Campus museums: Michigan's
houses of treasure
by Jennifer Hiri
An anxious third grader
clambers up the concrete steps,
part of a string of bodies
unravelling from the yellow
school bus parked on State Street.
Such an entourage of children,
directly across from both the Law
Quad and the Union, is
something University students
encounter - and sometimes trip
over - while bustling to classes
on any given weekday.
Coming into contact with
these little people can bring back
memories of rambunctious
childhood days in elementary
school, when field trips were an
escape from the classroom.
Museums also provided them
with exciting, visual experiences.
For college students, these
days of class field trips are only a
faint memory. "We were so
excited to get out of school, so we
could run around and giggle and
laugh with our buddies," LSA
senior Dan Finegold said. "The
best things were the dinosaur
skeletons and sculptures that we
could climb on. In fact, now I'm
banned from the Boston Museum
Well, Dan, you're welcome to
relive those crazy field trip days
with the museum experience
right here on campus!
The University owns three
museums which are open to the
public: The Museum of Art, The
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
and The Exhibit Museum. In
addition, the University features
several "research museums" such
as the Herbarium, Mineral
Collections, and museums of
Zoology and Botany, all of which
are tucked away in various parts
of the campus.
"The University is museum
rich," Exhibit Museum Director
Joseph Thomas said. Michigan
was the first public university in
the nation to own a museum.
While the museums are
available for research as an
extension of the classroom
experience, they can also serve as
an outlet to relieve stress.
For those students who do not
study art, archaeology, or science,
the campus museums can still
provide an insightful and
informative experience. Taking a
brief visit or stroll through the
museums, students can learn
about subjects foreign to their
course work or can enhance their
interest in a particular area.
For example, many students
decorate their walls with posters
of Impressionist artwork such as
Monet's water lilies and Matisse's
works in Morocco. Although these
art appreciators may not study art,
they might be interested to know
that the Museum of Art does own
an original Monet oil painting that
is displayed permanently in the
Nevertheless, the museums
throughout campus are a
cultural awareness as an escape
from academic pressures.
The Kelsey Museum of
Archaeology is the University's
buried treasure. Entering the
small brownstone castle is like
opening a chest filled with gold,
precious stones, and diamonds -
medieval cultures of Egypt, the
Middle East, Greece, and Rome.
Although most students never
have cause to examine the
exhibits in the Kelsey, they would
probably be captivated by the
wealth of artifacts.
Many students may claim they
aren't interested in looking at
broken pieces of glass and
pottery, but these items are more
than that. The displays reveal
aspects of everyday life as far
back as 5,000 B.C.
Amidst the collection, visitors
can find a pair of dice that are
1,600 years old, an elegant marble
Roman burial coffin from the 2nd
century A.D., cat mummies, and a
mosaic portrait of a Greek poet.
The Kelsey collection started
in the late 1800s when Dr.
Francis Kelsey traveled to North
Africa and Italy in search of
objects that would supplement
his lectures of the Ancient
Greeks, the Romans, the
Egyptians, and other civilizations
of the Mediterranean area. During
his trip he befriended a Jesuit
priest working on an
archaeological site who sold him
"The very first object that we
have is just a tiny part of a clay
lamp with a number one on it,"
said Lauren Talalay, assistant
director and curator of education.
"That's the little acorn from
which this big collection grew."
Today the Kelsey collection
boasts more than 100,000 artifacts.
The collection has expanded over
the years through donations,
excavations, and purchases.
The bulk of the Kelsey
collection came from a small
Egyptian agricultural village
called Karanis, which the
University excavated. In 1926,
many household items were
discovered throughout the
inhabitants' homes, just as the
owners had left them in the 5th
"When the people left, there
was just a lot of material that was
left behind, so it's sort of like
walking into somebody's life. We
have all these hair pins and
combs, rope, pieces of glass, and a
door," said Talalay. "It really is
just a window into life just as it
was lived by ordinary people."
Talalay said the Karanis
artifacts are the best preserved
collection of Egyptian daily life
objects outside of Egypt. In
addition, the Kelsey Museum also
has the largest collection of intact
glass and Latin inscriptions on
tombstones in North America.
The Kelsey Museum displays
some interesting and unique
artifacts. The collection includes
an X-ray of an Egyptian mummy,
two pieces from the ruined city of
Pompeii, more than 40,000 coins,
10th century photographs, and
wooden Egyptian dolls from 1,400
B.C. (some of which are made
with human hair).
"We have enough dice to open
a casino and so many shoes that
even Imelda Marcos would be
envious of our collection," said
Of the 100,000 artifacts that
make up the collection, only a
fraction of the objects are
displayed permanently. The
exhibition area in the rear of the
museum changes regularly, as
different objects are brought out
from storage on a rotation basis.
The building simply cannot
display its entire collection all at
The building was originally
built as a center for the Students
Christian Association in 1891 and
was named Newberry Hall. In
1928, the student organization
leased the hall to the University
for use as an archaeology
museum. Nine years later, the
University purchased the building
for a mere dollar, thus creating a
permanent home for the ancient
The museum enhances many
courses offered at the University.
"Professors encourage their
students to come to hone their
visual skills," Talalay said.
"We use the Kelsey in the Art
History Department and the
Classical Archaeology program as
a teaching focus. We have
students in the museum for their
sections, holding objects, learning
how to deal with ancient art in a
hands-on kind of situation," said
Associate Curator and Art History
Professor Margaret Root.
The museum wants to attract
all students, not just those
"We use objects for exhibits,
but also for undergraduate and
graduate ancient history teaching.
Theater classes have come over
here to see what objects looked
like back then," Talalay said.
"We've done work with the
creative writing department to
show them some of these things
and they've been inspired to be
transported to 2,000 years ago."
