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“Egyptomania” Takes Root in Kansas City

“Egyptomania” Takes Root in Kansas City

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“Egyptomania” Takes Root in Kansas City

By Stacy Davidson

The 2,300-year-old  inner and outer coffins of noblewoman Meretites from middle Egypt, on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Photo: S. Davidson

When you think of Kansas City, you probably think of BBQ, sports, or jazz, but the influence of ancient Egypt has reached into the heart of the Midwest. The City of Fountains boasts several locations of interest, both indoors and out, where you can explore Egypt’s legacy.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is not to be missed; its small but delightful Egyptian collection includes the spectacularly vibrant inner and outer coffins of Meretites, the funerary stela of Seankhy and Ankefankhu, three items from the mastaba of Metjetji, a world-famous head of Senwosret III, and the recently conserved and reinstalled tomb relief of Niankhnesut.

Predating the Egyptian Revival movement of the 1920s and 30s, this Oak Street building represents the Second Egyptian Revival style of architecture. Photo: S. Davidson

Downtown Kansas City holds our best example of an Egyptian Revival building; built in 1912, the structure located at 924 Oak, predates the Egyptian Revival resurgence of the early 1920s and 1930s. It was originally the home of the Stine and McClure Undertaking Company and is currently occupied by Homoly Construction.

About 45 minutes north of Kansas City in St. Joseph, MO, lies Mt. Mora Cemetery. Filled with the mortal remains of Union and Confederate supporters history is never far from the surface in this former Union slave state where nearly 50 Civil War battles were fought. When you enter the cemetery grounds, a 15 ft. tall granite obelisk is proudly situated near the gate. Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1926 the dedication on the obelisk reads “Our Confederate Dead 1861-1865”. Amidst the obelisks and monuments one lane in particular links this historical site to ancient Egypt: Mausoleum Row. Most of the Egyptian Revival-style mausolea date from about 1900 to the early 1930s; the most ornate belong to the Townsend and Fairleigh families.

Construction of the Great Temple Mausoleum at Mt. Moriah was completed in 1926 and is based on an architectural style from the Egyptian third dynasty. Photo: S. Davidson

Consider a tour of Mt. Moriah Cemetery if the weather is favorable. The architectural style of the Great Temple Mausoleum in south Kansas City harkens back to ancient temple architecture with its cavetto cornices, columns, and winged sun disk. Stained glass windows with lotus motifs also grace the structure; two overly-muscled sphinxes guard the entrance. A large, undecorated obelisk dedicated to deceased masons and those who assisted in the building of Mt. Moriah sits in another area of the cemetery.  

Since moving here in 2010, I have sought to put the Kansas City Metro Area on the map as a center for Egyptological learning in the Midwest. As the city’s only Egyptologist, it has been a challenge and an honor. I’m grateful to have found Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kansas as a welcoming partner in this endeavor. As a leader in transforming lives and strengthening communities, JCCC offers a wide selection of Continuing Education courses for adults in Egyptology, the Ancient Near East, and Latin as well as summer camps for middle and high school students in Egyptology and ancient languages. Additionally, JCCC hosts an annual Night at the Nelson event each spring during which instructors from all disciplines choose an object to illuminate; the Egyptian galleries are always packed.The adage that we are a product of our environment could not be more accurate in describing the influences that led me to become an Egyptologist. I grew up in a region of Illinois nicknamed “Little Egypt”, complete with surrounding towns named Karnak, Thebes and Lake of Egypt. While there is there no consensus as to the reason for the moniker the most likely explanation suggests that the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers in southern Illinois was conducive to farming, trade and travel and that the name “Little Egypt” was used in the hopes of attracting settlers. My own grandfather first came to southern Illinois as a Veterans Administration (VA) employee. The VA hospital he worked for was the only one built in an Egyptian Revival style—including polychrome columns with lotus capitals, cavetto cornices, winged sun disks, and a pyramidal roof. Prior to renovation, some interior spaces were even decorated in Egyptian motifs. Interestingly, the mascot of Southern Illinois University is the Saluki and its student newspaper is called The Daily Egyptian.

The dedication, drive, and diverse knowledge base of the JCCC student body has been a tremendous reward. One student, James Terry, has designed and printed a 3D Egyptian scribal palette, as well as developed an interactive, easy-to-navigate app for learning Middle Egyptian hieroglyphic signs. Another student, Rozanne Klinzing, is a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Her tireless dedication to research led her to assist in the first full translation of the Niankhnesut panel, and her aptitude with Egyptian hieroglyphs profoundly enhances her museum tours. 

Rozanne Klinzing, a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, assisted the Nelson-Atkins with the first full translation of the Niankhnesut panel. Photo: S. Davidson

In June 2016, my colleague Melanie Hull and I co-led an international trip to London, Oxford, and Berlin with an emphasis on Egyptian and Near Eastern collections, archives, and societies. Our 17 students from JCCC and around the U.S. were treated to special handling sessions and presentations at the British Museum, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, the Egypt Exploration Society, the Griffith Institute, and the Ashmolean Museum. With the support of Johnson County Community College, classroom learning and experiential learning came together to provide the participants with an experience they will treasure for years.

        

Davidson and Melanie Hull bring Egyptian art and history alive for their community college students during a study visit to London, Oxford and Berlin in summer 2016.  Photo: J. Davidson   

On behalf of the Kansas City community, we hope your experience at ARCE’s 68th Annual Meeting is a pleasant one, and my students and I look forward to personally welcoming you this April.

Davidson seeks to make the history and culture of ancient Egypt accessible to students of all ages. Photo: J. Davidson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bio: Stacy Davidson is Kansas City’s only Egyptologist; she holds a graduate degree in Near Eastern Studies (Egyptology concentration) from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in History from Illinois State University. She is a voracious language learner, travel enthusiast, bibliophile, and musician. She teaches a variety of Egyptology and ancient studies courses at Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS. Through her classes, school and community group presentations, and participation in professional organizations, she seeks to preserve and transmit the language, literature and culture of the ancient Egyptians by making this information accessible to interested students of all ages – particularly nontraditional adult learners. Blog address: http://blogs.jccc.edu/sdavid22/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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