hadrumetum. We also have the reply from Italy, in both English and Italian, along with the actual image of the mosaic. In his letter, Kelsey expresses regret for not being able to travel overseas to procure the image himself. He had plans to return after his last visit in 1915, but circumstances outside his control prevent him from doing so.
One hundred years ago, Kelsey found himself in a situation where he couldn’t travel as he had hoped. He used the tools available to him to proceed with his work. This is a simple request, just under strenuous circumstances. He would get his chance to return to Europe the following year, in 1919. When he did, he and his team made the most of their trip, traveling about the Mediterranean, to North Africa, Turkey, as well as Europe. And now, our archives are filled with the amazing photographs from this expedition.
Greetings, Kelsey Conservation blog readers! I welcome you all to my home office/kitchen table, where I have spent the past several weeks writing an application for a federal grant.
There is a method to my madness. If we are successful, we’ll receive funds that will support research at the Kelsey. But even if we are not successful, the ability to put together a grant and write a compelling narrative is a major skill for any researcher. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
Once you’ve found the grant you want to apply for, read the solicitation/funding notice a few times. Pretend you are making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon from scratch, and follow the instructions carefully. Otherwise … catastrophe.
Read successful project narratives from past grant cycles. This is especially important if this is your first time writing a narrative (also see step 3).
The first narrative draft you write is not going to be your best. Do NOT plan to submit the first thing you write! Ask someone to read your proposal. Get their honest opinion. Things will become clearer (and more intelligible to reviewers!) as you write.
Remember that the people reading your narrative aren’t you. They are probably in a different field than you and, unlike you, they are reading a lot of proposals in addition to yours. Make it easy for them.
Don’t overlook your budget. Planning it out can help solidify your thinking around how your project is going to work.
I’ve got Suzanne to thank for a lot of these insights, and for helping me shape my ideas into a story someone might want to read.
In these days of quarantine, you may be asking yourself, How are museum professionals able to work from home? After all, we can’t take the objects home with us. Here’s how a few of the Kelsey staff are getting things done in the days of social distancing.
Community and Youth Educator Mallory Genauer is preparing for the Kelsey’s upcoming docent training, which may go virtual. She is researching techniques for digital learning and creating digital galleries that the new docents can use to learn their way around the museum without actually being in the galleries. All of this will also help with the digital outreach program that she is working on, some activities of which we are hoping to preview shortly on the Kelsey website.
Administrative Specialist Lisa Rozek finds she is able to do almost everything she needs to from laptops at home, and is pleased to report that her new office assistant, pictured here reconciling accounts, is both enthusiastic and capable.