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June 20, 2022

After nearly 100 years, WAM begins full exhibition of Egyptian jewelry donation

Photo | Courtesy of Worcester Art Museum Gold ring of Sekhmet, donated by Laura Norcross Marrs to the Worcester Art Museum

The exhibit Jewels of the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Treasures at the Worcester Art Museum opened Saturday and runs through Jan. 29, marking the first time the bulk of the pieces in the collection will be displayed in full since they were donated in 1926.

The collection features more than 300 pieces of Egyptian jewelry organized and gifted to the museum by Kingsmill Marrs and Laura Norcross Marrs. 

Additional works from the museum’s collection will supplement the Marrses’ jewelry, and the whole show is co-curated by Peter Lacovara, director of the Ancient Egyptian Archaeology and Heritage Fund in New York, and Yvonne Markowitz, the curator emerita of jewelry at Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Photo | Courtesy of Worcester Art Museum
An Egyptian ball bead necklace, donated by Laura Norcross Marrs to the Worcester Art Museum

“Jewelry has been part of the human experience for thousands of years, worn by people at all levels of society. By examining the personal adornments in the Marrs collection, we encounter a vibrant and colorful expression of ancient Egyptian culture,” WAM Director Matthias Waschek said in the museum’s announcement.

The collection was originally presented to the museum in 1926 by Mrs. Marrs. Now, it will be displayed in full for the first time. Also, the 2022 opening coincides with the 100th anniversary of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb on Nov. 4, 1922.

Carter was a close friend of the Marrses. So Jewels of the Nile explores this relationship: How Carter’s archeological expertise and the Marrses’ ambition resulted in one of the most extensive collections of Egyptian jewelry in the United States.

The Marrses met Carter on a 1908 trip to Egypt. At the time, he supported his goal of being an archeologist by selling watercolor paintings of Egyptian tombs and temples. The Marrses bought six of these pieces, which are showcased in Jewels of the Nile. Carter went on to advise the couple on antique purchases.

The museum holds more than 1,400 prints and drawings from the Marrses and other artifacts such as sculptures. The variety of objects in the show cover a historical period of two thousand years: from the Old Kingdom (ca. 2543-2118 BCE) to the Roman Period (ca. 30 BC–AD 395).

Other highlights of Jewels of the Nile include a section on the role of the scarab. The Marrs collected 75 scarabs, 57 in the exhibition. There are loans from famed New York City jeweler Tiffany and Co., as the West was increasingly interested in Egypt’s material culture; this frenzy reached its height in 1922 with Carter’s discovery. The end of the show dons a Discovery Area. Visitors can virtually try on jewels of the exhibit and smell Egyptian perfumes and lotions.

“The quality and importance of the material that Laura and Kingsmill Marrs collected is exceptional,” said Lacovara in the museum's announcement. “There are few Egyptian collections that can rival the scope and importance of what the Marrses assembled, with the help of Howard Carter.”

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