Exhibition: The Papyrus in the Crocodile
150 Years of Excavation, Exploration, Collection, and Stewardship at Berkeley
May 6 – July 29, 2016
Bancroft Library Gallery, University of California, Berkeley
(The Gallery is open M-F, 10 am to 4 pm; closed weekends and administrative holidays)
The collections assembled by Berkeley’s many patrons and collectors during the last 150 years form the foundation of research materials related to a variety of the university’s academic disciplines. The Papyrus in the Crocodile embodies Berkeley’s motto fiat lux (“let there be light”) by illuminating a selection of these invaluable objects as testaments to the cosmopolitan ideologies of Berkeley’s visionary patrons and donors—whose own lives were scarcely less fascinating than the archeological, ethnographic, and aesthetic materials they amassed. By gathering together artifacts from repositories across the university, this exhibition sheds light on the history of acquisitions and encounters that have contributed to the academic diversity celebrated on the Berkeley campus; and recognizes the remarkable men and women who enthusiastically answered the call of University President Benjamin Ide Wheeler to collect for the sake of research and the creation of new knowledge.
The Papyrus in the Crocodile begins by highlighting Phoebe Apperson Hearst, one of the university’s greatest contributors, and the exceptional collections compiled under her patronage. In 1899, Hearst funded an expedition organized by Egyptologist George A. Reisner, who hired Oxford papyrologists Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt. As they excavated an Egyptian necropolis in the sands of ancient Tebtunis, they uncovered over 31,000 papyrus fragments, including second-century BCE texts stuffed into mummified crocodiles. The artifacts from that excavation entered the university’s new Museum of Anthropology (since renamed the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology) and many of the papyrus texts went to The Bancroft Library, where they are now housed at the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri.
For the young California university, founded in 1868, the turn-of-the-century expeditions to the far corners of the world returned with materials that propelled Berkeley forward as a beacon of research and learning on par with many of its more established East Coast and European counterparts.
This exhibition showcases the diverse nature of Berkeley’s collections, which span multiple continents, represent diverse cultures, and encompass a wide range of materials and media. For example, Phoebe Hearst’s Chinese robes and costume accessories later served as pedagogical devices for young women at the YWCA and as reference materials for Berkeley’s Design Department. After the dissolution of the Design Department, the robes came to the Hearst Museum of Anthropology. The photographs, ritual objects, and ephemera collected by Theos Bernard, “the White Lama,” straddle the divide between entertainment and ritual, the secular and the religious. He incorporated pan-Asian objects and philosophies into his work and everyday life, and was a key figure in the dissemination of Eastern esoteric practices in the West. History unfolds before the viewer in the case of the Codex Fernández Leal, a twenty-foot long sixteenth-century illustrated scroll that documents Mesoamerican history and culture. Earthenware pots and woven baskets demonstrate the diversity of indigenous cultures stretching from South America to the Californian coastline. Combined with photographs, maps, and paintings, these objects attest to ethnographic and commercial interactions between indigenous cultures and Western explorers, merchants, scholars, and settlers.
Natural history prints and paintings show how artists and scientists turned their attention to the natural world, combining the arts of illustration with empirical observation. Arts and Crafts books and interior designs detail domestic manifestations of this age of exploration in aestheticized natural motifs. Garden designers harnessed the life cycle of plants from around the world, to shape, color, and ornament the private landscape of home and garden.
The collections on display in the exhibition are not only beautiful, but they also continue to serve the research needs of students and scholars at Berkeley and around the world. The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri provides primary research materials for the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) Project. Hand-printed and hand-bound Arts and Crafts books, collected and donated by advertising executive Norman H. Strouse, are used in Berkeley classes taught at The Bancroft Library on the history of printing and the hand-printed book. The garden designs of Gertrude Jekyll, at the Environmental Design Archives, have made possible the restoration of Jekyll’s gardens in England. Berkeley’s stewardship of these collections has extended their lives beyond the moment of their creation and collection so that they continue to provide research opportunities across disciplines and departments, from Classics to anthropology, from art history to zoology, from religious studies to design. This unprecedented exhibition brings to light many objects never before seen by the public, and prompts both the public and new generations of scholars to engage with these remarkable collections in formulating and answering research questions.
This exhibition is the capstone event of a three-year grant for Graduate Study in Curatorial Preparedness and Object-Based Learning from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Curated by students in the Mellon Exhibition Graduate Seminar, The Papyrus in the Crocodile represents the culmination of a year’s worth of research, selection, organization, and writing by students representing the fields of art history, anthropology, history, and religion. Co-taught by Professors Margaretta Lovell and Patricia Berger from the History of Art Department, the class began with whirlwind tours through Berkeley campus collections. Students gazed upon the painted faces of Egyptian coffins, delighted in the strains of Mozart pulled from a Baroque violin, marveled at the delicate well-provenanced creatures preserved in specimen jars, and pondered the possibilities of unrealized architectural plans. They met individually with curators from each repository to begin creating a list of objects for exhibition, and learned firsthand the meticulous process of compiling object lists—striking a balance between aspiration and feasibility—preparing loan agreements, writing labels, and designing compelling object groupings.
The students of the Mellon Graduate Exhibition Seminar extend their gratitude to the directors and curators of the lending institutions, without whom this exhibition would not have been possible. Materials and consultations have been generously provided by the Bancroft Library, the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, the Environmental Design Archives, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Special thanks go out to The Bancroft Library for the use of its gallery and the invaluable tutoring on industry standards for exhibition planning offered by its staff.
The project website can be found here.