The El Kurru Heritage Project

By Suzanne Davis, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

For the past four years, I’ve spent part of the winter in the small Sudanese village of El Kurru, and every year I fall a little bit more in love with it.  I’ve written previously about conservation and documentation work at the site, which was a royal cemetery for the Napatan kings. But for the past two years, I’ve also been involved with a project designed to forge stronger links between the local community and the ancient site, and that project – The El Kurru Heritage Project – is what I’ll report on here.

Our broader heritage work has evolved slowly and organically, beginning from plans to present the site to tourists (of which there are a surprisingly large number). Archaeological sites in Sudan have a wilderness feeling; there are no demarcated pathways or informational panels, and site museums are few to none. Here is how your visit would work: You’d show up and walk around the desert, vaguely aiming to visit the visible standing architecture. If you’re lucky, you’d have brought your own guide, who might or might not give you accurate information about what you see. To remedy this situation at El Kurru, we wanted to create pathways with didactic panels to direct and inform visitors about the most important parts of the site, not all of which are visible above ground.

El Kurru is an interesting site, with a big pyramid, two beautifully-painted subterranean tombs, and a large rock-cut temple. But to be honest, it’s not even close to being the best looking or most interesting archaeological site in Sudan.  Those of us who work at El Kurru like it so much not because of the ancient site, but because of our relationships and experiences in the adjacent modern town, where we live with a Sudanese family and work alongside a variety of Sudanese colleagues. Tourists to the site, however, enter from a desert road and never have a reason to visit the town. As we planned the site itinerary for tourists, my colleague Geoff Emberling (the El Kurru project director) and I kept saying to ourselves – wouldn’t it be great if visitors could keep walking and go into town, down through the date palm groves, and see the Nile? What if they could drink some Sudanese coffee, or cold hibiscus tea? That would be great, wouldn’t it?

As our ideas for the walking tour expanded to include modern Sudanese culture, we began to wonder if village residents would actually appreciate an influx of tourists. In 2016, we worked with several other University of Michigan colleagues to assemble a variety of local focus-groups in El Kurru to talk about this. Not only did village residents think it was good idea – an exciting idea, even – but our neighbors had definite opinions about what visitors should learn about their village, and what experiences make El Kurru special. Local music and arts were at the top of the list, as was food. The Nile and agriculture were also deemed very important. El Kurru is a date-farming village, and the palm groves along the river are beautiful. We are still working with our local colleagues to identify, document, and brainstorm about the presentation of El Kurru’s special cultural features. But in the meantime, here are photos of a few you might enjoy.

WeaverWeaver: Mohammed Ahmed Al-Makee, who is in his nineties, is one of El Kurru’s last traditional weavers. His wife dyes and spins cotton into yarn, and from this he weaves scarves, shawls, and bed coverings on a pit-loom in the courtyard of his house. I own two of his beautiful, warm scarves. He allowed my colleague Jack Cheng and I to talk with him about his work and to record the sights and sounds of his loom, which he inherited from his grandfather. And yes, in case you are wondering, he has trained the next generation to carry on this work.


MusiciansMusic: Once or twice a during the field season, we are treated to a riverside concert of traditional music. There is singing and dancing, and the primary instrument is the tambour, a stringed guitar-like instrument. These instruments are made in the village and are often decorated by the town’s henna artist. In this group, the musician I know best is Abdel Bakee, the drummer.


BakerBaker: Bread is the backbone of every meal in El Kurru. There are several popular kinds of bread in Sudan, but the one shown here is a very gently yeasted, pita-type bread made from wheat flour. This bread is used as the primary utensil for eating, which is usually done with your hands in Sudan. It is baked fresh every day in multiple village bakeries and is delicious right out of the oven.  The baker pictured here is Ahmed Ibrahim. Photo courtesy of Jack Cheng.


Palm grovesPalm groves: El Kurru is an agricultural village focused on date farming. The date palms grow in beautiful gardens along the Nile. Families own a plot of land and work together to irrigate it, care for the trees, and harvest the dates, of which there are many kinds. The town itself is just on the edge of this irrigated strip of land. From the house where we live, we can walk across the street and through this section of trees to get to the Nile. It is about a five minute walk to the river.

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Internship Posting – The Henry Ford, Dearborn MI

Graduate Conservation Internship. Battery Collections at The Henry Ford, Dearborn MI.

The Henry Ford’s Simmons Internship Program is for current graduate students pursuing careers in museums, historical agencies, conservation labs, or related fields. This internship provides participants with a great opportunity to gain in-depth work experience in a major American history museum.

Project description: The Henry Ford has large collections holdings in early electrical and industrial devices, including experimental objects from the labs of both Edison and Westinghouse (Tesla). Currently we hold hundreds of old batteries of all types in a number of storage areas. These batteries pose a potential hazard while at the same time having great historical interest.