The Kelsey Museum serves as
a tremendous resource for the
students at the University. The
only challenge the Kelsey faces is
attracting more students into its
walls of ancient times.
"I'm not sure if we should
have a neon mummy outside
saying come on in!" Talalay said.
Prominent in the center of
campus, the Museum of Art is
appreciated for its exterior beauty.
Or maybe it's the metal sculpture
and protesters' chalked slogans
that attract one's eyes to the
building. Nevertheless, students
'The museum can
transport you to
another world. You can
get lost here. It's not the
Louvre, but you can get
lost in your thoughts'
- Leslie Stainton
Director of Museum of Art
scurry past on their way to classes
without ever taking the time to
But when given the chance,
"the museum can transport you to
another world. You can get lost
here. It's not the Louvre, but you
can get lost in your thoughts,"
Public Relations Director Leslie
The Museum of Art was
originally built as the Alumni
;Building and was eventually
converted into the University's art
museum. The pillars and the
white stone building may even
appear to be somewhat
intimidating, preventing students
"This is a forbidding building.
You really have to have your
gumption up to come in," said
Museum Director William
Hennessey. "We need to do a
better job of convincing people
that it's an enjoyable place to
artists who many students may
recognize, such as Andy Warhol,
Claude Monet and Max
The Museum of Art has a
collection of more than 22,000
original works, covering a wide
range of styles. The museum
displays permanent collections of
19th century European,
Renaissance, Baroque and Asian
Like the Kelsey Museum, the
Museum of Art is overwhelmed
by the size of its collection and is
unable to display each object. In
response to this dilemma, the
museum leaves its West Gallery
available for temporary exhibits,
allowing art aficionados to view
the works which are usually in
The museum director and the
curators work together to provide
the students, faculty and
community with different
exhibits. As new displays are
created, visitors are drawn back to
The museum hosts
approximately six to eight
temporary exhibits each year.
One current exhibit, called "The
Female Gaze," is an examination
by guest curator Patricia Simmons
of the role of gender in
determining responses to works of
art within the museum's own
permanent collection. Prominent
pieces in this exhibit are works by
Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.
In addition, the West Gallery
provides space for visiting artists.
One of the future special
exhibitions will feature 100 works
from a 75-year-old Eskimo, Pudlo
Pudlat. The exhibit will display
Inuit art: simple prints and
drawings that use bright colors to
create motifs and images of the
Pudlo will attend the opening
and will also provide lectures and
demonstrations at the museum.
"We are the only place in
America that will be showing this
exhibit," Stainton said.
This exhibit will supplement
course work for those studying
art history, painting, and drawing.
"The museum allows another
avenue or a way of amplifying
one's own studies," Carole
McNamara, the registrar, said.
"Also, the ability of these objects
to please and delight as well as to
art: it also offers a peac
enjoyable experience f
entire University commt
"One of the greatest
that here we are across
from the Union, where
students think quite na
go and take a break bet
classes," McNamara sa
museum could provide
restful and exciting pla
spend a half hour."
eful and The Exhibit Museum covers
or the just about all the "-ologies":
nunity. anthropology, astronomy, biology,
t ironies is ecology, geology, paleontology
the street and zoology. Michigan wildlife
the and a planetarium, too.
turally to "Our dinosaurs are the only
ween ones in the state of Michigan on
id. "The display. They are our most
an equally attractive exhibit," Thomas said.
ce to Thomas said several of the
museum's exhibits are of
importance, such as an Allosaur, a
The metal sculpture in front of the Museum of Art is of Greek mythologica
The birds and
The Exhibit Museum? What's
the Exhibit Museum? For many,
this name may confuse students
because the brick building near
the walkway to the Hill
Residence Halls is commonly
referred to as the "Natural
History Museum." The Exhibit
Museum has also acquired other
nicknames, such as the "Dinosaur
Museum" and "the museum with
the lions at the entrance."
Nevertheless, the proper name
is the Exhibit Museum, as it
consists of many exhibits from
different areas of study.
"The sign outside the building
misleads a lot of people. It says
'Natural History Museums,' and
it's plural. And it describes what's
in the building. People forget that
there is an 's' on this,"
commented Director Joseph
Thomas. "There are four
museum departments; each one is
a separate, independent
department in the literature
Duckbilled dinosaur, and a
complete skeleton of a Saber=
"Each (skeleton) is part of real
evidence. It is material people
come here to study. There are
relatively few of those and you
get the whole range of
information that one can get from
the site, and you can see all of
them and measure all of the
parts," Thomas said.
The majority of people who
visit the Exhibit Museum are
elementary school students.
Thomas said second and third
graders come to see the dinosaurs
as they are learning about them.
"The museum is a great way to
introduce subjects to younger
children," Thomas said. "It's a
friendly place here."
Other parts of the museum to
which visitors flock are the birds,
minerals, Evolution Hall and
Native American Exhibit.
The museum's collection was
originally built around a core of
animals - mostly birds -
brought back more than 100 years
ago by University Law School
graduate Joseph Beal Steere, who
later became a professor of
'One of the greatest ironies is that here we are
across the street from the Union, where the
students think quite naturally to go and take a
break between classes. The museum could provide
an equally restful and exciting place to spend a half
- Carole McNamara,
Registrar of Museum of Art
A Roman tombstone from the Kelsey museum, from the 1st and 2nd
century A.D. It reads "To the shades of the dead."
tremendous resource not only for
those studying art and sciences,
but also for those who would like
to expand their knowledge and
a chest which the University
bought for $1.
The museum takes its visitors
on a journey back to ancient and
Students really don't have to
be art fanatics to experience the
world inside. In fact, the museum
exhibits some of the more popular
stimulate inquiry is very
The museum doesn't just
serve the needs for those studying
'A r 1 n r M M rW&W