by Caroline Gabsewics
For Dr. Neal Spencer of The British Museum, it took just one trip to Egypt to realize he wanted to work with Egyptian art for a living.
“Before college I took a cheap holiday trip to Egypt, and after that I decided I wanted to study Egyptology,” said Spencer, assistant curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at The British Museum.
Spencer studied Egyptology at England’s University of Cambridge and later earned his Ph.D. at the same school, researching pharaonic temple buildings during the Late Period (664-332 B.C.).
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens has been preparing for “Temples and Tombs: Treasures of Egyptian Art from The British Museum” for over a year. A lot of planning had to go into bringing an exhibit of such stature to Jacksonville. Then, the Cummer Museum had to ensure the construction of the new Central Gallery would be complete in time for the opening of the exhibit. Finally, staff from the Cummer and The British Museum, including Spencer, had to carve out two weeks to prepare the gallery for the museum members’ opening tonight.
Spencer said he and two of his colleagues from The British Museum spent 12 days in Jacksonville to prepare the gallery and bring in the artifacts.
“There is a lot of preparation going on and years of planning,” he said.
Spencer and his two colleagues were the only three to handle the artifacts, he added.
“We worked directly with the Cummer Museum to design the layout of the exhibit,” he said. “This is the first exhibit to go in this gallery, so we had a certain amount of freedom.”
Spencer added that the Central Gallery is a great space.
“This is a fantastic space to work with,” he said. “We are used to working in a 250-year-old building.”
There are 85 objects on display at the Cummer Museum, which are only a part of The British Museum’s collection of 110,000. The British Museum has a permanent gallery for its Egyptian art where about 4,000 objects are on display at any given time.
Cummer Museum Director Maarten van de Guchte said the Cummer Museum worked very closely with Spencer and his colleagues throughout the whole process.
“We had to make sure the cases were logistically supported,” said van de Guchte. “Dr. Spencer and his crew handled the objects, and they had to wear gloves and they also installed temperature and humidity gauges in the cases.”
Van de Guchte said the Cummer Museum also constructed the temple-looking pillars to make guests feel like they were in an Egyptian temple.
“It gives it a sense of theater and it makes it more exciting,” he said.
On Thursday, Spencer took about 15 members of the media on a tour of the exhibit, highlighting four aspects of ancient Egypt.
“Temples and Tombs” includes objects from the kings and the temples, which show what everyday life in ancient Egypt was like. There are objects preserved from the lives of artists and nobles, statues from temples and tombs that illustrate the significance of the afterlife in ancient Egypt.
The exhibit includes objects from before the Third Dynasty, about 2686 B.C. to the Roman occupation of the fourth century A.D.
Spencer still works in Egypt during the months of September and October. He is the director of The British Museum Expedition to Kom Firin, an area in the western Nile Delta. The group recently uncovered a temple complex from the time of Ramses II.
“There is still a lot to discover,” said Spencer. “But anything we find, we can’t bring back to the museum. There is a law that anything found over 100 years old is the property of the (Egyptian) government.”