Ugly Object of the Month — July 2020

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

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.

A piece of pumice from Pompeii, likely from an opus reticulatum wall such as that shown on the right (Jensen / Public domain). 12.4 x 8.0 cm. Gift of Francis W. Kelsey, 1893. KM 580.

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!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *