Winter 2015CultureLiberal ArtsAcademicsCommunity
Time and again, the Michael C. Carlos Museum is creating scholarly and teaching opportunities that transform lives.
In the beginning was a mummy. And not just any mummy, but, in fact, the oldest Egyptian mummy in the Western Hemisphere, one of only seven in the world. Emory's Old Kingdom mummy was the first inventoried object (1921.1) in the collection of the Michael C. Carlos Museum. A massive conservation effort in 2011 drew on a university-wide team of conservationists, faculty, and students to restore the Old Kingdom mummy, which now holds a special place in the permanent collection of the Carlos Museum.
However, beyond this one rare and special object, the Carlos opens up a broader treasure chest to Emory -- one intrinsically tied to the university's mission to "create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity." Recognizing the importance of the museum to academic life, Emory's strategic plan, Where Courageous Inquiry Leads, focused one of its framing principles on Creativity: Arts and Innovation. That emphasis -- along with Courageous Inquiry initiatives on strengthening faculty distinction, enhancing the student experience, creating community, and religions and the human spirit -- has helped the Carlos grow even stronger in its support of academics.
The museum features holdings in major collections of classical, ancient Egyptian, Near Eastern, ancient American, African, and Asian art as well as works on paper from the Renaissance to the present. Faculty have helped build the collection with visual materials that support scholarship and teaching. Through the permanent collections and traveling exhibitions, the museum supports a distinguished international exhibition calendar, a teaching conservation laboratory and center that not only restores objects but also trains students, and highly regarded educational programs for Emory students, faculty, and staff and the broader Atlanta community.
Scholars in many disciplines find opportunities to expand their work through the Carlos collections. Winship Distinguished Research Professor Sarah McPhee, for example, pursued her passion for Baroque architecture and a 1676 map of Rome in an exhibit that led viewers through the streets of the ancient city. Rebecca Stone, faculty curator of the art of the ancient Americas, expanded her book on shamanic trance in ancient Central and South American art into a Carlos show that explored what art can tell us about the world those artists inhabited. Indian and Tibetan Buddhist scholar Sara McClintock has found inspiration for her research in the museum's programming. "There is no doubt that discussions at the museum have impacted my scholarship and teaching," McClintock says. "I'm very interested in material culture, and my research is on ideas and philosophy. Those are not distinct realms, but it's partly because of the Carlos that my work is taking into account material culture."
The museum also creates avenues for students to explore academically rigorous projects tied to objects. In researching a Laconian cup, third-year graduate student An Jiang upended a previously-held interpretation of the cup's imagery. That finding led to his presentation at the Archeological Institute of America's annual meeting and an invitation to publish his findings in a book devoted to ancient Greek vase painting. Among the other contributors to the volume will be Emory undergrad and graduate alumna Sheramy Bundrick, who was very involved with the Carlos Museum while at Emory and last year was awarded the Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome.
"The Carlos is one of our most precious assets for teaching," says Bonna Wescoat, professor of art history. "There’s not a class that I teach that doesn't have a major component that is connected to the Carlos, and that is true for colleagues in many other departments from history to religion to Medieval studies. The curators work especially hard to make the collections accessible to students, and share their expertise through seminars." Last year, 80 faculty from 43 departments participated in programs at the Carlos Museum, and its staff taught or helped develop 36 courses. In all, the museum touched almost 13,000 Emory students through internships, programs, a student docent program, and classes.
Odysseys of learning
Art history major Emily Dixon knows the ins and outs of the Carlos Museum. Her art history classes frequently teach from these collections, and "I've been to every inch of the galleries," says Dixon, a junior who also is taking pre-nursing courses. She's worked behind the scenes as an education intern at the museum to organize community group visits and learn how to share the collection with teachers and docents.
"I've appreciated getting to experience the objects in person, which is very different than learning about them on a computer screen," she says. "You get to really bond with an object."
The skills that Dixon is developing are just what Wescoat wants for her students, no matter their major, and just what Where Courageous Inquiry Leads sought to put in place for students. "Observing, thinking, comparing, inferring -- these are the skills we want our students to become nimble with so they will feel at home in any museum in the world," she says."We believe these skills are necessary not only for art history majors but for all our students to create and enjoy a good life."
