From Hotlanta to Houston: A Carlos Museum conservation specialist shares her work prepping artifacts for travel

Hi everyone! My name is Alexis North, and I am working at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University this summer preparing a group of objects from their collection to come to Houston to be installed in the new Hall of Ancient Egypt. I am currently a third-year graduate student at the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials, specializing in the conservation of archaeological objects. I have worked on archaeological sites in Kenya, Greece, and Turkey, and have experience conserving a variety of objects, from antiquity through the 20th century.

I arrived in Atlanta a few weeks ago, and have been getting situated in my new surroundings, learning all about the Carlos Museum and its amazing collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects.The objects from the Carlos Museum that will be traveling to Houston include some fantastic examples from all areas of Egyptian life, including tools, clothing, and ritual and funerary objects. A few of my favorite objects are: a colorfully painted coffin in the form of a falcon, with red, yellow, blue, white, and black pigments; a child’s pair of leather sandals with detailed stamped decoration; and a wonderful copper alloy cat figurine.

From the Carlos to the Coast

Before treatment photos of the falcon coffin (left), leather sandals (center) and cat figurine (right).

I have been spending the last couple of weeks pulling the objects from storage, examining them and documenting their condition. Some of them had just been taken off display here at the Carlos, and some have long been kept in storage. All of them are due for a thorough check-up, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to work so closely with such a great collection of Egyptian objects.

Archaeological objects have many different condition issues, which can affect their appearance and stability. The painted coffin, for example, has many areas of paint loss on its surface. This is usually caused by the wood structure underneath, which swells and contracts with changes in humidity, making cracks in the paint layer that can cause lifting and flaking. The areas of loss on the falcon coffin will have to be carefully stabilized before the coffin can be packed for travel to Houston.

I’ll share more of my work as I start to dive into the treatment process. I look forward to working on these amazing objects, and sharing all my findings with you!

Educator How-To: Create your own ancient Egyptian art using frontalism

Ancient Egyptian artists adhered to strict rules when producing works of art. The human form was depicted with the head in profile, eye drawn in full, torso forward-facing, and legs in profile — one foot in front of the other. This style, known as frontalism, gave the figures a sense of formality. Whether standing or sitting, the subjects appear rigid in pose: gaze set, body stiff.

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Red lines represent the system used in the Old Kingdom.  The addition of the white graph is indicative of the system used from the Middle Kingdom to the Late Period

Proportions were kept consistent through the use of grids and lines. The earliest examples from the Old Kingdom employed a simple system of horizontal guidelines with one vertical line bisecting the figure though the ear. Beginning with the Middle Kingdom up to the Late Period, a grid of 18 squares was used to reproduce standing figures and to allow the picture to be enlarged or made smaller while ensuring that the proportionality of the figure’s anatomy remained intact.

Paintings were most likely planned on papyrus paper and later transferred to tomb walls by an artisan using the grid system as an aid.

Try your hand at using the grid system to copy an ancient Egyptian work of art! All you need is a copy of the blank grid, a copy of the tomb painting on the grid, and a pencil.

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