RENOVATION MOVES FORWARD
By Emily Teeter, Ph.D., Assistant Curator
The Oriental Institute Museum
The University of Chicago
(This article originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 150, Summer 1996, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor.)
The renovation of the Oriental Institute Museum is a reality. For the first time in over sixty years, the galleries will be completely refurbished and brought up to modern museum standards with the installation of climate control. It is a mammoth undertaking that leaves no one happy for the time-being, but it will have tremendous rewards when the museum reopens in the spring of 1998.
The project calls for the construction of a 14,000 square foot wing on the southern side of the Oriental Institute building that will house artifact storage, the museum archives (photograph and paper records), a new conservation laboratory, and book stack areas for the Research Archives. This new wing, as well as the galleries, will be climate controlled. The existing basement will be reconfigured to restore archaeological study areas, long ago consumed by object storage. A new multifunction room for seminars, docent events, and public programs will be located in the basement.
Work in preparation for the project started in earnest for museum staff when the preliminary plans for the project were drafted by Hammond Beeby and Babka, Inc. of Chicago and approved by the University of Chicago. The museum staff, aided by volunteers Meghan Burke, John Gay, Georgie Maynard, Patrick Regnery, Lilian Schwartz, Peggy Wick, Dick Watson, and others, began the laborious project of packing the registered and unregistered artifacts in June 1994. Robin Kasson, Assistant to the Registrar and our "Empress of Packing" sealed the 3,000th box on February 7, 1996. Large objects are crated for storage, while smaller objects are wrapped in inert plastic, then in layers of bubble wrap. During this process, the packers have completed an inventory of the permanent collection and have had the opportunity to relabel the outer protective wrapping of the artifacts, making them much easier to use by researchers once they are unpacked.
On February 6, 1996 the Egyptian gallery closed to the public. Small objects were packed, but the oversize objects such as large stelae required special treatment. The firm of Belding Walbridge was contracted to move those items. The really oversized objects-the Assyrian winged bull and the statue of Tutankhamun-were sheathed in plastic, and protective barriers were built in front of them. Museum Curator Karen L. Wilson ensured the safety of the winged bull by posting a copy of an ancient curse on the bull's protective box. Finally, the alcove walls were demolished.* It was an amazing sight to see the Egyptian gallery virtually empty.
April 1, 1996 marked the next phase of the renovation with the closing of the rest of the museum galleries. The cases were emptied; their artifacts were inventoried and packed for storage. Only days later, the process of removing the Assyrian reliefs from the walls began (we will feature this process in the next News & Notes ).
By the time that you read this, the rest of the museum galleries will be emptied. It is a stressful process for us all: for the museum staff, for the faculty and staff who are inconvenienced by the noise and debris; for the devoted volunteers and docents whose routines have been disrupted; and for the museum visitors who enjoyed the galleries. However, we all keep the long range advantages of the project in mind. Our collections of artifacts and archival materials will finally be housed in a safe environment; students, staff, faculty and scholars will have more space for their research; and the galleries will be freshly installed.