The Henry Ford is seeking a Conservation Intern to research safe storage recommendations for batteries of all kinds and to experiment with treatment protocols that would stabilize actively deteriorating batteries.

We are seeking a very motivated candidate with extensive coursework in chemistry and/or physics, with excellent research and writing skills who can work in dirty and dusty storage environments.

The successful candidate will work under the direction of the Senior Conservator to:

Develop a working knowledge of the history of batteries through major publications, online resources and study of the collection.

Assist with an inventory of existing batteries in storage at The Henry Ford.

Compile a chart of all battery types and recommend appropriate mitigation treatments for long-term storage, including appropriate housing and environmental controls.

Stipend and Terms of Internship: Simmons interns are awarded stipends for a minimum 12-week full time internship. Starting and ending dates for individual internships are negotiable.

Applications should include: A résumé and a letter of application, stating how your graduate studies, work and/or volunteer experience and personal interests qualify you for the specific project.

Two letters of recommendation regarding your qualifications for the internship, submitted directly by the authors.

The deadline for application is Friday, March 10 (postmarked or emailed by 11:59 PM EST).

Please submit inquiries, letter of application, résumé and letters of recommendation to:

Saige Jedele, Simmons Internship Coordinator

The Henry Ford

20900 Oakwood Blvd

Dearborn, MI 48124-5029

Questions about the conservation internship can be directed to:

Clara Deck, Senior Conservator, The Henry Ford


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Job Posting – Indianapolis Museum of Art

 Associate Conservator of Objects

A competitive salary is offered for all positions and a generous benefits package for full-time positions. To apply, please send your resume, a letter of interest, and the names/contact information for three professional references to: ATTN: Human Resources – 4000 Michigan Road; Indianapolis, IN 46208, e-mail to, or fax to 317-920-2655. No phone calls, please. We are an Equal Opportunity Employer.




(Please specify “ASSOCIATE CONSERVATOR OBJECTS” in subject line if you email your resume)

Reports To: Chief Conservator

Basic Work Week: 37.5 hours per week, M-F.



The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) seeks a highly motivated objects conservator for the position of Associate Conservator of Objects. This full-time staff position will be responsible for active objects conservation efforts for its significant collections of African, American, Asian, European, contemporary art and design arts that span 5,000 years of history, including outdoor sculpture on the museum campus and The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, as well as furnishings within Oldfields–Lilly House and Gardens, a historic Country-Place-Era estate and National Historic Landmark on the IMA grounds; and the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana, one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist residences. The IMA features well-equipped conservation labs for paintings, paper, objects, textiles conservation, and a state-of-the-art conservation science laboratory



The Associate Conservator of Objects’ responsibilities include preventive care, examination, documentation, treatment, exhibition and loan preparation, research, advocacy and outreach. All work must adhere to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Associate Conservator of Object will share a Conservation Technician with Textile Conservation. The position reports to the Chief Conservator directly.

Other duties may be assigned.

To perform the job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential function satisfactorily. The requirements listed are representative of the knowledge, skill, and or ability required. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.



Applicants must have a Master’s degree from a recognized graduate conservation training program with a minimum of three years of museum experience in objects conservation following graduation. Excellent project management, written, verbal and interpersonal skills are required. Demonstrable skill and ability to prioritize and work independently as well as in collaboration with other museum staff and outside contractors to meet deadlines on multiple projects is essential. A broad knowledge of traditional materials, cultures/art history, and documentation and research techniques is expected.   Familiarity and conservation experience with modern materials, electronic, video, and time-based artworks is a plus, as is experience with supervision or mentoring of conservation/contract staff, graduate interns and pre-program interns. Ability to wear a respirator is required.



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Diversity of talks makes for a rewarding meeting

In today’s post, MRCG Emerging Professionals Scholarship winner Alexa Beller recounts her experience at the Cooperstown meeting, where she presented her treatment and research on a painting by Grandma Moses. Alexa is a graduate student in paintings conservation at Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, and the Graduate Conservation Intern at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Gianfranco Pocobene Studio.

I am so grateful to have been able to participate in the Annual MRCG Meeting this year in beautiful Cooperstown, NY! In addition to a fun meeting and beautiful fall weather, it was great to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame post-Cubs victory!

I really enjoyed that I was able to listen to all of the wonderful talks and was not limited to going to talks in a specific discipline. This was great because it instigated cross-disciplinary discussions between conservators with different specialties. The laid-back and friendly atmosphere further encouraged these conversations. All of the attendees, in short, were very engaged with the talks and activities, which made for a lively meeting.

