Past Exhibitions

Below are brief descriptions of past Kelsey exhibitions, many preserved in online versions. The accordion buttons will bring up short descriptions of each show. Click on the link at the end of most descriptions to visit that exhibition online. 

Passionate Curiosities:  Collecting in Egypt & the Near East, 1880s–1950s

August 28–November 29, 2015

toddWhat circumstances formed the artifact-biographies of the collected objects we see in museum display cases? Passionate Curiosities, curated by Margaret Cool Root, invites visitors to meet some of the remarkable people—from eminent scientists to missionaries, from consuls to entrepreneurs, from scholars to swash-buckling adventurers—who forged the Egyptian and Near Eastern collections of the Kelsey Museum between the 1880s and the 1950s. 

The featured notables all have ties to the State of Michigan and often to the University itself. They include Samuel A. Goudsmit, co-discoverer of the spin of the electron in 1925; Harriet Conner, an unsung missionary in 1880s Cairo; Henry Gillman, American consul in Jerusalem in the 1880s; Dr. David Askren, an American physician living in Egypt who facilitated massive purchases for Professor Francis W. Kelsey; and A. M. Todd of Kalamazoo, a chemist, global entrepreneur, and utopian thinker who marketed his distilled mint products across the world at the turn of the last century. One famous dealer these figures worked with was the Lion of Cairo, Maurice Nahman.

On view will be some rarely displayed artifacts acquired through the efforts of these collectors, including large decorated Coptic tunics from Egypt and a volume from the Kelsey’s rare complete edition of the Napoleonic Description de l'Égypte. Wonderful vintage photographs help open up the fascinating backstories of some of the Museum’s most popular artifacts. Come discover who brought the Kelsey’s child mummy home from Egypt in the 1880s and who gave us the coffin of Djehutymose in 1906!

The book that inspired this exhibition can be purchased in the Kelsey gift shop or online.

Read a fascinating blog post related to the guest book of Maurice Nahman, Antiquaire, on loan from the Wilbour Library of the Brooklyn Museum and on display in Passionate Curiosities.


Rocks, Paper, Memory: Wendy Artin's Watercolor Paintings of Ancient Sculptures

An American artist living in Rome, Wendy Artin worked for over a decade on a series of watercolor paintings of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and related subjects. This exhibition, which ran in two phases from June 5 to July 26 and September 25 to October 25, 2015, featured a selection of her paintings.

Wendy Artin is one of a long line of artists who draw inspiration from antiquity. Indeed, this tradition has very ancient precedents, such as the Roman practice of making marble “copies” of famous Greek bronze statues. Artin’s visually stunning paintings offer fresh and arresting ways of looking at ancient sculptures and buildings.

Visit the exhibition website.

Watch video of a conversation between Artist Wendy Artin and Exhibition Curator Christopher Ratté (September 25, 2015; 65 minutes)

The exhibition catalogue can be purchased in the Museum gift shop or online by clicking here.

Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt

The exhibition “Death Dogs,” on display from February 6 to May 3, 2015, explored the history of some unusual mythical beings: Anubis, Wepwawet, and the other jackal gods of ancient Egypt. From wild, scavenging dogs in prehistory to Egyptian deities of embalming and protection, these gods have fascinated and disturbed people from ancient times to the present. Using artifacts in the Kelsey Museum, this exhibition identified the most important Egyptian jackal gods and deciphered their complex roles in Egyptian religion and understandings of death and the afterlife. The show also explored the lasting appeal of these dogs as vivid symbols of ancient Egypt in modern times.

To see educational materials related to this exhibition, click here. To purchase the exhibition catalogue, click here.

Pearls of Wisdom: The Arts of Islam at the University of Michigan

The objects included in this exhibition, which ran from October 15, 2014, to January 4, 2015, served a wide variety of functions and span several centuries in time. Rather than arranged chronologically, geographically, or by media, the objects in the exhibition were organized by themes inspired by the medieval calligrapher Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, who equated the calligrapher's art of beautiful writing to a jeweler string pearls. These themes included the intersections between function and decoration, the aesthetic power of everyday objects, visual play, wit, and magic, connections across art forms, and light symbolism and illumination. Therefore, the exhibition not only highlighted the strengths of the collections at the University of Michigan but also explored various themes integral to the conception and production of art in the Islamic world from the medieval period until the present day.

