Thursday, January 19, 2006

Henry George Fischer, Egyptologist, Dies

"Henry George Fischer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator who helped the Temple of Dendur find a new life in New York as a focal point of the museum, died on Dec. 11 in Newtown, Pa., where he had moved from Sherman, Conn., in 2003. He was 82. The death was announced by his family and the museum, where he was curator emeritus of Egyptology. Starting with his doctoral dissertation in 1955, Dr. Fischer's books and articles brought a deeper understanding of the culture of ancient Egypt. In particular, he contributed to the study of the previously neglected art and culture of the Egyptian provinces, as distinct from the centers of the rule of the pharaohs."
See the complete obituary on the New York Times website above. If you are asked for a username and password, use "egyptnews" in both fields.


Unknown said...

I met Henry in Sherman when the town library announced a show (and sale) of the original drawings (by Henry, of course) from his publications. They were delighted at his offer. But the price tags? How much? It was to raise funds for a library in a fairly wealthy, small town that has been known to squeeze the blood from a penny. Henry thought they might get a few bucks. "Oh, maybe charge, say, $5 each?" They fetched from about $50 to $500 as I recall (we bought 3 or 4). Not one was left over. He was somewhat disturbed that a local paper mentioned the upcoming event. Suddenly, he was famous; a celebrity. Almost two dozen people now knew who he was. No more anonymity. And he had to be there as well. With your X-Ray Specs® you might have spotted the tall, wispy fellow doing such a good job of blending in. No one believed me when I said “Right over there – talking to Ted and Lee. That’s Henry. Yes – that is the great Henry George Fischer, the world’s foremost Egyptologist. They looked but he vanished as their eyes focused on him. All they saw was Ted and Lee talking to an empty space. Perhaps a trick he learned in Egypt. Or from serving under the infamous Thomas Hoving, whose famous forgery purchases at the Met led to Oscar Muscarella’s outing of the situation, his phone being tapped, his near dismissal, and Henry testifying on his behalf when he successfully sued Hoving and the Met. (“Well, of course I testified for Oscar. It was disgraceful. I knew exactly what was being done and why, and I said so.”)

Henry’s regular poems in the Sherman Sentinal (take one at the IGA, drop a buck in the box) evidently didn’t threaten his anonymity. But "don't try to talk to Henry the first time you run into him" I was warned by a close friend. "He's _painfully_ shy. I mean PAINFULLY shy. He really seems to be in pain when talking to someone new." On line at the IGA, I introduced myself and chatted for a good 3 or 4 sentences. It was so painful for me as I absorbed his pain that I needed an IV of the most powerful opiate after experiencing this shyness But after getting to know him -- wonderful. So nice. So gracious. So friendly -- to the extent possible, without causing him to cry or hemorrhage. (He had recovered some years earlier from a bout with cancer, but the word was good now -- he even confirmed this for me later at his house.) There was a warmth and kindness palpably struggling to burst out. Always a man of few words. And shy. An acquaintance from the Brooklyn Museum couldn’t believe we knew him. “Henry Fischer?!!? Why, he’s not just a great Egyptologist! Henry Fischer is, is -- he's GOD!” (Obviously a fan.)

When he sold the extra possessions after selling the Sherman house, we were lucky enough to get the great drafting table with infinitely adjustable arm (to 1/10th of a degree), and the desk, probably a Met library table, which we had him sign underneath with indelible ink and a calligraphy pen. He signed it in heiroglyps. Yes, it really says, in ancient Egyptian heiroglyps, “This desk belonged to Henry George Fischer.” Could he write the translation in English? “Oh, no! That would spoil it!” After all, ancient monuments only have graffiti in modern languages. A modern object’s graffitum should be purely in the ancient language. He was right, after all – wasn’t he? (Sorry – it’s not for sale. Signature or not, I love this desk.) When I came back to the house to put the desk and drafting table in the car (we carried the sculpures and other items), he also gave me a fairly common Rosetta Stone replica from a museum (the Louvre, I believe) – the ones you get for about $40. But, with a tear, explained that this had been given to him by Labib Habichi, a fellow Egyptologist and very close friend, now gone. With no one there, and on the verge of moving from his beloved, sequestered home in Sherman, he opened up. We spoke for over 2 hours. He did most of the talking. No shyness. No pain. I was told I’d never get to know him this well. The Rosetta Stone over my desk says otherwise. Sherman, Connecticut has lost yet another treasure. And a very, very lovely man. You can see him, if you wish, walking up Mauweehoo Hill. He’s visible now.
- David of Barlow Farm Rd.

Anonymous said...

Some time in 1966, I went to the Metropolitan Museum to hear Henry George Fischer talk about the raising of Abu Simbal...he spoke so eloquently and halfway through his talk, he stopped and recited, OZYMANDIAS.
I think my heart stood still while he looked into the audience and spoke those glorious words.
To this day, I have never forgotten that experience.