Additionally, the talks presented a wide variety in terms of practical treatment tips like the use of Butvar-98 as a consolidant, to ethical considerations with thorough documentation, and characterization of aniline dyes with ToF-SIMS. As a current graduate student quickly approaching graduation, I really appreciated hearing about the challenges conservators are facing and solutions that are being devised. It can become easy in graduate school to forget that out in the field you may not always have colleagues constantly present to bounce ideas off of, instant access to analytical equipment and other resources, or even just time. I sincerely value hearing about situations where conditions or results are not ideal and how we as conservators can work through them. Moreover, sharing stories or experiences like these is sometimes difficult, as conservators we thrive on ideals and perfection, but it’s so important to share so we can learn from each other. I think the speakers’ willingness and openness to candidly share their trials, triumphs, and journeys made this conference particularly poignant and meaningful to me.

I was so honored to have the chance to share my research and treatment of a painting by Grandma Moses and was grateful for the insights and feedback I received afterward. It’s so helpful to practice presenting research and even more beneficial to do so in a supportive and engaged atmosphere.

Our visit to Golden Paints made this experience all the more special. Mark Golden and his team were lovely hosts and it was fascinating to see the research and care that goes into the fabrication of many of the materials that I admit to have somewhat taken for granted.

I can’t thank MRCG enough for support through the Emerging Professionals Scholarship! This was an amazing experience as I finish up my graduate studies to see how conservators can organize regionally to exchange ideas, discuss activities and build relationships. Although I have been moving quite a bit for school and internships I will always consider the Midwest my home. I am proud and grateful to be a part of such a wonderful community. Thank you again!

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A Colorful Experience

Today’s post comes from Stacey Kelly, one of our Emerging Professional Scholarship winners and the Paper Conservation Fellow at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. She shares her experience at the tour of Golden Artist Colors from the Annual Symposium. Stay tuned for more reflections from our scholarship winners!:

There were many things to look forward to at the 2016 MRCG Symposium in Cooperstown, and no I am not talking about the legendary baseball hall of fame, but of the wonderful opportunity we had of touring the Golden Artist Color’s factory.

At dinner before the tour, I remember a conservator at my table mentioning that she envisioned visiting Golden Artist Colors to be like a trip to Willy Wonka’s factory. I commented that that was a high bar to set. However, apart from not having a giant chocolate waterfall, the Golden tour (yes I am calling it that from now on) truly exceeded expectations.

Mark Golden, CEO of Golden Artist Colors, together with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Emma, gave golden tours of the establishment, going through the various production stages of the different paints they manufacture, including their acrylic paints, the Williamsburg handmade oil paints, and the new QoR watercolor line. The tour included the various quality control tests done on their products using very fancy machinery including spectrophotometers, impact testers, texture analyzers, scrub testers, weather-o-meters, BYK spectra and GTI light booths, Xenon arc chambers, I could keep going…

Most impressive to me was the amount of resources dedicated to research and development.  In the last 30 years, Golden has initiated more than 3000 projects that have strived to improve their products, and meet the needs of artists. The laboratory team at Golden includes 3 lab formulators, 2 material handlers, 5 paint makers, 3 application technicians, 7 materials and application specialists, and 4 quality assurance technicians.

The Golden tour included mini presentations by members of their team, detailing some of the current/recently completed projects initiated by the R&D department. These covered exterior mural paint testing, the dark yellowing of oil paint, tint strength, adhesion and brightness of the QoR watercolor line, and lightfast testing. A brief introduction of the online resource: The Materials Information and Technical Resources for Artists (MITRA) was also touched upon – a forum and portal that Golden helped initiate. This portal aims to bring together material experts, art conservators, and scientists to provide independent information on art materials. MITRA can be accessed here.

What really stood out to me was the passion and dedication the staff at Golden have towards making the best possible product, and catering to the individual needs of their consumers. It was impossible to ignore the glint in Mark Golden’s eyes as he talked about how much Golden Artist Color’s has grown since its inception in 1980 (in a cow barn), and how creating customized paints for their clients’ remain a huge priority for their business. Finally, their dedication to the community and environment is admirable, with their focus on bringing art to the people through their foundation and artist residency program; as well as their wastewater treatment facility which allows them to reuse about 60% of the water in their facility. They also have a Seconds program where materials that do not meet their quality control standards are given to artists at very low or no cost at all.

Needless to say I left Golden feeling completely awed at everything they have accomplished, and everything they are working towards. I also really appreciated the little gift they gave all of us which were a bunch of product samples all placed in what I now call my swag bag (a gorgeous tote bag with real paint swatches!).

My only regret was not knowing that the job of paint swatch maker existed prior to this tour (which will now be my fallback career), and not being able to purchase anything from the store!  I would also like to express my thanks to Mark Golden and his team for hosting us at Golden. Let’s face it, a group of conservators around paint? I’m surprised we all made it back to the hotel.

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