Click here for the online version of the exhibition, which includes a list of events and supplementary materials, and click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Ancient/Modern: The Design of Everyday Things

Not all of the items we use in our daily life were invented in our lifetime. Many have long and rich histories. Some have remained unchanged over thousands of years. The exhibition "Ancient/Modern: The Design of Everyday Things," which ran from June 27 to September 7, 2014, introduced visitors to the concept that artifacts have existed for longer than they imagine, serving the needs of humanity for millennia. In some cases, the concept from long ago proved so useful there was little need to improve its design. In others, the need remained, but the form was altered extensively. A selection from the Kelsey Museum collections demonstrated these notions of change and tradition, comparing and contrasting them with their modern counterparts.

Life in Miniature: Identity and Display at Ancient Seleucia-on-the-Tigris

Why have so many people throughout history created miniature objects, and what do they mean? How do the miniatures made by a particular society reflect the identities and values of its populace? Running December 20, 2013, through March 16, 2014, "Life in Miniature" investigated these questions using miniature objects from the ancient Seleucid capital. The blend of cultures at Seleucia fostered the hybrid styles and manufacturing techniques of the miniature objects in this installation. Visitors to the exhibition interacted with these miniatures through a series of nine digital animations, accessible on iPads in the gallery. In these animations, digital reconstructions of several exhibited objects  moved in the same way(s) that they did for their original owners approximately 2,000 years ago.  A display of modern-day miniatures, such as dolls and collectibles, bridged the gap between past and present. A photographic collage juxtaposed images of people holding their own contemporary miniatures (things like Christmas ornaments, refrigerator magnets, wedding-cake toppers) with photos of Kelsey staffers holding the ancient artifacts.

Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World

This exhibition, running from August 30 to November 10, 2013, illustrated the many different paths we take to answering questions about the ancient world. In sections on Mapping, Translating, Imaging, Conserving, Investigating, Archiving, and Listening visitors explored the wide range of expertise and methods used to understand the ancient world. "Discovery!" emphasized the process of archaeological research with examples from projects affiliated with the Kelsey Museum. The exhibition also presented some of the challenges surrounding data on the people and places we study--from how to organize and curate the massive amounts of information collected in museums, in archives, and on the ground, to considerations of who actually gets access to these data and who participates in crafting the presentation of results of this work. Guiding the whole experience were the innovative questions Kelsey researchers ask--What did the ancient world sound like? How do we reconstruct the decorative schemes of Roman villas when all we have are tiny fragments? How do we find sites? What do we do if important artifacts are in poor states of preservation? Do the modern distributions of lizard species relate to ancient trade routes?

Click here for a pdf tour of the exhibition.

Red Rock & Rust Belt: A Tale of Two Cities

Running from June 30 to July 21, 2013, this exhibition of photographs by Susan Webb revealed the connections between two great cities that do not readily suggest comparison: the modern city of Detroit, Michigan, and the ancient site of Petra in modern Jordan. In the early twentieth century Detroit became a powerhouse of industry, manufacturing, and innovation with wide boulevards and stunning architecture known as “the Paris of the West.” In the last two generations, however, the city endured a precipitous decline. In the remains of a once grand and beautiful urban landscape are buildings that evoke a glorious past. To dedicated Detroiters, those buildings offer hope that this metropolis will rise again. Petra, about 50 miles south of the Dead Sea, was the capital city for  a nomadic tribe, the Nabataeans, more than 2,000 years ago. In antiquity it was the hub of spice and silk routes that connected the Far East with the Mediterranean. Nabataeans lived on a grand scale, carving theaters, temples, and tombs out of the red sandstone cliffs, adorning their surroundings with fountains and gardens. Today, the area around Petra is home to resilient Bedouin tribes and a world-famous archaeological site. These photographs illuminated two cities that lie in the shadow of history. Every shot provided the viewer with a double vision: the present moment embedded in the past, and the shadow of the past inherent in the present.

Kelsey Contemporaries: Kayla Romberger and Alisha Wessler

On display from March 15 to June 16, 2013, this exhibition featured the multimedia work of two Master of Fine Arts students from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design and Museum Studies Program. The artists explord themes of collection, museological display, and material culture in the context of an archaeological museum. Displayed together, the two artists’ work created a dynamic dialog between dystopian and utopian views of the relationships people form with objects. Romberger investigated assemblages of items as a response to apocalyptic fear, while Wessler examined the role of collection in dream and memory.

Conserving Antiquity

This exhibition, on view from November 2, 2012, to February 10, 2013, focused on the field of conservation, the deterioration of objects and archaeological sites, the work of conservators, and the importance of preserving material culture. Click here to enter the on-line version.

