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Updated 10:00 AM October 26, 2009

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New Upjohn Exhibit Wing unveiled

As an undergrad in the 1930s, Edwin Meader saw rare artifacts, pottery and sculpture — excavated by U-M scholars in the Mediterranean and Near East — being delivered to what was then called the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

He said to himself, "These things deserve a better place."
Italian artist Maria Barosso painted nearly life-size replicas of the famous frescoes from the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, which are on display in the new Upjohn Exhibit Wing (below). An $8.5 million gift from the late Ed and Mary Meader of Kalamazoo funded the construction of the wing, which will open to the public Sunday. (Photos courtesy Kelsey Museum)

In 2003 a gift of $8.5 million from the late Edwin and Mary Meader created that better place, funding construction of a new 20,000-square-foot wing to what now is called the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Named in honor of Mary's grandfather, the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing will open to the public with a celebration Sunday.

Located on Maynard Street behind the turreted stone building at 434 S. State St., the new wing provides study, storage and display space in a climate-controlled facility that now houses all of the Kelsey collections.

Named in honor of U-M professor Francis Kelsey in the 1950s, the museum has world-renowned collections of more than 100,000 ancient artifacts, some originally purchased by Kelsey in the 1890s. Based on excavated materials from Egypt, Turkey and the Near East in the 1920s and '30s, they provide an extraordinary glimpse of everyday life in the ancient Mediterranean. The collections include artwork, toys, funerary offerings, sculpture, fragments of paintings, pottery and jewelry.

"Professor Kelsey was a man ahead of his time," says Sharon Herbert, director of the Kelsey Museum and the John G. Pedley Collegiate Professor of Classical Archaeology. "He understood the power of objects to connect today's people with people of the past."

The Upjohn Wing allows more of the museum's collection — stored for decades because of a lack of display space — to be shown to the public. New displays highlight interconnections among cultures and peoples of the ancient Near East, Egypt, and the world of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans.

Themes running throughout the installation include political and divine power, death and the hereafter, work and leisure, commerce and entertainment, social hierarchies and rituals, and health and beauty.

"People have no idea what we have here," says Elaine Gazda, curator of Hellenistic and Roman antiquities at the Kelsey Museum and a professor of classical art and archaeology. "People will be stunned by the richness and depth of collections."

Perhaps the most stunning are watercolor replicas of the Villa of the Mysteries of Pompeii. In the mid-1920s Kelsey commissioned Italian artist Maria Barosso to create reproductions of the vivid frescoes on the walls of a reception room in a villa. Buried in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Naples in 79 A.D., the villa was found during an excavation in 1909. Except for a few exhibitions, the watercolors have been in storage since they arrived in Ann Arbor in 1928. In the Upjohn Wing they are displayed on the walls of a space resembling the original reception room.

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