A class co-taught by Dwight Andrews, professor of music, and Mark Sanders, professor of English and African American studies, led students through an exploration of the Great Migration of African Americans away from the Jim Crow South, putting it in the context of the visual arts, music, literature, and history. The undergraduate course was tied to the 2014 exhibit of modernist artist Romare Bearden and his series based on the Odyssey. A related exhibit drew from pieces in Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library and local collectors who had personal connections with Bearden.
"The learning was a two-way street with the students bringing a lot of energy to the discussion," says Sanders, who describes the experience as "the most edifying of my 20 years of teaching at Emory."
Andrews composed original music premiered by Emory's resident artist group, the Vega String Quartet, as a part of the Bearden show. In collaboration with NPR's Story Corps, Emory students and faculty had a chance to record and preserve their own stories of migration. Laney Professor of Moral Leadership Robert Franklin shared stories of his family's move from Mississippi to Chicago. After experiencing Bearden's art, he noted that the artist "was a moral force to push back against selfishness and evil, things that we desperately need in America at this time." The event culminated in a live reading of the Odyssey by Emory students and faculty, Atlanta citizens, and Odyssey translator Stanley Lombardo.
Behind the Carlos programming is Elizabeth Hornor, Marguerite Colville Ingram Director of Educational Studies. "I get many of my ideas for education from faculty," she says. Hornor's wide-ranging portfolio includes the Carlos Reads book club led by faculty experts, a slate of popular programs and camps for young children, and AntiquTEA, a seminar where graduate students present original research on objects in the collection.
One of those students, Anandi Salinas, discussed the stories tied to Vishnu Sleeping on the Cosmic Ocean, a sandstone sculpture in the Carlos Museum at an AntiquTEA session last fall. She gave a talk on the sculpture for a group of K-12 teachers. "This experience with public speaking to different groups is invaluable," says Salinas. "It also helps me with techniques to use with undergraduates."
Salinas often brings undergraduates in religion to the museum to deepen their understanding of the concepts they are encountering in class, which in turn gives them a broad understanding of the strategic plan focus on religions and the human spirit. "They are bombarded with information in class and going through lots of material, but a visit to the museum grounds them in actualities," she says. "They realize that these are real pieces and that they are dealing with something real. It lights them up in a different way."
Conserving objects, training students
The student experience is further enhanced by the conservation laboratory at the Carlos Museum, under the direction of conservator Renée Stein. The conservation laboratory treats a range of art by age -- from relatively recent works on paper to 5,000-year-old Egyptian artifacts -- and by material, from textiles, stone, and ivory to paintings, works on paper, and 3-D materials.
In researching materials and changes to objects over time, Carlos conservators often collaborate with faculty experts, particularly in the sciences. Conservators have worked with anthropology faculty to identify bones, chemistry faculty to analyze materials, environmental studies faculty to identify stone types and the environmental causes of damage, and physics faculty to examine objects with different radiation sources.
These lessons learned often find their way into undergraduate classes. This semester Stein is co-teaching a course with chemists Matthew Weinschenk and Douglas Mulford, which introduces upper-level chemistry students to the analysis of ancient art. Another course, Investigating Art with Physics, co-led by Stein and physicist John Malko, invites students to use scientific tools to answer questions about art such as authenticity, provenance, and restoration. Case studies from the Carlos collection provide context for these discussions.
"We are aware of being an unusual resource," Stein says, "and I try to involve students as much as I can." The conservation program tailors internship experiences for students who receive academic credit for working on a conservation project or developing their own research. Through time spent in the lab, students gain the necessary hands-on experience to gauge their interest in the field and to prepare for one of the four competitive graduate programs for conservation offered in the United States.
"We've had a number of students go on to become professional conservators," Stein says. "We are seen as a place where students can gain this experience."
Chemistry major Courtney VonStein Murray, a 2011 Emory College alumna, discovered her passion for art conservation while working in the conservation lab. "I was torn between art conservation and medicine," Murray says, "and this experience confirmed it for me." She is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Denver Art Museum, working on Spanish colonial polychrome wooden sculptures. This spring she will present research at the University of Cambridge with Stein on cyclododecane, a hydrocarbon that is used in archaeology and art conservation. "Think of it as a temporary adhesive that can be used to hold something weak, or 'friable,' together during transport or treatment," Murray says.
