Margaret Maitland, British Museum
Some of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs — Thutmosis III, Ramesses the Great, and many more — have now arrived at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The journey north from the British Museum, with the museum assistant team and the 130 objects for the exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt, took almost seven hours, but these objects are no strangers to long journeys. Before these magnificent sculptures and intricate jewellery took shape in the hands of ancient Egyptian master craftsmen, their materials were sourced from distant lands pharaohs sought to conquer, such as gold from Nubia (Sudan) and cedar from Lebanon.
Despite running slightly behind schedule, our hosts at the Great North Museum gave us a warm welcome and a helping hand in unloading the dozens of crates, weighing several tonnes in total. The process leading up to our arrival has been a much longer journey though; bringing any exhibition to life is a team effort but especially with this one, considering the collaborative process and many venues involved.
The exquisite objects were chosen from the British Museum collection by exhibition curator Neal Spencer, but before any object can go on loan, it needs to be assessed by the Museum’s conservators, who gauge the objects’ stability and consolidate them. Not everything on a curator’s wish list for an exhibition is always stable enough and if it isn’t approved, it won’t go; the objects’ safety comes first.
A lot of planning and preparation then goes into ensuring the safe packing and moving of objects. The crates that large objects travel in are custom-built to fit each one. Foam pads are tailored to fit perfectly around each object to prevent any movement within the crate, and they are wrapped in sheets of strong but breathable polyethelyne to prevent any friction.
Since our arrival, Senior Museum Assistant Evan York and Museum Assistant Emily Taylor – both from the British Museum – have been busy moving the 130 objects into place, with the aid of a crane, stacker, palette truck, and a bit of muscle and ingenuity. With their expert skills, they make moving an over 600 kilogram statue of Ramesses the great look easy.
I have been working with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums conservator Rachel Metcalfe and curator Gill Scott checking each object against photographs taken before transport to ensure everything has arrived in good condition.
Museum Assistant Alex Garrett, also from the British Museum, has been helping to painstakingly arrange objects in the cases, with input from the designers and curators from Tyne & Wear and the British Museum. Deciding the exact positioning can be a complex process, as various considerations have to be taken into account from ensuring the objects’ stability to creating a pleasing visual effect and maximizing visitors’ understanding.
After over a year of planning and many long hours of hard work from dozens of people, it is extremely satisfying to see the objects and labels finally taking their positions in what will surely be an exhibition fit for a pharaoh.