Friday, May 29

When Mom Came to Town

Sandy, Kara, and I

Last week Mom came out to L.A. for a visit. We had no particular plans, but somehow every day was filled with plenty to do. Her first night in town we went out for a girl's night with my friends Sandy and Kara. A great time was had by all, although we narrowly avoided an encounter with angry fans when Kara decided to (loudly) heckle the Lakers and cheer Denver.

One day during her visit was "bring Mom to work day." We hung out at the Villa and I showed Mom around and she got to follow me on my gallery talks. She saw my talk on religion in Greco-Roman Egypt and attended my hour of the gem handling session for that day. The gem handling sessions, as we call them, are associated with our "Carvers & Collectors" exhibition on ancient engraved gems and modern copies. We have a "touchable" collection of various gemstones and engraved gemstones in different stages of completion that we discuss and pass around amongst visitors who stop by. It is very different from the other kinds of teaching I do in that these are times when I just sit down and converse with visitors for an hour. As with most teaching, I find it exhausting but fun. Mom also got to meet some of my coworkers, who later told me my mother could pass for my sister.

All things considered it was a great visit. Now Eric and I are getting ready for his sister's wedding this weekend. All sorts of friends and family are converging on the Wells household at the moment, since the big day is tomorrow. This morning Eric and I packed and loaded the car so we can leave straight from the museum and head for the South Bay. It will be a crazy busy couple of days, I'm sure, but hopefully a lot of fun as well!

Sunday, May 17

In the Gardens

Is it the end of the school year yet? I am very much looking forward to the summer break from school groups. They are, in many ways, one of the most exhausting aspects of my job. Any kind of public speaking can be draining, but if you add the element of disciplining your audience (because the chaperones hardly ever do) and yelling at the top of your lungs (because the marble galleries here are an acoustic nightmare) it wears you down. The summer is a much needed recovery period and I am eagerly awaiting the end of June.

Earlier this week we had a guest speaker from the Huntington Library in San Marino visit the museum to talk about ancient varieties roses and some of the other plants in our gardens here. The Huntington has some lovely gardens itself, and so has the accompanying horticultural experts on staff. It was a very interesting stroll through the gardens, and inspired me to take the pictures I have added to this post. May is really one of the best times to wander the gardens here. Most everything is in bloom by this time of year, and everything looks new, colorful, and fresh.

For the most part these past weeks have been very uneventful and ordinary. Eric and I spend most of our time working these days. The steady pace is a reminder of how much a vacation is needed every once in awhile in order to recharge ourselves. Hopefully this summer will offer a couple of opportunities to relax and have some fun. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for quiet afternoon walks in the gardens here.

Thursday, May 14

Thank You Card

Today I received a very cute thank you card from one of the school groups I gave a lesson to recently. My favorite comment is scribbled to the right of the amphora: "Thank you so much. I am smarter having listened to you."

These cute and sometimes creative thank-yous from school groups always make my day. There are so many times that you can feel frustrated and discouraged and frazzled as a museum educator, it is nice when someone takes the time to say "thanks." It really does mean a lot when someone takes the time to let you know they appreciated your time and effort. Saying "thank you" is one of the first lessons we learn as kids, but it is amazing how many of us forget about it when we're grown up. Thankfully, in my line of work I am reminded every day just how far a simple "thank you" can go.

Friday, May 8

The Lampbearer

Recently a long-term loan from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, Italy went on display at the Getty Villa. Known as the Statue of an Ephebe (youth) as a Lampbearer, this bronze statue was discovered in Pompeii in 1925 buried in a well-to-do private residence. Being modeled in the style of ancient Greek sculptures of beardless young men, he holds an ornate candelabrum, and so likely served as a functional decorative object in the home.

At the time of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E., the house was in the process of renovation. The Ephebe was found in a room off the atrium, apparently being stored out of the way with other bronze decorative pieces while the renovations happened. Traces of a protective cloth which had been draped over it are visible on the shoulders and buttocks of the sculpture--apparently the heat of the blast seared the cloth to the statue. Considering he went through a catastrophic volcanic eruption, the Ephebe survived in amazing condition. He survives with his original marble base, and most of the glass paste that served as inlay for the eyes remains. Three workers--perhaps those completing the renovations--were not as lucky. Their skeletal remains were discovered in the front hall of the house.

As always, I am happy to have a new object to work with in the galleries. He's a great object to use in talking about ancient bronze sculptures because he is so well-preserved. The fact that you can still see most of the glass paste inlays for the eyes is wonderful. So many visitors are unaware that ancient sculptures had inlaid eyes. It is an understandable mistake since in many cases the inlays do not survive. It is always fun to have an object to show them that so clearly illustrates what I tell them about the original appearance of the sculpture.

Also, modern conservation has revealed that the lips and nipples are made of copper and that can now clearly be seen. Bronze sculptors often made use of different colored metals to add life to their sculptures, but often the metals darken so much overtime they are not easily seen with the naked eye. But again, in this case, you can clearly see where copper was used instead of bronze.

I have already used the object several times in my talks, and I look forward to including it on my "Roman Connoisseurship" focus tour this summer. As an object that served to decorate the villa in which it was found, it is the perfect object to use when discussing Roman collecting habits.

Since beginning to discuss this object with visitors, some interesting points have come up. First of all, with a date of 20-10 B.C.E., the Ephebe was going on one hundred years old by the time Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E. This suggests a longevity for the piece and makes me wonder--was it passed down to its last ancient Roman owner, or did he purchase it himself for his collection? Also, the label identifying the statue in our gallery has a very neat-looking image of the statue in situ (as it was found), buried to its knees in detritus. The picture is definitely one that captures the archaeological imagination, but it's been brought to my attention that damage to the sculptures knees would not have allowed it to stand in such a way. That being the case, this photograph was very likely staged when it was taken in 1925. This is not unheard of--there are several examples of staged archaeological photographs. Academic veracity often fell victim to appearances.

Statue of an Ephebe (Youth) as a lampbearer
Roman, ca. 20-10 B.C.E.

I look forward to getting to know my friend the Lampbearer better over the next months during his stay at the Villa. He will reside here for about two years, then he will return home to the museum in Naples where he will be on display not all that far from the house in which he was first discovered.