When what you see is not what you get

June 24, 2014

The museum is getting ready to install an exhibition on this year’s Penn Humanities Forum theme: Color. This alabaster head from South Arabia (30-47-17A) was selected for the exhibition to help illustrate how representations of human heads were achieved in stone in a variety of cultures and throughout time. When it first came to the Conservation lab, it was mounted in a wooden box.

Museum Object Number: 30-47-17

The box was clearly not part of the original statue and wasn’t doing the head any favors in presentation. We think this type of display mount dates to a time in the general 1950’s. Earlier displays tend to be more customized, and later displays are better documented. While the dating is not precise, it’s more than enough to know that the box will not be part of this year’s presentation.

Removing boxes like this one is not an unusual task in exhibition prep, but you never know what you might find under the wood. In many cases, there is a simple mechanism holding the object in place. Other times, you get a surprise like this:


The neck was set into a solid block of plaster with a bed of unidentified black putty at the bottom! Not what I was expecting! To make it even more interesting, there was a strip of plywood and a bit of paper board imbedded into the plaster on the front. The only upside to this discovery was that it gave me an excuse to break out the Dremel (our rotary power tool that we keep handy for tasks like this one)…


With a little cutting, prying, and chiseling, I was able to free the head and remove the residues. It’s now off to the mountmaker’s studio to get fitted for a new, age-appropriate, brass mount. Come visit the museum in late August to get a look at the head on display!