Featured Exhibition: A Day in Pompeii


If the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit were not enough, the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park is hosting another exiting exhibition, A Day in Pompeii, from February 15 – June 15, 2008.  Nuntius asked the exhibition’s curator, Professor Joe Smith (SDSU), some questions about the upcoming show.

Nuntius: What went into bringing this exhibition here to San Diego?  How did you get involved in the exhibition?
Smith: The show is a follow-up to the wild success of Dead Sea Scrolls. As Risa Levitt-Kohn glibly explained to me: if it wasn’t for DSS, there wouldn’t be a Pompeii. What’s true about that is the Museum seemed to have been more open to bringing in a huge “follow-up” show, given that the whole middle section of the SDMNH would be reconfigured by the shear size of the DSS exhibit. The Pompeii exhibit fits into the  same sized space–10,000 sq ft–with just as many objects–over 250 catalogued items. And so it was a fantastic and fortunate coincidence that the Pompeii show was available to bring in.
I got involved myself by showing up at the Museum one afternoon early last summer to help Risa with some Greek and Latin in some scripture and on coins. What I thought was going to be 15 minutes of help turned into a multitasking afternoon in which I had to bother several staff people to get me just the right tools. I must have made a  favorable impression because I was contacted, out of the blue, late in summer by Jim Stone, Vice President of Programs, at the Museum, who asked me to step in as “Guest Curator.”  That means I have to play the part of know-it-all without really getting in anyone’s way who actually knows how to put an exhibition together.

Nuntius: What are some of the pieces in the exhibition that you think are the most exciting?
Smith: Well, there’s the dead people. Everybody is going to want to see the casts of the victims, and we’ll have several of the more famous ones visiting us. But we’ll also have a dead pig. I’m excited about that.  Mostly I’m excited about the sheer scope of the collection: 250 pieces of all size and material, from mundane pieces of daily life (like carbonized beans and bread) to gold coins and precious jewelry.  The show will also have walk-through displays which will help recreate Pompeii as a bustling, work-a-day world.  And there are frescos–the paintings of Pompeii have long been my favorite aspect of the collection.
Nuntius: What makes this exhibit different than other Pompeii exhibits, such as the In Stabiano exhibit that visited the SDMA recently?
Smith: As I mentioned above, this is a show that attempts to get across the daily, work-a-day realities of life in Pompeii. So the emphasis of the show is on pieces that evoke life for all manners of people in town: men, women, children, slaves, foreigners, locals. The show is a reflection of the latest research trends in archaeology and history: to try to capture a sense of the complete cross-section of a society and consider the qualities of “daily life” from as wide a view as possible. This is a show about the daily grime and sweat of the ordinary people of Pompeii as much as it is about the rarified lives of the town’s elites
Nuntius: Are there any lectures or educational opportunities at the museum in association with this exhibition?
Smith:  I’ll be speaking myself on many more occasions. And I’ll be hoping to get as many of my students acquainted with the show (in various capacities) as I can.

Professor Smith was kind enough to provide the lecture schedule for the exhibition.  Flyers will be available at the February 1st meeting for more information.

For more information about A Day in Pompeii,  visit the SDNHM website at www.sdnhm.org/pompeii/index.html

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