A new exhibition opening at the Kelsey Museum examines how inhabitants of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East both resembled and differed from contemporary Americans by juxtaposing ancient and modern objects of similar use and/or appearance.

It is a commonplace to say that we are what we eat. But it is also true that were are what we use to eat; we are what we use to cook and to clean house; we are what we wear, what we play with, and what we pay with. We express ourselves through our cutlery and crockery, through our cookware and our various kitchen gadgets, through our clothes, our children’s toys, and the money we use.

What is true today was also true in ancient times. The collections of the Kelsey Museum contain thousands of artifacts of daily life that are strikingly similar to modern objects—earthenware plates and bowls from places like the Roman village of Karanis in Egypt; bronze and silver necklaces and figure rings; handfuls of small copper coins. In some cases, however, appearances can be deceptive; figurines from the Greek and Persian city of Seleucia in Iraq that resemble toy dolls may in fact be religious objects. In still other cases, objects that served the same function look radically different. A Greek kylix—a ceramic cup used for drinking wine—has very little in common with a modern wineglass.

“Ancient/Modern: The Design of Everyday Things” pays special attention to the relationships between the forms and the functions of everyday things—by asking, for example, whether modern ideas of “good” design apply to ancient artifacts. The exhibition, designed for visitors of all ages, will be on view in the Meader Gallery at the Kelsey Museum from June 6 to September 7, 2014.

Exhibition Opening Lecture

“Ancient, Modern, or Somewhere in Between?”
by Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, The Henry Ford Museum
Friday, June 6, 2014, at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Lecture at 6 pm, followed by an opening reception at 7 pm

From the preindustrial forms that were direct descendants of ancient equivalents to the mass-produced consumer goods we take for granted today, American objects of daily life display a remarkable continuity in form and function. Drawing upon historical examples, Donna Braden will explore intriguing links along the chain from ancient to modern.