Every once in a while there is an exhibit that makes me proud to work in a museum. One question that I get asked repeatedly is “what made you want to get into the museum field?” Every time I answer with the exhibit Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption. In 2005 I was in the ending stages of what would be considered a mid-life crisis (Yes, at only 23 years old then). My life was taking a dramatic turn, and I was fortunate enough to see the Pompeii exhibit in its final days of exhibition. I instantly fell in love with the exhibit and wanted to point my career toward museum exhibits. I remember thinking, “how do I work with museum exhibits?” That was in March, and by November I had traded my spatula, cut-knives, and pizza pans in restaurant management, to management of a different kind at the Indiana State Museum therefore changing the course of my career forever.

Cleopatra banners adorn the front entry to The Franklin Institute

Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, now showing at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the type of exhibit that makes me proud and excited to work in the museum industry.

Upon entry into the exhibition each individual is given an audio guide. Now, many of you that have read my posts in the past know that I am not an audio guide person. The reason is that so few people truly use them. That means that the majority of people experiencing an exhibition do so without, and have only the labels and artifacts to tell the story. That is how I prefer to go through exhibits because I provide the most average to above-average and fair assessment by how the average visitor sees the exhibit, but since they were giving them away with admission…

The first experience is a short introductory film that introduces Cleopatra, describes what the exhibit is about, what types of things you will see, and why it is important in the larger context of history and archaeology. You quickly learn that similar to the Center of Science and Industry’s (COSi) Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science, an archaeological story is being told through the lens of ancient Egypt, and now in particular, the lens of ancient Egypt and Cleopatra.

Cleopatra Title Wall

After the film is over guests enter the exhibition by crossing over a glass bridge over sand with lots of small undoubtedly reproduction artifacts that lead you to the first few galleries of the exhibit. The stories of some of Cleopatra’s stomping grounds of Canopus, Heracleion, and Alexandria are told with the help of Frank Goddio who leads the underwater excavation of the artifacts that you are surrounded with. The entire room is doused in hues of blue and green to give you the feeling of being underwater and doing your own archaeology by “finding” these treasures as Goddio did.

The next couple galleries The Beauty and Power of Cleopatra, and Search for the Tomb of Cleopatra and Marc Antony focus more on Cleopatra with great artifacts including a document possibly written by Cleopatra herself. This gallery takes us to Taposiris Magna where Dr. Zahi Hawass is on the current search for Cleopatra’s tomb. The final gallery, The Legend, provides a look into Cleopatra as an icon in stories, art, and the silver screen.  From paintings of her as a beautiful seductress to Elizabeth Taylor’s 1963 performance as the last Ptolemaic queen, The Legend show us that though long gone, and not yet found, Cleopatra lives on.

My Professional Opinion:

This exhibit is amazing. While Pompeii was the exhibit that got me fired up to work in museums, I hope that someone going through Cleopatra feels the same uncontrollable urge to do so.

My friends at Arts & Exhibitions continue to impress me with how they can bring artifacts and square footage to life with their careful detail to attention, and impeccable usage of lighting and sound effects to provide an amazing immersive experience for each and every guest.

As I mentioned earlier while Cleopatra is similar to COSI’s Lost Egypt, where it is dissimilar is the fact that Cleopatra is much more artifact heavy and has little in the way of activities and interactives, but the shear number of artifacts makes it more than a worthwhile exhibit to see.

Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt will be at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Franklin Institute until January 2, 2011. For more information:

Franklin’s Cleopatra Website: http://www.fi.edu/cleopatra/

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