Wonder Rooms

31. Wonder Rooms

Around 1876, a general collection of objects—seashells, biological specimens, and assorted artifacts—was started at the original campus in Oxford. The Emory College Museum, at various times, showcased oddities such as a salt crystal from the Dead Sea and Georgia’s oldest surviving Maytag washing machine.

From these early beginnings as a “curio cabinet” to its current standing as the Southeast’s premier museum of ancient art, the Michael C. Carlos Museum has matched Emory’s rise as a teaching and research institution, with some 17,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, the Americas, Asia, and Africa in its permanent collection, as well as works on paper from the Renaissance to the present. Housed on Emory’s Quadrangle in a building designed by architect Michael Graves, the museum has hosted traveling exhibitions from the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Israel Museum. Permanent collection highlights include 19th-century acquisitions of Asian art by Methodist missionaries, early 20th-century Egyptian objects brought back by professor William Shelton, and more recent acquisitions from the Carlos family, the William Thibadeau family, and the William Arnett Collection.

The museum operates a conservation lab where curators can be found cleaning sarcophagi and restoring ancient statues that have lost their heads. “Our art tells the stories of civilization,” says museum director Bonnie Speed.

32. It’s a Wrap

Since Candler Professor Reverend William Shelton’s visit to Egypt in 1920 to acquire Egyptian objects for teaching, the Carlos Museum has become known as “the mummy museum.” In 1999, the museum purchased a collection of Egyptian artifacts from the quirky Niagara Falls Daredevil Museum in Canada: funerary material, nine coffins, and ten mummies. Through extensive research, the museum identified one mummy as most probably of royal descent. It was returned to Egypt in 2003, where it rests in the Luxor Museum, acknowledged as a gift from the people of Atlanta to the people of Egypt. Five years later, in part because of the relationships built by the return of Ramesses I, the Carlos Museum, in partnership with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, presented Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, drawing 400,000 visitors who viewed treasures from the boy king’s tomb. This fall, the exhibition Life and Death in the Pyramid Age: The Emory Old Kingdom Mummy opened, focusing on the oldest Egyptian mummy in the museum’s collection—indeed, in the Western hemisphere. The 4,000-year-old mummy (purchased by Shelton) has been examined using CT scanning and radiocarbon dating.

33. Venus Rising

Venus; Roman, 1st century AD; Marble; 2006.41.1; Carlos Collection of Ancient Art. Gift of Mrs Thalia Carlos; © Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University

An influential likeness of Aphrodite (Venus) from the first century BC, this 2,000-year-old statue of the goddess of love was in two parts until it was repaired by a Carlos conservator. The four-foot-six-inch sculpture is a marble copy of an earlier Greek bronze sculpture and is said to be the finest Aphrodite in the US.

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