A Man of Many Parts: The Life and Legacy of Francis Willey Kelsey

From June 8 to September 16, 2012, the Kelsey Museum presented a special exhibition  focusing on the museum’s namesake. Professor of Latin at the University of Michigan from 1889 until his death in 1927, Francis Willey Kelsey built the Department of Latin into one of the most distinguished of its time. His textbooks of Latin and Greek authors became the standard fare in classrooms across the country. He helped to establish and edit the prestigious University of Michigan Humanistic Series, which planted the seed of what is now the University of Michigan Press. A lover of music, Kelsey championed the Ann Arbor School of Music and served as president of the University Musical Society from 1891 to 1927. As a member of the campus planning committee he helped to plan Hill Auditorium. Kelsey’s multiple expeditions to the Mediterranean region laid the groundwork for later Kelsey Museum fieldwork and secured a large part of the museum’s artifact collection. Highlighted throughout the galleries were objects that Kelsey was responsible for acquiring. Beyond the museum’s own collection, the exhibition showcased examples of rare manuscripts and ancient papyri purchased with funds Kelsey raised.

Click here to view the on-line version of the exhibition.

Click here to purchase the book that inspired this exhibition: John Griffiths Pedley's The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts.

Hours of Infinity: Twelve Hours of Infinity: Amduat

Artist and UM Art and Design student John Kannenberg opened his "Hours  of Infinity Part II: Twelve Hours of Infinity" exhibition on Friday March 9, 2012 in the Kelsey's Newberry Hall Corridor. Part I was mounted at the Work Gallery (306 S. State Street). Kannenberg's work for "Hours of Infinity" combined a rigorously  imprecise drawing method with a disciplined approach to sonic observation and documentation. His drawings were inspired by the Egyptian Amduat, examples of  which can be found in the Kelsey Museum collection. The Amduat is an ancient text depicting the journey the sun takes during the twelve  hours of nighttime before being reborn each morning at sunrise. These  cyclical drawings investigate the beautifully absurd imperfection inherent within the human experience of the Infinite. A third component of this project, a site-specific performance called "One Hour of  Infinity," took place on March 23, 2012. This one-hour performance, scattered throughout the Kelsey galleries, combined a rigorously imprecise drawing method, musical compositions based on specific objects in the museum's collection, and digitally manipulated sounds of the museum itself. This unconventional sonic performance explored the beautifully imperfect sense of timelessness experienced by traditional museum audiences. Click here to view a video of the performance and here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Karanis Revealed: The Past and Present of a Michigan Excavation in Egypt

This exhibition illuminated the historical records of a single village community in the Egyptian countryside during the Graeco-Roman period. It also explored the story of the site’s excavation, initiated by the University of Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as subsequent and upcoming research on the recovered material and its context. "Karanis Revealed" was presented in two phases. Part I (September 16 to December 8, 2011) looked at aspects of village life during the early centuries of the community under the Ptolemaic dynasty. These include the site’s agricultural cultivation, the role of pagan religions and evidence of more esoteric magical practices. Part II (January 27 to May 6, 2012) followed the changes that took place in Karanis with the beginning of the Roman occupation of Egypt and then later with the advent of Christianity. The displays included collections of Roman glass, tax rolls on papyrus, and the leather breastplate of a Roman soldier. Click here to view motion picture footage from the original excavations. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Dominated and Demeaned: Representations of the Other

This small exhibition was presented in conjunction with a fall term course, History of Art 286 “Art and Empire in Antiquity.” The show placed images illustrating ancient Egyptian tropes of the enemy Other in dialogue with a display of household artifacts produced for White America in the early to mid-20th century. These 20th-century artifacts, now called “Black Collectibles,” legitimized demeaning characterizations of African-Americans. Some of them evoke nostalgia for the house slave cooking and serving meals on the old plantation. Others depict African-Americans as carefree smiling or lazy boys eating watermelon or fishing. Some have layers of sexual innuendo. Many use disembodied human forms to convey the impotence of the subject. Some express through visual cues the idea of the Black man as perpetual child or subhuman. By juxtaposing these recent items with ancient images, the installation suggested varying ways in which image saturation and the deployment of images of Otherness on objects of “daily life” may operate. Click here to see some exhibition visitors' comments on "Dominated and Demeaned."

