Ancient Egypt proved to be a hit at the Toledo Museum of Art yesterday as more than 3,000 people took advantage of free admission to make it the largest opening Sunday in the museum's history.
The crowd - more than four times the number of visitors on an average winter Sunday - pushed attendance for the first three days of the “Eternal Egypt” show to 7,500.
“It was a fantastic weekend,” said Darlene Lindner, a museum manager. She called it the largest opening weekend ever for a museum exhibition, drawing thousands more than the next largest opening. This is the first time, however, that she could recall free admission on a Sunday of a major exhibition opening. The last weekend of the museum's largest exhibitions have drawn bigger crowds.
Ford Motor Co. sponsored yesterday's free day, which was the only time for the public to see the works on loan from the British Museum without buying tickets. For the rest of the show, which continues through May 27, admission is $10 for adults and $7.50 for senior citizens and students ages 6 to 17.
To accommodate yesterday's crowd, the museum admitted 250 people to the show every 30 minutes. At times, so many people were clustered around exhibits that it was hard to inspect all 144 works and read their placards. Joan Bernhard and others plan to return for a closer look. “It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view things this old and from another world, really,” said Ms. Bernhard of North Toledo.
The newest piece in the exhibit, a portrait of a woman, is about 1,850 years old.
The oldest piece, a 3-inch-all ivory statuette of a king, is about 5,000 years old. “It's so old, we don't know who the king is,” said Sandra Knudsen, curator of ancient art.
To many of the museum's youngest visitors, however, the smallest and largest pieces in the exhibit seemed most impressive.
Six-year-old Maren Madigan of Waterville found the jewelry in the show appealing. One piece that the museum highlighted portrays the presentation of an incense offering to a god. The goldsmith who made it employed many techniques to give a feeling of depth in the tiny work.
Maren's brother, Daniel, 4, said he liked the red granite lion. Ms. Knudsen predicted it would be a favorite, especially among children.
If it were not so impressive, curators never would have spent the time and money to pack and ship the lion from Britain and set it up at shows in the United States. The Toledo museum brought in a crew of 24 people to place the lion in the gallery. It weighs three tons.
The museum offered workshops for children to make masks and learn about mummies. Christopher Hicks, 6, and his sister, Rebecca, 4, glued feathers and stickers on pictures of mummies.
The youngsters, who traveled from Clyde with their mother, Cheryl, to see the show, were fascinated by the damage to what Rebecca called the “big heads” in the show. Why, Christopher wondered, were so many statues missing part of their nose, but all still had their eyes intact?
Noses on several carvings of people and animals in the exhibit are broken. But considering their age, the works are in fabulous shape, Ms. Knudsen said
The 144 items in the traveling show were selected from 100,000 objects from ancient Egypt that the British Museum owns. It displays about 4,000 pieces at any one time. The only larger collection is in Egypt.
In comparison, the Toledo museum's permanent collection has 400 pieces from ancient Egypt. But a few of its pieces, such as a headless black granite statue, are comparable in value to some works in the traveling British show, Ms. Knudsen said.
Toledo museum officials have planned for the show for about two years. It is the first of four special exhibitions to celebrate the museum's centennial.
The Egypt show will continue on to Memphis after its Toledo run and will remain in the United States until the end of 2002.