The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury.

Ancient Egypt case at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.

Ancient Egypt case at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury displays 143 ancient Egyptian artefacts as part of a permanent gallery on Explorers and Collectors. The display includes pottery, beads, amulets, a mummified cat, figurines, furniture fittings, vessels, shabtis, textile fragments, and a canopic jar, ranging in date from Pre-Dynastic to Coptic Egypt. Arranged by object-type, with summary labels for each type-group at the foot of the case, the artefacts are displayed on clear Perspex mounts in a minimalistic, fine-art style. The collection is displayed over three shelves in a dual-aspect case, visible from two different galleries and therefore embedded within two different narratives: Explorers and Collectors and The Study, a cabinet of curiosities inspired display examining the Museum’s founding in 1825.

The Beaney places ancient Egypt within the historic context of Explorers and Collectors alongside an eclectic mix of collections – a self-proclaimed “treasure trove” reminiscent of the Museum’s cabinet of curiosities origin. Displayed alongside 19th and early 20th century collections of British and classical archaeology, ethnography, and natural history, as well as military and missionary souvenirs, the varied collections are linked through the stories of their acquisition and their journey to Canterbury. In light of this, the gallery’s interpretation panels critically reflect upon concepts of imperialism and colonialism within the history of collecting. While this approach is quite subtle and could have been more prominent, their inclusion of interpretation panels such as ‘Heroes and Villains’ is certainly needed to present a more informed and balanced discussion.

The Beaney reflects the story of many local and regional museum collections of ancient Egypt that have grown somewhat organically through a mix of excavated material, private collections and donations, often without detailed archaeological provenance. While Petrie’s excavated finds from Abydos are explored in some detail, object labels within the ancient Egypt case tend to favour the acquisition histories of a select group of objects over more traditional archaeological discussions of site or chronology.

This approach holds more relevance to the Beaney’s art museum concept and stands out as a unique and interesting new perspective in terms of permanent gallery interpretation. By focussing on this aspect of an object’s biography and the human stories behind their acquisition the Beaney creates a stronger connection between the ancient Egyptian collection and the local community, making ancient Egypt more relevant, on a personal level, to the museum’s intended audience. For those wishing to learn more about the objects on display a full list of objects and any known archaeological provenance is provided in an accompanying folder next to the case.

Explorer Points in the gallery - Egyptian and Greek handling collection.

Explorer Points in the gallery – Egyptian and Greek handling collection.

The gallery offers a range of activities at themed ‘Explorer Points’ which allow visitors to interact and engage with the collection through object handling collections, trails, games, arts and crafts. These activities are suitable for all ages, with a particular focus on families.

The Beaney re-opened to the public in September 2012 following a £14 million redevelopment project, part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Designed as an Art Museum and Library which allows the visitor to “…explore, learn, participate and create…”, the new state-of-the-art gallery spaces reflect a local museum that is keen to explore new concepts and engage with current debate in Museology. This gallery is one of five permanent thematic galleries, including Colour and Camouflage, Materials and Masters and People and Places. There are also temporary exhibition spaces, a library and a Learning Lab.

The 'Explorers and Collectors' gallery.

The ‘Explorers and Collectors’ gallery.

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