"Dominated and Demeaned" ran October 21, 2011, through January 29, 2012,  in the first-floor elevator alcove of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

Envisioning Antioch: A Roman Colony in Asia Minor

From June 19 to August 7, 2011, this exhitibion explored the Roman site of Antioch of Pisidia in Asia Minor (Turkey--a Greek city refounded by Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, in 25 BC as an imperial colony). The city is best known to the modern world as a destination on the missionary journeys of St. Paul in the first century AD, recounted in the book of Acts. In 1924, Francis W. Kelsey's expedition to Antioch uncovered several impressive structures along with many inscriptions and other artifacts. Thereafter, it was not until the 1980s that Turkish and other archaeological teams resumed work at the site. Survey and excavation continue to the present day.

“Envisioning Antioch” displayed archival documents and artifacts from Antioch in the Kelsey collections along with a physical model of the city. At the center of the exhibition was a 3-D movie that took viewers on a journey through a virtual-reality reconstruction of the city.

The exhibition celebrates the publication of a new book entitled Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch, 25 BC-AD 700, which discusses the archaeology of the city and a nearby sanctuary of a local god. The book highlights recent research by archaeologists from the University of Michigan and other institutions.

Vaults of Heaven: Visions of Byzantium

October 2010 through May 2011. This exhibition presented a series of ultra-large-scale photographs, many over six feet tall, by the renowned Turkish photographer Ahmet Ertug. Focusing on paintings, mosaics, and architecture of the Byzantine world (sixth-fourteenth centuries AD), the photos provided a journey through such venerated sites as Istanbul's Hagia Sophia and Church of Christ of Chora, as well as churches in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey, an area known for hidden Christian retreats hewn out of the region’s unusual volcanic rock formations. Accompanying the photographs were objects from the Kelsey’s collections of Byzantine and Islamic material, including gold coins, manuscript pages (on loan from the University of Michigan Museum of Art), small carvings, pottery, and wooden architectural fragments. 

Mary Upjohn Meader: Pioneering Adventures over Africa

This special exhibition, the first in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing, ran from November 1, 2009 to July 6, 2010. It featured some of the dramatic aerial photographs that Mary Meader took over Egypt in 1937, before modern development had encroached on the pyramids and other ancient monuments. Also on view were family photographs of Ed and Mary Meader, the benefactors who so generously endowed the Kelsey's William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. Go to on-line exhibition.

Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch

From January 13 to February 24, 2006, at the Duderstadt center on the University of Michigan north campus, the Kelsey Museum mounted an exhibition on the Roman site of Antioch of Pisidia in Asia Minor (Turkey)—a Hellenistic city refounded by Augustus in 25 BC as a Roman colony. In 1924 Francis W. Kelsey's expedition to Antioch had uncovered an elaborate city gate adjoining an imposing fortification wall. Colonnaded streets led past a large theater to an imperial sanctuary and beyond to a fountain house and bath complex, both fed by a massive aqueduct. The team also uncovered remains of two churches. This exhibition showed archival photographs and documents as well as artifacts from Antioch in the Kelsey collections. It also featured a physical model created with a 3-D printer and a video reconstruction that took viewers on a journey through the virtual city. Go to on-line exhibition.

Cavafy's World: Ancient Passions

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933), the eminent Greek Alexandrian poet, would no doubt have found himself at home in the Kelsey Museum. He often drew inspiration from the ancient world, particularly the classical and late antique spheres that are so well represented by the Kelsey collections. Cavafy's presence at the Kelsey invites the visitor to contemplate a dialogue between modern poetry and archaeology. Through Cavafy's eyes, the viewer can reconsider the museum's collection of mummy masks, Fayoum portraits, funerary steles, jewelry, textiles, coins, and objects from everyday life.  

Visit the on-line exhibition.

Animals in the Kelsey!

Love them, hate them, use them, abuse them: animals are everywhere in our lives. The argument could be made, however, that they were more important to the peoples of ancient Greece and Rome. U-M undergraduates considered this and many other issues as they designed and helped to organize an exhibition. Go to on-line exhibition.

