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The First Days of Pompeii October 13, 2007

Posted by cbuchanan in Uncategorized.
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I’m working on art for the holidays–new prints, ornaments, cards, and much more, which will be available at Naked Art beginning next month–but I took a break today to see Pompeii: Tales from an Eruption, the can’t-miss exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I went to Pompeii and the archaeological museum in Naples when I was in Italy this summer–and I was just as impressed by the artifacts in the B’ham exhibition as I was overseas. The show features some statuary (I’m surprised there wasn’t more), one mosaic (I’m *really* surprised there wasn’t more, since the Pompeiian mosaics are jaw-droppingly intricate and beautiful), and several wall frescoes, which are very colorful–even after being buried for centuries–and arranged so that you get an idea of what it might have been like to stand in a private Pompeiian dining room, for instance. The show also features a lot of jewelry and everyday objects, which hint at the underlying tone of tragedy and loss–these are, after all, the precious personal objects that people grabbed as they tried to escape the destruction. The tragedy of Pompeii really hits home when you see the body casts. The show has several of them, and they’re just as moving as the ones still in Pompeii. You have to realize, when you look at them, that these plaster casts aren’t recreations or statues–they’re occupying the actual physical space the victims occupied on earth. In some cases you can see facial expressions, clothing details, or actual bones/teeth. One set of casts in the show is a family of four; on the wall is a painting of a husband and wife from the house where they were found, and I couldn’t stop wondering whether they were the same people.

The layout of the exhibit is a little cramped and a little confusing, with objects from different houses so close together that it’s tough to tell which pieces came from which house. And it’s not going to be the best viewing experience if you go when it’s crowded. But the designers did have to work with a lot of artifacts. And they did a good job of explaining things on the placards next to the objects–I felt like I got to know the stories of the victims connected with the artifacts. Also, the enormous photographs of streets in the excavated Pompeii throughout the exhibit help give a sense of what it’s like to be there today.

At the end of the exhibit, the museum has set up a gift shop, with plenty of books and other things to buy. Be sure to check out the beautiful Pompeii-inspired jewelry by my friend (and Artwalk artist) Peg Holland.

I’m really impressed with how the museum has teamed up with other local cultural organizations to spread the Pompeiian wealth, so to speak. Vulcan Park, the Civil Rights Institute, B’ham Public Library, McWane Science Center, and UAB are all involved in presenting lectures, films, book discussions, and more.

I’m planning to go back and see Pompeii again before it leaves. It’s that fascinating–and since B’ham is one of only three cities in the country to host the exhibit, it’s not something we’re likely to see again soon. For details on tickets, hours, and all the Pompeii-related activities around town, visit the museum’s special exhibit site.

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