ANN ARBOR: Really Old Stuff….

20 Feb

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We stepped outside into the cold winter air, high up in the powder blue sky the sun was shining; perfect for a road trip. With so many things to see and do, Ann Arbor is always a good destination. I like Ann Arbor on a Sunday; parking is free and it is the least crowded day of the weekend. The air was frigid, so we planned on indoor activities. The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) maintains one of the oldest collections of art in the nation in university hands; collecting for 150 years it has amassed more than 18,000 art works. In 1910 the university built the Alumni Memorial Hall, it was to serve as a war memorial, home to the Alumni Association and the UMMA. As the collection grew, so did the need for more space, in 1966 the museum became the sole occupant of the building. In 2009 the museum space was enlarged by 53,000 sq. ft with the addition of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and Frankel Family Wing; during this time the original building was also restored, new galleries and a new UMMA store were added.

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Smooth stone and simple doric columns, to me the exterior of the building looks serious. Inside the historic apse has been redone and the skylights restored, light floods the oval-shaped space. At the far end, marble statues rest upon pedestals looking as if they were awaiting my arrival, I am excited to be here. We stroll through the main floor galleries then head up the stairway; a large funky glass light fixture livens up the space. We wander from gallery to gallery, the transition from the old to the new seamless. The new wing is three stories, stairways are tucked away neatly, natural light filters in. Pieces not on display are housed in ‘open storage’ galleries, allowing the visitor to see more of the museums collections; I love the Tiffany glass. There are large amounts of Asian and African Art, a large cabinet displays stunning silver serving pieces covered with intricate designs. Ceramic vessels, tiles and platters from the Middle Eastern Collection catch my eye, Kris likes the Modern and Contemporary galleries best. We look at the American Art, prints, drawings and photos until we have seen it all; but wait, there’s still more to see……..across the street.

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If I had to guess, I would say  most Metro-Detroiters have never heard of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; today we’re going to change that. I think it is fascinating, a place that most people would find very interesting, even if they don’t think so!  Francis W Kelsey was a professor at the University of Michigan, in 1893 he began acquiring artifacts, thinking that they would help his students understand the ancient world. His first purchase was 108 items from an excavation site in Tunisia, that same year he bought 1,096 objects from dealers in Tunis, Rome, Capri and Sicily. As the collection grew, items began to be housed in a gorgeous Richardson Romanesque stone building named Newberry Hall. Built in 1891 as the home for the Student Christian Association, it is one of the oldest buildings on campus today. One of the unique features of this building is its original Tiffany stained glass window, one of two Tiffany windows in Ann Arbor. By 1953 Kelsey’s collections had taken over the building and it became known as the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. In 2009 the museum grew by 20,000 sq. ft. with the addition of the William E Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

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Today the museum houses the university’s collection of more than 100,000 ancient and medieval objects including Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Islamic archaeological artifacts. On the first floor, galleries are white from top to bottom, large glass cabinets line the walls; items here date back to “BC” and Alexander The Great, it’s hard to wrap my brain around that. Statues rest on pillars out in the open, I better watch where I’m going. We see pottery, terracotta figurines and Roman glass. U of M excavated a site southwest of Cairo known as Karanis; between 1926 and 1936 nearly 45,000 objects were uncovered and sent back to Ann Arbor, the largest collection of objects outside of the Cairo Museum. We marvel at a colorfully painted mummy coffin, Greek pottery and Roman sculptures, it’s amazing all of this still exists, even more amazing, it’s right here in Ann Arbor! Jewelry in both delicate and large pieces, ‘magical’ amulets from the ancient Near East are beautiful. We take the stairs to the second level, pieces hanging on the wall relate to ancient sailors. Upstairs is more colorful, walls painted in gold and russet display items and photographs of excavations. A replica of the famous Villa of the Mysteries mural from ancient Pompeii is done in 5/6 scale; I look at the faces of the figures, it seems as though they are looking right at me, their eyes follow me. The museum holds the largest collection of Latin inscriptions in the west, we see ancient coins, Egyptian Tomb sets and Greek papyri, and it’s all real……..It’s a lot to take in. We are definitely planning on coming back.

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The museums are located on State Street across from one another, it is only a short walk to E William St and the Original Cottage Inn, lunch, here we come! Back in 1948 when Cottage Inn opened, it was the first restaurant in Ann Arbor to serve pizza, really. Outside, the orange brick building is decorated with painted ivy climbing the walls, the old-fashioned sign jutting from the entrance let’s us know we’ve arrived. Inside it smells wonderful, a mix of fresh-baked bread, spices, olive oil, and maybe a bit of pepperoni…The menu is filled with Italian and Greek dishes, and most importantly, PIZZA. Kris and I have been coming here for over 20 years, though the space itself has undergone expansions, renovations and redecoration, the food has always remained the same delicious way. We started with the antipasto salad; meats, cheeses,olives, so good. Our grilled chicken pizza arrived piping hot, mozzarella stretching all the way from pan to plate. Grilled chicken, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and artichoke hearts, the crust is just as good as I remember. Few words passed between Kris and I as we ate, we had some serious eating to do.

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I believe there is some sort of gravitational pull that exists in Ann Arbor, it will always lead you to Zingerman’s! Making sure to save room for dessert, we find ourselves surrounded by sweet goodness at Zingerman’s Next Door; cakes, tortes, cookies, brownies, chocolates and gelato, it is dizzying. The February special was Mississippi Mud Pie; a chewy brownie layer topped with soft, dark chocolate ganache, toasted meringue and chocolate drizzle, need I say more? Paired with house roasted coffee for me and espresso for Kris, it is dessert nirvana. 

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