Sunday, 29 May 2011

Anatomy of an Exhibition: Kendal Museum's new Egyptology Display

Although it is now quite a while after the official opening (March 31st), I have recently acquired some images of the recent re-display of Kendal Museum's ancient Egyptian collection and I thought the story behind the display might be of some interest (all photos courtesy of Morag Clement).

The Collection

As a direct result of their involvement in the current touring exhibition of objects from the excavations of John Garstang, entitled "From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills: John Garstang's Excavations in Egypt", Kendal Museum received a sum of money from Renaissance North West to be used to improve their Egyptology display. The Museum contains over 140 Egyptian objects, most of which were excavated from Abydos, Esna, Hierakonpolis and Beni Hassan by John Garstang during the early 20th Century on behalf of the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology (now the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool). The collection was also supplemented by gifts from members of the local community. 

For each of Garstang's excavations, a financing committee was set up and 50% of the objects were divided between the Liverpool Institute and the sponsors of these excavations. One of these sponsors, and also the Treasurer of the Excavation Committee, was John Rankin of Hill Top, Kendal, who donated his Egyptian collection to Kendal Museum in January 1923. Rankin’s Egyptian collection was of an exceptionally high quality, and includes objects from historically significant tombs. Several of the objects have already been published and are famous in their own right.

The two cases before the project....

....and the same two cases after the re-display

Until Summer 2010, Kendal Museum's Egyptology display was somewhat dated and it was clear that a lot could be done to improve the quality of the display, which would then directly improve the visitor experience and the knowledge of the collection. I worked with the Curator of the Museum, Morag Clement, to identify aspects of the display requiring regeneration and key themes illustrated by the collection, which were: 

- Life and Living in Ancient Egypt
- Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt
- The Art of Hieroglyphs

Although space constraints meant that it was not possible to redisplay every object in Kendal's collection, the most historically significant objects and those most representative of the collection were chosen to feature in the new display. Everyone at the Museum played a part in the re-display; it really was a team effort.

View of the new display
The Re-Display

Four new information panels were designed which detailed the three main themes (detailed above), together with a series of relevant colour images used to illustrate the text. A map of Egypt and a timeline of Egyptian history were also designed, in order to put the collection in context for the visitors to the Museum. 1:1 cut-outs of the objects currently in the touring exhibition were also made for the cases, so that visitors are able to view the objects that are missing.

New object labels detailed the date, provenance and material of each object where possible, together with extended labels containing information on key aspects of ancient Egyptian life and death, for example shabti-figures, scarabs, mummification and cosmetics.

Sobekhotep Statuette
Although the cases received quite a bit of light from the nearby window, their dark lining and wooden shelves made the old display feel a bit dingy. It was decided that the cases already present should remain, but that they should be re-coated and lined with calico which would make the display much lighter, which was very effective.

The wooden shelves were replaced with glass shelves, the length of which depended on the size of the object that they would support. For example, longer shelves were chosen to display the collection of pottery, but key objects (such as the inscribed Second Intermediate Period statuette of Sobekhotep, see left) were showcased on individual shelves. Where required, perspex mounts were used both to safely display the objects in the cases and to highlight interesting features, for example a mirrored perspex mount was used to display the inscriptions on the back of scarabs.

Morag Clement placing the objects back into the newly-revamped case

Hanging the Farming Scene
A farming scene from the tomb of Sennedjem at Deir el-Medina (above) was chosen to be blown up and hung over the wall-mounted case, which illustrated both the key theme of 'Life and Living in Ancient Egypt' and formed a link with the local farming community in and around Kendal. The ceiling of the nearby corridor leading downstairs was also painted with stars to emulate the Egyptian tradition of painting the ceilings of their temples and tombs which they believed represented the heavens. 

Carol Davies painting the ceiling
A catalogue detailing the history of the collection has also been produced for visitors to consult, which will undoubtedly be extended as more information is gathered about the objects in the collection over the coming months.

This project has successfully highlighted the importance of Kendal Museum's Egyptology collection, and has significantly improved the visitor's understanding of the history of the collection and of Ancient Egypt in general. It is hoped that the display will remain relevant and up-to-date for years to come, and any feedback is gladly welcomed.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.


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