May 27, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 17

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    [statue king tut] by lloyd degrane

    Oriental Institute to open gallery fit for its king

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Standing in royal glory, the colossal statue of King Tutankhamun, the tallest Egyptian sculpture in the Western Hemisphere, will greet visitors this weekend as they enter the newly refurbished Egyptian Gallery of the Oriental Institute.

    The gallery will be opened to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 29, after a three-year renovation that included the complete dismantling of museum exhibits and the addition of a new wing. Four additional galleries will open over the next several years, but this weekend is the time for the Egyptian collection to shine.

    Visitors can take part in activities and special tours as part of “A Celebration of Ancient Egypt” on Saturday, May 29, Sunday, May 30, and Monday, May 31. Special programming planned for the weekend includes films, exhibit tours, music, demonstrations of ancient Egyptian arts, costumed characterizations from ancient Egyptian history, and hands-on activities, crafts and storytelling sessions for families.

    The Egyptian Gallery will have extended hours for “A Celebration of Ancient Egypt.” Hours will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; and from noon to 5 p.m. Monday.

    The museum has been fitted with air conditioning and climate control systems, so visitors will be able to view objects never before exhibited. Renovations and construction were made possible by the successful completion of the $10.1 million Legacy Campaign.

    “The renovation has given us the chance to completely reevaluate what artifacts will be displayed, how they will be shown and what information they will relate to the visitor,” said Emily Teeter, Curator of the Egyptian Gallery. “The new climate control systems have enabled us to exhibit a far wider range of especially fragile and interesting objects, such as ancient clothes, mummies and papyrus documents that were never before on display.”

    Although visitors have seen the 17-foot-tall statue of King Tutankhamun before, they will be able to look at it in a totally new way. Previously, it had been secured to a wall and surrounded by other objects. This statue of the famous king, who ruled from about 1334 to 1325 B.C., was excavated by the Oriental Institute in 1930 and has been moved to the entrance of the Egyptian Gallery, where it now can be viewed from all angles.

    “We are extremely excited about the reopening of the Egyptian Gallery,” said Karen Wilson, Director of the Museum at the Oriental Institute. “Ever since the present Oriental Institute building opened in 1931, the collection has inspired visitors to learn more about Egypt and the other civilizations of the ancient Near East. The complete redesign and reinstallation of the museum, of which Egypt is just the first phase, provides us with exciting new opportunities to rethink our exhibitions and to utilize our rich collections in innovative ways.”

    The Egyptian Gallery will display the museum’s collection of objects, dating from 5000 B.C. to the 8th century A.D., to illustrate the lives and beliefs of the early Egyptians. Exhibits will focus on topics such as mummification, kingship, writing, society, family, art, tools and technology, occupations, popular religion, medicine, the gods, food, games, clothing and jewelry.

    Among the many treasures from the Oriental Institute that will be exhibited for the first time are:

    • Clothing, including a finely woven linen tunic with a detailed keyhole neck, from about 1500 B.C.

    • A rare limestone water clock.

    • Tools used in the mummification process.

    • Dishes and other objects used during the funerary banquet of King Tutankhamun.

    • Animal mummies, including a falcon and an elaborately wrapped shrew.

    • Sections of carved and painted tomb walls.

    • Elaborate necklaces of semiprecious stones.

    A selection of human mummies, including that of Meresamun, a singer in the Temple of Amun who is enclosed in a brightly painted coffin, and the mummy and coffin of a man named Petosiris, will be prominently featured in the middle of the gallery. Both had been highlights of the previous installation.

    Teeter consulted with colleagues at the Oriental Institute as well as other experts around the country to select and organize the artifacts for the galleries. “The basic list was refined by deciding which topics could be illustrated by artifacts,” she explained. “For example, the environment and the geographic setting of Egypt are of paramount importance for understanding the ancient culture, yet they do not lead themselves to illustration by museum objects.” In order to cover the topic, the gallery will have illustrated text panels.

    Some objects were chosen for their beauty and others for their value in telling the story of ancient Egypt. A small block statue of Bakenwerel, the chief of police in Western Thebes in about 1100 B.C., is one piece that was chosen because of the kind of information it can relate, even though its base is chipped and its surface is rough.

    “The statue sends a strong cultural message to the museum visitor about ancient Egypt––that the nation had chiefs of police––a point of connection between the ancient and modern worlds,” Teeter said. “It is also included for its historical importance; Bakenwerel is known from papyri that recount the investigation of the robbery of the royal tombs.”

    The statue of Bakenwerel, which has been exhibited briefly in the past, and some other familiar objects that have drawn visitors to the museum also will be on exhibit, including colored reliefs of daily life from the tomb of Montuemhet (approximately 660 B.C.) and a group of wooden models of workshops and brightly painted statues of workers (approximately 2500 B.C.). A pit burial, which shows how early Egyptians respected the body in death, also will be exhibited.

    The museum was closed in 1996 for the installation of state-of-the-art climate control systems that are necessary to protect the collection from the damaging effects of Chicago’s seasonal variations in temperature and relative humidity. The project included the construction of a 17,000-square-foot addition to the existing building.

    This addition was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Hammond Beebe Rupert and Ainge. This area is used for artifact and archive storage and houses an expanded conservation laboratory.

    The new Egyptian Gallery was designed by Vinci/Hamp Inc. of Chicago. It uses new and updated features, such as limestone and bronze display cases that harmonize with the existing materials in the gallery. These specialized cases with glass doors, built by Helmut Guenschel of Baltimore, were assembled by Kipley Construction Company of Skokie.

    The galleries of the Oriental Institute Museum that will feature artifacts from regions other than Egypt will gradually reopen over the next several years.

    The Mesopotamian Gallery will feature a re-creation of a royal courtyard of Assyrian King Sargon II (721-705 B.C.), the Oriental Institute’s world-famous collection of artifacts from Sumer and a special installation of objects documenting the prehistoric period of the ancient Near East. Exhibits documenting ancient Persia, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Anatolia and Nubia will open at intervals thereafter.

    Following the special reopening festivities, the museum will resume its regular hours of operation. Starting June 1, the hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The museum will be closed on Mondays.