The floorboards creak, the olive walls are worn and there’s a radiator in every room. The building has been around 116 years, and there are plenty signs of aging in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology on State Street. Tucked away between the LSA Building and the Helen Newberry House, the modest museum boasts a massive collection of Egyptian and classical Roman artifacts.

Dave Mekelburg
The Kelsey Museum of Archeology is set for a facelift to be finished by fall 2009. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

“In our stock room on the third floor, we probably have around 100,000 pieces,” said Scott Meier, the Kelsey Museum’s exhibition coordinator.

It’s hard to believe that so many artifacts are stashed away upstairs. With a current gallery space of just 1,000 square feet, the Kelsey Museum is in definite need of a bigger display area.

“Right now, about 1 percent of our pieces are on display, if that,” Meier said.

Fortunately, Kelsey is in the process of constructing a 17,000-square-foot addition, which will stretch all the way to Maynard Street. Meier and the rest of the museum’s faculty hope the renovation will earn attention from both archaeological scholars and visitors.

The Kelsey Museum, now an unassuming building, is also somewhat overshadowed by the far more conspicuous University of Michigan Museum of Art building down the street. As it stands, many students don’t even realize the building serves a public function. When the Kelsey Museum was open, signs over the doorway attempted to draw attention to its presence.

Though construction is making rapid progress, the entire project won’t be finished until fall 2009. The plans allow a four-month period to catalogue all of the artifacts and transport them into the new storage space as well as time set aside to curate the new exhibits.

The new addition will push the gallery space to 6,500 square feet over the span of two floors. Planned features include an elevator and a loggia (a roofed gallery or balcony) with 12-foot-high glass panels.

els. The loggia will be visible – and, hopefully, attention-grabbing – to pedestrians. A second entrance will be added on the Maynard side.

The renovation owes thanks to an $8.5 million donation the Kelsey Museum received from Mary and Edwin Meader. Edwin, who died earlier this year, graduated from the University in 1933. They gave a previous donation to help build the Rachel Upjohn Building for the University’s Depression Center and have also supported the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and Hill Auditorium. The new addition will be named the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Hall, in honor of Mary’s grandfather.

These processes set the reopening date back somewhat, but the plans that the Kelsey Museum staff has for the new exhibits should be worth the wait.

Imagine walking straight into the remnants of an Egyptian marketplace. The museum’s upcoming exhibit, which displays artifacts from the ancient Egyptian city of Karanis, will be the focal point on the first floor of the new gallery. Lauren Talalay, the museum’s associate director, plans to include a miniature cave under the stairs that visitors can walk into. The cave will house one artifact of which the Kelsey is particularly proud.

“We have a mummified child’s body that visitors will be able to view inside the cave,” Talalay said. Included also are CAT scan images of the mummy obtained from the University Hospital.

If you climb the stairs to the second floor, you’ll be surrounded by a series of life-size watercolor paintings, recreations of wall paintings from a section of Pompeii known as the “Villa of the Mysteries.” The watercolors come from Maria Barroso in the 1920s, a famous Italian painter. Talalay said they are the only known recreation of the “Villa of the Mysteries” on display in North America and, likely, the world.

There are also plans to showcase photos of the actual wall paintings taken by the Kelsey Museum’s faculty members on a flat-screen computer outside the room so visitors can compare the two images.

“We hope this new addition will increase our popularity around campus,” Meier said.

Hopefully he’s right. The Kelsey Museum’s collection is a perfect foil to its bigger brother across the street, and an important part of the University’s experience.

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