"Glass of the Ancient Mediterranean" and "Brightly Beaded: North American Indian Glass Beadwork," two new art exhibits, will be open to the public Jan. 18 at McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture and will run until June.
Including pieces from ancient history and the more recent past, these collections represent the development of glass production and artistic design from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century.
"Glass of the Ancient Mediterranean," which features 30 ancient glass pieces from Egypt and the Roman and Byzantine Empires, is on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery, home to one of the most extensive collections of ancient glass in the nation.
Sara E. Cole, a Ph.D. candidate in Ancient History and graduate curatorial intern at Yale, has been working to curate a collection of 150 pieces for a YUAG exhibit that will open within the next two years.
Cole will speak about the collection March 9 at McClung Museum.
"Many of the glass production techniques developed in antiquity are still in use by present-day glassmakers, making these ancient objects relevant to modern viewers," Cole said. "Glassmaking in antiquity was both a craft and an art form requiring tremendous skill and an artistic eye, and that remains true today."
Moccasins, vests, toy dolls and other brightly beaded objects from Native American culture will also be on display. "Brightly Beaded: North American Indian Glass Beadwork" will feature pieces containing beads recovered archaeologically from sites in Tennessee.
These beads were acquired by Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries through trading from glass-blowing factories in Italy, France and Czechoslovakia.
"Like any other city, Knoxville had some glass production during the 1800s, and indeed many of the glass production processes used then – and even today – were developed in the ancient world," said Catherine Shteynberg, assistant curator and web and new media coordinator for McClung Museum. "Both ancient Native Americans and the contemporary Cherokee Indians of our area created and create beadwork."
More importantly, these pieces tell the history about the lives of people who lived in the area. Shteynberg said one of her favorite pieces, a Crow cradleboard for infants, tells an interesting tale.
"The woman who made it spent months on the intricate beadwork – the colors are so beautiful together, and the geometric designs on it have a wonderful balance and symmetry," Shteynberg said. "But most of all, it's poignant to think about this woman anticipating the coming of her baby and stitch by stitch thinking about her new child, putting so much care into this object."
Bringing these two exhibits to McClung Museum requires the help of virtually every person on staff at the museum, Shteynberg said.
"Our director and curators come up with the ideas and spend months researching and writing," Shteynberg said. "Funding has to be secured to finance the mounting of the exhibit; donors have to agree to lend these beautiful pieces of work; our wonderful designers have to bring the exhibit space to life; we have to promote the exhibit and our registrar staff have to make sure that the objects get here safely."
However, Shteynberg admits the work is worth it to bring to UT these unique collections.
"All objects tell stories – that's the fascinating thing about working in a museum and working on exhibits," Shteynberg said. "It's simply about uncovering those stories."