Exploring sacred places, universal questions
Emory scholars have confronted questions of spirituality and being from the ancient world to modern times through research and exhibitions that are connected to the Carlos Museum. For years, scholars looking at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods in Samothrace complained of little evidence to unlock the secret rites of a mysterious cult that promised protection at sea and a way to grow in piety. Then art historian Bonna Wescoat came along -- backed by a Collaborative Research in the Humanities grant from Emory -- to explore how the architecture of the site acts in concert with the sacred space. Working with an interdisciplinary team of biostatisticians, art historians, environmental scholars, and computer scientists, she helped recreate the journey one of these pilgrims would take in 3-D video walk-through. This modeling has allowed scholars to resolve long-debated issues, including siting of the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace statue, which underwent restoration in 2014 and is now back on display at the Louvre. Wescoat served on the International Commission that oversaw the restoration, and a new exhibit that opens at the Louvre in March will feature the videos of the pilgrim's walk.
Sarah McPhee, chair of art history, unlocked Renaissance and Baroque Rome for modern viewers at the Carlos in part through the use of gaming technology. Visitors to the exhibit she co-curated in 2013 were able to study more than 130 maps and views of the city from the 16th to 18th centuries. At two computer monitors in the galleries, they also could enter this world in three dimensions: strolling the streets, entering buildings, listening to fountains, taking in long lost prospects. Working with architects at a local firm, McPhee and a team of gaming artists used the etchings on exhibit to rebuild Rome in a virtual world. The point of departure was the magnificent bird's-eye view map of 17th-century Rome by Giovanni Battista Falda (a reproduction of which had hung above McPhee's desk for 25 years) coupled with more than 300 Falda etchings. The Carlos backed McPhee on Phase 1 of "Virtual Rome," and the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship is currently supporting work on Phase 2, which includes the Roman Forum.
McPhee brought students along on her journey. She taught an undergraduate classes in the Carlos galleries with art historian Eric Varner as well as a graduate seminar on Rome in Print. "We used everything on the walls to tell the story of the advent of printing, along with the evolution of the city," McPhee says.
Professor of Religion Joyce Flueckiger, a South Asian studies scholar, has helped build the Asian collection at the Carlos, particularly folios from the epic of the Ramayana. With her guidance, the museum has added five paintings that depict some episode of the Ramayana. "We often bring classes over to see what captures artist's imagination and to see how the text differs from the painting," Flueckiger says. "What does painting create and what does narrative text create? It’s exciting as a professor to be able to build the collection and use it with our students."
"We were able to see our readings in a whole new context and the physical images helped me get a grasp on the concepts we learned about," says student Priya Ramalingam, who has taken one of Flueckiger's courses. "The dancing krishna piece was particularly striking and helped me visualize everything we discussed in class. I also learned from seeing and hearing about how other students interpreted the same pieces I was seeing and interpreting in my own way."
Flueckiger also has served as a guest curator at the Carlos on an exhibit centered around Indian gold. She says that experience led to a key chapter in her forthcoming book, Material Acts: The Agency of Materiality in India. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014 to complete the book.
Sara McClintock, associate professor of religion, was the principal investigator on a grant from the Rubin Foundation that brought "Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism" to the Carlos in 2012. During a course that she co-taught with faculty member and Director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi and Emory visual artist Julia Kjelgaard, students read historical texts on the nature of Tibetan mandalas in terms of symbolism and use in meditation practices, observed monks creating a sand mandala of Guhyasamaja, and created mandalas of their own. Katie Grams, an anthropology and religion major, took a similar Buddhism class that McClintock taught last year. During Tibet Week, she had a chance to see the rituals that local Buddhist monks performed before working on the mandala and its destruction at the end of the process. "I am an artist, and it hit me emotionally to see the monks sweep up their intricate, beautiful work," Grams says. "It drove the concepts we had covered in class home."
This exhibit -- like many before it -- offered a chance for the Carlos Museum to engage students and faculty as well as the community of Atlanta around the strategic plan initiative of religions and the human spirit. The current exhibition, "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts," is no less ambitious, in exploring courageous questions around spirituality and being and in contributing to the museum’s yearlong theme of creation. "It considers the way in which artists from across time and the African continent visually express their relationship to the sun, sky, moon, and stars," says Amanda Hellman, curator of African art.
The underlying message: observations of the heavens are part of the knowledge that informs origin stories, artistic expression, and ritual practice. Celestial bodies, which stand at the core of creation myths and the foundation of moral values, are part of a "cosmological map," allowing people to chart their course through life.