Artifacts from ancient Egypt never seem to go out of style.
The mysterious pyramids, the sphinx and the lifestyles of queens and pharaohs continue to captivate us, which is no doubt a big reason why these topics remain part of our grade school curriculum.
With the Royal B.C. Museum preparing to open the doors May 18 for its newest feature exhibition, Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs, museum CEO Jack Lohman is excited to give RBCM visitors a glimpse into the lives and objects used by everyday Egyptians, including their religious practices and their reverence for the dead.
“We want to arouse their curiosity,” he says, calling this exhibit “once in a generation. “I think there’s always a fascination with ancient Egypt, partly because they produce such wonderful monumental architecture, when you think of the great temples; but they also left behind an extraordinary relationship with the spirit world.”
The RBCM hosted Eternal Egypt back in 2006. The new exhibition, with 350 pieces and eight large models, includes a headpiece representing “Queen Pharaoh” Hatshepsut, jewelry and artwork, sarcophagi and other artifacts. The items were selected from a exhibition previously shown in Germany with material on loan from collections in Berlin, Aberdeen, Hildesheim and others. It is in North America for the first time.
“We’ve reselected objects, such as the mummified cat, and in a sort of way we’ve repurposed it. It’s a way to make it our own,” Lohman says. “We’ve written the narrative in a way to make it so that it fits with our audiences.”
A sarcophagus dating from the 12th dynasty of ancient Egypt (circa 1991 BC to 1802 BC) and discovered in 1987 is what Lohman calls “the star of the show,” as it features illustrations and text on both the outside and inside of the coffin.
Getting the museum’s temporary exhibition space ready for this amazing collection of Egyptian artifacts is no small feat. The RBCM is fortunate to have its own carpentry and artisan studio, where many of the display and supporting elements required in staging such complex exhibits can be built.
In the case of the Egypt exhibition, RBCM staff set out to create not one, but two entranceways to welcome the tens of thousands of visitors expected to move through the displays during the show’s duration.
While the inside pieces and displays are the jewels of this exhibit, the grand entrance to the second-floor galleries, as well as the pyramid-style gateway to the exhibit itself, are designed to heighten visitors’ excitement and curiosity about what they are about to experience.
“That’s our ability to kind of create a look and a feel and give you a first impression and once you get into the space you’re really focused on the pieces and the space,” says Joel Blaicher, RBCM exhibit fabrication specialist.
The hieroglyphics on the main sandstone-look entranceway roughly translate to “Welcome to the treasure house of Victoria,” or more generally, “welcome to the museum of Victoria,” he says.
The direct entrance to the exhibit has two doors, one for little ones, complete with a peek-a-boo window with a small display, and another for full-sized visitors. They appear as carved-out blocks at the base of a pyramid, again thanks to the magic of RBCM craftspeople.
“The emphasis is really to give you this sense of entering into this very confined space,” Blaicher says. “The temples have some wide open spaces in them, but the pyramids, some of the passageways in them are very, very narrow.”
Steve Lewis, one of the museum’s exhibition designers, conceptualized the entrances using photographs of real temples and creating scale models. He said seeing the ideas brought to life by Blaicher and his team is gratifying.
“It’s always cool to see something you see in a scale model become massive and real and touchable,” he says.
Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs has a long engagement, running through Dec. 31 of this year. Admission is included in ticket prices for the museum. For more information, visit royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/egypt
Return of the King
In conjunction with the May opening of the Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs exhibit at the Royal BC Museum comes the return, in a digitally remastered 4K format, of the beloved Mysteries of Egypt short documentary at the National Geographic IMAX Victoria theatre.
Narrated by beloved Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, the film takes viewers to the Nile River, the Valley of the Kings, the great pyramids of Giza and more. Audiences get a broad view of ancient Egypt and its iconic structures, with a special focus on the life and death of the boy king, Tutankhamun, and the discovery of artifacts in the shadowy burial chambers in which he was entombed.
For a schedule, visit imaxvictoria.com/showtimes or call 250-480-4887.