Their Imperial Majesties on the Red Stair bowing to the people, following The Holy Coronation. May 14, 1896. UPM neg - T4-1048
Their Imperial Majesties on the Red Stair bowing to the people, following The Holy Coronation. May 14, 1896. UPM neg – T4-1048

Why was Zelia Nuttall, a well-known Aztec scholar, engaged to travel to Russia as a representative of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 1896? The Museum wished to establish artifact and publication exchanges with Russian museums, and to offer financial assistance to Russian archaeological excavations in exchange for a proportionate share of the discoveries.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst, had been forced to cancel a planned trip to attend the coronation of Czar Nicholas II and the Czarina Alexandra in Russia. She decided to put her reservation and accommo­dations in Moscow at the disposal of the Museum. (Mrs. Hearst also helped defray travel expenses and the cost of purchasing collections.)

Said Mahomet Rachim Bochadud, Khan of the tribal district of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo by Bolojinsky
Said Mahomet Rachim Bochadud, Khan of the tribal district of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo by Bolojinsky

Zelia Maria Magdalena Nuttall (1857-1933), a scholar of Aztec and other Mexican pre-columbian cultures who was widely known throughout Europe, was a close friend of Sara Yorke Stevenson. Stevenson was a Member of the Museum’s Board of Managers and Curator of the Egyptian Section. The two had corresponded regularly since meeting in 1893. Nuttall had mastered various languages, including some Rus­sian. Stevenson, thus, had no problem choosing her to represent the Museum on the expedition to Russia when the occasion arose.

Nuttall attended the coronation ceremonies and visited a number of museums to set up exchanges. She also traveled to the annual Pan-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition at Nijni-Novgorod (modern Gorki) east of Mos­cow, where she was able to inspect artifacts from as far away as Siberia and southern Russia. The collection she amassed for the Museum comprises over 400 objects from Russia, Fin­land, Poland, and Russian Turkestan. It in­cludes items of clothing, household utensils and furnishings, religious objects, coins, jew­elry, musical instruments, pottery, and tools. She also acquired a set of photographs illus­trating the manners and customs of the Kirgiz people who live in the vicinity of Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan. As a personal gift to the Museum, Nuttall presented a set of color lithographs of the coronation ceremony, as well as other coronation souvenirs such as mugs, plates, and handkerchiefs.