Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Ann Arbor

Want to spend a couple of hours lost in the ancient worlds of the Romans and Greeks? Take a pleasant drive to Ann Arbor and visit the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  As an alumnus of the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.), I was recently invited to attend the Michigan chapter’s tour of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  What a fun and educational experience!

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Tied to the University of Michigan, the museum is situated on South State Street in Ann Arbor.  It’s not a large place, but it’s packed with delightful artifacts from ancient cultures. The focus is on classical Greek,  Egyptian, and Near Eastern archaeology.  Over 100,000 artifacts are housed there, with about 1500 on permanent display.  On our tour we saw Greek and Roman coins, Egyptian jewelry, and Etruscan pottery.  We also toured their special exhibit called “Less Than Perfect,” celebrating the lessons learned from failure.  It showcases art that went deliberately awry.

The museum is named after a professor at U of M back in the early 1900s.  Born in 1858, Francis Kelsey grew up in New York, went to school in Chicago, and was hired as a Latin professor in 1889.  During his 38 years in Ann Arbor, he led two archaeological expeditions to Egypt, the near East, and Asia Minor.  Many of the artifacts in the museum were unearthed during these expeditions.  Kelsey lived during a time when there was huge fascination for all things ancient.  Discoveries like Pompeii and King Tut’s tomb contributed to this fascination.  He was able to gain funding for his expeditions and his collection by seeking help from financiers like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie.  Kelsey worked tirelessly to create a collection that would help educate archaeology students, right up until his death in 1927.

Francis Kelsey

Francis Kelsey

I hope you can go to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  For me, it was just the right size museum.  It’s open year-round and every day of the week except Mondays.  And it’s always free, although donations are appreciated.  For more information, the website is


Etruscan Jewelry

IMG_0701In early April I had the good fortune to go to Italy with my husband, marking our 30th wedding anniversary.  One of my favorite days in Rome was the day I went to Villa Guilia, a museum dedicated to the Etruscans.  The Etruscan civilization was dominant in central Italy from about 800BC – 500BC. As artists, metal miners, architects, farmers, and seafaring traders, the Etruscans were able to generate a lot of wealth.  Their wealthiest had a demand for beautiful jewelry to accompany them to the afterworld.  So the Syro-Phoenicians came to Etruria and taught the art of granulation and filigree.  Granulation is the soldering of tiny beads of metal to a metal base.  Filigree is finely twisted threads of metal, soldered together onto the surface of an object to make an intricate “lacy” design.  The Etruscans generally used 18 karat gold, an alloy of gold and copper, to make their jewelry.

When the Roman Republic was established, it was the beginning of the end of Etruscan power.  By 200 BC, the city-states of Etruria were assimilated into the Roman Empire.  But it was far from the end of Etruscan influence.  They were the ones who introduced the growing of grapes and olives in the region.  Their words appear in the roots of many Latin words.  Renaissance artists like Michaelangelo admired their sculpture and painting.  And the Castellani family from Italy was influenced by their jewelry.

Fortunato Pio Castellani was an Italian jeweler and art dealer during the 1800s, when Etruscan jewelry was being found in archeological excavations.  Because of high society’s interest in this ancient art and because of a strong sense of nationalism, he began to search for ways to duplicate the delicate techniques of the Etruscans.  The “lost” art of granulation was still practiced in the small municipality of Sant’Angelo in Vado, on the eastern edge of what was formerly Etruscan territory.  He learned from its artisans and brought Etruscan jewelry back into the mainstream.  He also collected original Etruscan pieces, displaying them at his shop in Rome.  This shop passed from generation to generation until Castellani’s grandson died in 1930.  Then the amazing collection was donated to the Italian state, and that’s what I saw at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.

If you are as interested as I am in historical jewelry, you may want to pursue the details of the Etruscans.  I found  to be a helpful site.  And, of course, if you get the chance to visit Rome, I highly suggest you take a couple of hours at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.




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