Sunday, August 15, 2010

New Director Wants to Open Museum's Trove

The Bay Citizen (Patrick Dillon)

Not about Egypt exclusively, but about a museum which includes an Egyptian collection. An interesting insight into museum management, something I've always thought of as something of a thankless task due to the challenges of using a collection, which is divorced from its contexts, to communicate in any meaningful way to the public.

Phoebe Hearst, the mining heiress and matriarch of the University of California, Berkeley, was not a woman of modest ambition, as her personal quest to create a world-class anthropology collection demonstrated.

Beginning in the 1890s, Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst, commissioned large expeditions around the globe. . . . . .

Her goal was a museum to rival those at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, and by at least one standard she succeeded: the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley now has some four million items.

What Hearst failed to anticipate, though, was that nearly all those objects would for more than half a century be largely inaccessible to all but a handful of scholars due to less-than-optimal facilities and the faculty’s tradition of viewing the collection primarily as a research tool.

That dual legacy — a brilliant collection but with a low public profile — is what Mari Lyn Salvador inherited when she took over as the museum’s director in December.

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