Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar
From 1933 until the outbreak of World War II, Princeton University conducted excavations at the ancient sites of Antioch, Daphne, and Seleucia in Syria (now Turkey). The project was supported by subscriptions from the BMA, the Worcester Art Museum, the Musées Nationaux de France and later, Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard University, with oversight by the Syrian Antiquities Service.
Baltimore’s participation was enlisted and supported by BMA trustee Robert Garrett who was also a Princeton trustee and familiar with the Middle East from travels as a young man. Sadly, the project ended in 1939 due to the lingering effects of the Great Depression, the approach of war in Europe and the secession of Hatay province (location of the sites) to Turkey. As a result of the BMA’s support, twenty-eight major sections of handsome mosaic flooring, as well as a selection of fragments of sculpture, are on display in the Schaefer Court and Cone stairwell of the Museum today.
In addition to these impressive remnants of a long-ago culture there are some amazingly mundane artifacts in storage: buttons, beads, pins – and a four-foot section of lead drain pipe. It is dirt-encrusted, heavy and not the least bit attractive. The first time I encountered it I thought it was funny – a true “ugly duckling” in the collections! And yet, the very ordinary nature of the pipe gives us an immediate connection to the inhabitants of Antioch. We may not have magnificent mosaic floors in our houses, but we all understand the importance of good plumbing!
To my knowledge, the lead drain pipe has only been shown once, in “Diamonds in the Rough”, an exhibition organized by the registrars for the Museum’s 75th anniversary in 1989
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.