Questions from the Galleries

During the Grand Opening Festival, it was all hands on deck and I found myself working in the galleries… as a security guard! Although I had never actually worked as a guard before, I have worked in galleries as guide-animatrice (there isn’t good English translation for that term) and museum educator for ten years, holding workshops, giving tours, chatting with people and answering their questions, and reminding visitors of important museum rules. Spending the weekend as a security guard wasn’t too much of a stretch for me, and I enjoyed having the chance to get away from my desk!

While walking the ancient art galleries (Egyptian, Classical and Mesoamerican) and keeping a keen eye out for hands gravitating towards artefacts that cannot be touched, I realised that I missed chatting with visitors in the galleries. Adults and kids came to me with comments, questions, requests to take photos with me (!) and praises about the new Egyptian galleries and the West Building. Their enthusiasm was infectious. How can working in the galleries not be fun? It’s tiring, but it’s fun when there are plenty of people around. Over the course of the weekend, I had good laughs with visitors and answered many questions about a variety of things; however, three questions came up over and over. I thought I would share these questions and their answers with you.

What is gesso? Gesso is a primer of fine plaster and glue used in art to smooth surfaces—notably wood—on which paint was applied (gypsum plaster and whiting plaster (powdered limestone) were used in ancient Egypt). The Egyptians also used gesso on objects that were to be gilded with gold leaf. You will see gesso listed on labels for wooden objects such as that of Figure of a Man, Model of Boat, and Coffin of Amunred as well as that of Golden Boy’s Gilded Mummy Covering.

What does b.c.e. / c.e. mean? b.c.e. stands for ‘Before Common Era’ and c.e. for ‘Common Era.’ This system of numbering the years is increasingly becoming the norm for museums and the wider scholarly community.  It replaces the traditional designations of B.C. (for “Before Christ”) and A.D. (for “Anno Domini” or “In the year of Our Lord”) which are now regarded as insensitive to non-Christian religious traditions. You will find the b.c.e. or c.e. designation used in galleries where there is ancient art and where the collections span both eras.

How do you cast a bronze statue? Rather than trying to describe the very complicated process that is the lost wax method, I will simply say this: the ancient Egyptians practiced lost wax casting thousands of years before Auguste Rodin was even born! (I know this question specifically referred to the Rodin bronzes, but as an Egyptologist, I always find ways to bring the attention back to Egypt!) If you don’t believe me, take a look at our bronze Isis and Horus in the Egyptian gallery (at the very back) next time you visit the Museum! And visit the Rodin Court and Garden as well; it’s right next to the Egyptian gallery (and that’s probably why I was asked that question so many times). I know I said I would share the answers to all the questions, but I think that for this one you might have to visit the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation website. You will find there the answer neatly illustrated with one of Rodin’s works.

My days as security guard are now over, but you will see me wandering in the galleries. I’m always available for a quick chat or a few questions.

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