What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath: Storage renovation in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

While working at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston one of my chief tasks was to upgrade its storage. The basement storage was a disaster with leaking pipes and broken windows, at one point we found a cat down there that obviously had come in looking for the mice that could be found lurking in the dark corners.

wooden coffins stored under a leaking pipe

It was in many ways like an archaeological excavation as parts of objects had been separated, identifying tags eaten by silverfish, numbers flaked off salt damaged objects, so it was only by looking at the context that we were able to recover missing provenances. 

A gesso mummy mask in 1913 when it came to the MFA and after 80 years in bad storage

We had written a proposal to the National Science Foundation (below) to upgrade storage as the most important archaeological reference collection from the Nile Valley outside Egypt.  Sadly, it was rejected not because of merit but because the reviewers felt that the Museum had shown such little responsibility, as one review put it they would however, “support moving the collection to a responsible institution.”

Brian Curran and Ellen Woolf in the basement.

We were able however, particularly with the help of Brian Curran, Rima Boulos and Ellen Woolf to re organize the material by site, date and tomb group making it far more accessible for researchers.  Sadly, after I left the MFA, the storage was later reorganized by the Museum’s Conservation and Research Laboratory and objects arranged randomly by size.  

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