Villa of the Mysteries

Among the great masterpieces of ancient art, the Villa of the Mysteries fresco paintings have fascinated scholars and inspired visual artists with depictions of women engaged in mysterious rituals. In the 1920s University of Michigan Professor Francis Kelsey commissioned Italian artist Maria Barosso to create a nearly life-sized representation of the Villa frescoes. Exhibited here for the first time in its entirety, Barosso's work was accompanied by a rich array of ancient art and artifacts, providing a fresh look at cultic rites practiced by women in ancient Pompeii. Also included were works of contemporary art inspired by the Villa cycle, which attest to the enduring appeal of its themes and imagery. Go to on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

The Fabric of Everyday Life, Textiles from Karanis, Egypt

The enduring importance of fabric in our everyday lives—for clothing, furnishings, symbolic communication, and commerce—is underscored by the study of historic cloth. And, conversely, when we exploit our own experience to imagine ancient cloth artifacts as they were used in the past, then our understanding of the everyday concerns of past lives is greatly enhanced.  Go to on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Surrounded by the View: Panoramic Photographs from the Kelsey Museum Archives

In 1919 and 1920, photographer George R. Swain accompanied Francis Kelsey on an expedition that circled through Europe and the Mediterranean area. The purpose of the expedition was to document sites that were of interest to classical history scholars, as well as to identify sites that might have potential for future excavations. Among Swain's photographic equipment was a Cirkut camera, one of the earliest rotation cameras manufactured for commercial use.

Swain produced a series of magnificent panoramic views of many of the sites he and Kelsey visited. The photographs appear never to have been formally exhibited, nor were many, if any, of them published. This oversight was remedied in part with the exhibit of many of these images in the Kelsey's galleries from January 14 through August 2000. This unique portion of the Museum's photographic archives was displayed, along with a brief introduction to the cameras available to Swain at the time. In addition to his photographic activities, Swain was an avid diarist, and illuminating comments drawn from his journals made these vistas come alive for visitors to the galleries.

Music in Roman Egypt

The Kelsey Museum houses a unique collection of excavated musical instruments from fieldwork in Karanis and elsewhere in Egypt, as well as artifacts that relate to musical instruments and the people who played them. This exhibition was curated by Terry Wilfong, Assistant Curator of Graeco-Roman Egypt and Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies.  Go to on-line exhibition.

Early Islamic Inscribed Textiles

Inscribed textiles record valuable information concerning broad historical trends. They document increasing government control over the textile industry, names of officials and rulers associated with these prestige items, the spread of Arabic language, the phenomenal popularity of the written word, as well as the special economic force of gift giving. Go to on-line exhibition

Reconstructing Personal Style in Late Antique Egypt

Today we express aspects of our identity in our choice of clothing. This is nothing new: people in ancient societies made similar visual statements. This exhibit, which focused on the 4th to 7th centuries CE, used textiles from the Kelsey Museum's collections to explore the expressive potential of fashion in late antiquity.  Go to on-line exhibition.

Sepphoris in Galilee: Crosscurrents of Culture

An exhibition that focused on the archaeological site of Sepphoris (known as Zippori in Hebrew), which was once an important city in Roman Palestine. September 7 - December 14, 1997.  Go to on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

A Taste of the Ancient World

A student-produced exhibit exploring food in the ancient world. Fall 1996 - July 21, 1997. Go to on-line exhibition.

Women and Gender in Ancient Egypt: From Prehistory to Late Antiquity

An exhibition that examined the evidence for women's lives in ancient Egypt and the wider issues of gender definition and roles. March 14 - June 15 1997.  Go to on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Images of Empire

Newly rejoined fragments of Roman sculpture from the Flavian dynasty.  Go to on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Caught Looking: Exhibiting the Kelsey

An experimental student-curated exhibition on ways of seeing and exhibiting artifacts in a museum context.  Go to on-line exhibition.

Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa

The Kelsey's installation of the traveling exhibit loaned by the University of Pennsylvania's University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, as well as an installation of photographs from the Kelsey's permanent collections documenting the First Aswan Dam. Go to on-line exhibition.


University of Michigan Collections and Expeditions.  Go to the on-line exhibition.

From Riches to Rags: Indian Block-Printed Textiles Traded to Egypt

The Kelsey Museum's collection of Indian block-printed textiles traded to Egypt was acquired from a Cairo dealer during the 1930s and early 1950s, but this 1993 exhibition, researched and organized by Dr. Ruth Barnes, marked the first time the material was displayed in its entirety. Now, in this virtual reinstallation of that exhibition, examples of these medieval trade cloths are again made accessible.  Go to the on-line exhibition.

Dangerous Archaeology

Francis Willey Kelsey and Armenia, 1919-1920.  Go to on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Portals to Eternity

The Necropolis at Terenouthis in Lower Egypt. Go to on-line exhibition

Wondrous Glass

Reflections on the world of Rome ca. 50 BC - AD 650.  Go to the on-line exhibition. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.

Preserving Eternity

Modern Goals, Ancient Intentions: Egyptian Funerary Artifacts in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Click here to purchase the exhibition catalogue.