From San Antonio to St. Antony's Find us
Museum at St. Antony's Coptic Monastery. Photo: Michael Jones
As the ARCE archivist and Assistant Director for U.S. Operations the core of my work is administrative. Yet, one of the benefits of working at ARCE has been the opportunity to support ARCE projects with the skills I gained as a registrar and head of collections at the San Antonio Museum of Art in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The first opportunity to use my museum background came with the ARCE-USAID funded Egyptian Museum Registrar Training Project. Over a three-year period, I assisted with training the group of registrars in the frenetic atmosphere of the Museum surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Cairo. In offering my knowledge of museum registrar practices, I also gained invaluable knowledge of working in another culture and learning to be flexible within various parameters.
The second opportunity arose in the guise of The Coptic Orthodox Monastery of St. Antony the Great. St. Antony’s has continually occupied this site since the 4th century. Its long, rich history has attracted the attention of prominent scholars and historians over the centuries and the monastery itself has seen numerous construction and restoration projects through the ages. As a result, the monastery possesses archaeological material to complement its collection of liturgical objects and objects used in the daily lives of the monks.
Sampling of the museum's chalices, liturgical spons, and chandeliers. Photo: Jane Smythe
Bags packed for a week as the only female guest in this remote Coptic monastery, off I went in November 2011 with ARCE’s Information Technolog Project Manager, Zakaria Yacoub. After a three hour drive that took us away from the urban chaos of Cairo along a high speed road to the Red Sea where we wove our way along the coast with the mountains to the west and sparkling blue sea to the east, we finally made our way into Egypt’s interior, sparse Eastern desert and St. Antony’s. Father Maximous el-Antony, an energetic monk with an engaging personality, expressive eyes, and a reputation as an excellent chef, greeted us. Moments later we sat down to a lovely lunch and without further ado, the work began.
Father Maximous studied museology in the United States
Museum gallery space. Photo: Jane Smythe
My first task was to review the catalog inventory sheets created several years earlier by a group of students volunteering at the monastery museum in order to familiarize myself with the types of objects in the collection that would be entered into the museum database. Meanwhile Zakaria, who had previously created a database with basic entry fields for the objects using Filemaker, tweaked the program and with recommendations from Father Maximous, further improved data fields and linked the data. Zakaria and I sat side by side in the workshop for eight hours a day working methodically. By week’s end almost 800 records had been entered into the system. Leaving the work-filled days and the clear star-studded night skies behind, I returned to Cairo and San Antonio.
In June 2012, I returned to Cairo where I spent several
L-R: Fr. Maximous, Rachel Mauldin, and Gerry Scott view the vestments stored in the museum workshop. Photo: Jane Smythe
Back in San Antonio, where summer is no less punishing than in Egypt, I continue to update the database remotely with additional information obtained during my visit in June. The database contains all basic object information – title, date, medium, dimensions, condition, and a description along with a reference photo. This information will be used in determining which objects will be selected for installation and to develop object labels, as well as a reference for text panels used to tell the story of the Monastery. Future trips to St. Antony’s will entail completing the database entry, designing the installation, and then installing the objects, labels, and text panels. Museum installations are a group effort, and I appreciate the opportunity to play a role once again in the museum setting; I’m looking forward to the creativity, dilemmas, and physical demands of the exhibit and installation. The Museum at St. Antony’s Monastery is scheduled to be complete by December 2013.
Rachel Mauldin is the Assistant Director for US Operations, ARCE, San Antonio, TX.
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF MUSEUMS
The International Council of Museums, in an effort to fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods, compiles the Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk. This list aims to help art and heritage professionals and law enforcement officials identify Egyptian objects that are protected by national and international legislations. View the Red List for Egypt.