Mummies on the Move: Global Museum Prepares for Grand Opening

Tuesday, March 06, 2018
Photo of three people handling a sarcophagus

The procession of stretchers wrapped in protective white paper moved carefully across campus. “Are they statues?” one passerby asked. Grandfather clocks? Could they be human remains? The answer may surprise you. Mummies and sarcophagi that belong to SF State were making their way to the University’s new Global Museum in the Fine Arts Building.

The moving day represented a significant milestone in preparation for the Global Museum’s grand opening, scheduled for April 26.

Faculty, staff and students in the Museum Studies Program spent a year preparing to move the collections, in consultation with independent conservators and preparators who also worked with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. They checked the condition of all materials. They choreographed every literal step — analyzing possible roadblocks such as weather, foot traffic, narrow doors and corridors and elevator access.

The occasion also provided a valuable lesson for students, says Professor Edward Luby, director of the Museum Studies Program.

“You need to take time to explain to students what we’re doing,” he says. “We told them that safety is first, but let’s pause to reflect what we’re doing and recognize the knowledge and experience we’re gaining from this.”

Graduate student Erin Schilling says her experience working in the museum’s collections has been invaluable.

“I’ve been able to see the full spectrum of museum work,” says Schilling, who also works as a student assistant for the program. “We’ll be getting to the most valuable part, however, when we open up.”

Taking part in moving of the mummies was a unique opportunity for her.

“It was an example of the type of respect you have to have when working with these artifacts and artworks,” she adds.

A rare triple-nesting sarcophagus

Established in 2014, the 1,922-square-foot Global Museum serves as an academic resource and exhibition hub for the University and surrounding community. Expect it to become a popular destination for school field trips. Paige Bardolph (M.A., Museum Studies, ’11) was hired in January to serve as museum director.

Permanent collections include art and material culture from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Egypt and Oceania, spanning the ancient world to the 20th century.

Highlights include the mummy Nes-Per-N-Nub, once a high priest of the Temple of Karnak. His remains occupy a triple-nesting sarcophagus, one of only three in the U.S. The second mummy is an unnamed female. She is often referred to as the “yellow mummy” due to her sarcophagus’ color; she also possesses extra sets of bones within the folds of her wrappings. Adolph Sutro, San Francisco mayor in the 1890s, purchased the mummies and displayed them at the Sutro Baths until the mid-1960s. George K. Whitney Jr. donated them to SF State in 1964.

Three beautifully painted sarcophagus lids will greet visitors in the museum’s main gallery, as part of a section focused on Egypt. In an accompanying room opening in the fall, visitors will be able to view the two intact mummies. They are kept separate from the main gallery per the museum’s decision on displaying human remains.

Free admission, priceless opportunities

Bianca Alper (B.A., Art, ’05; M.A., Museum Studies, ’09) and Global Museum Associate Director Christine Fogarty are curators of the debut exhibit, titled Going Global: From San Francisco to the World. Admission is free. It will be open 11am – 4pm Tuesdays – Fridays and by appointment. The exhibit will remain on display through May 2019.

The Global Museum offers unique, professional opportunities for students, serving as a capstone experience. The approximately 50 Museum Studies students are involved with designing the exhibitions, conducting research, creating educational programs and supporting visitors.

“Working in a lab, in a real museum setting, you can make mistakes here and learn from it,” says Fogarty (M.A., Museum Studies, ’02).

Students are responsible for organizing the collections, housed in a new preservation facility located one floor below the museum. A new digital lab/classroom is installed next door.

The Global Museum replaces a 1,042-square-foot gallery that was located on the top floor of the Humanities Building. The former gallery opened in 1994, when the Humanities Building was brand new. The Global Museum is a research and service organization based in SF State’s School of Art. The Global Museum was made possible in part by a donation from the San Francisco State University Foundation’s Mary MacWilliam Fund.

SF State offers a Master of Arts degree and minor in Museum Studies. The University first offered Museum Studies classes in 1974, and the M.A. program was introduced in 1987. The undergraduate minor launched in 2016.

— Matt Itelson

Photo, from left: Independent mount maker Camille Duplantier, graduate student Kelin Verrette and Global Museum Associate Director Christine Fogarty handle a sarcophagus.

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