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Like a rock

By Todd Gerring

Opening June 8, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will present a special exhibition, “A Man of Many Parts: The Life and Legacy of Francis Willey Kelsey,” which offers an homage to the museum’s founder and visionary.

Professor of Latin at the University of Michigan from 1889 until his death in 1927, Kelsey was a man of exceptional intellect, great energy, and irrepressible good humor, whose wide-ranging vision helped to build the University of Michigan into an internationally renowned center of learning. (Photo left: Kelsey with an artist acquaintance in Pompeii, 1892-93.)

Informed by John Griffiths Pedley’s new biography, “The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey,” the exhibition draws upon the Kelsey Museum’s extensive collection of archival photographs, slides, postcards, stereoscopic images, and guidebooks used by Kelsey on his expeditions and upon Kelsey’s papers, now at the Bentley Historical Library. From the Kelsey Museum’s library come the Kelsey family’s genealogy, annual reports of the professional organizations Kelsey advised and led, and a student’s well-used copy of Kelsey’s textbook edition of Julius Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic War.”

Gifts from members of Kelsey’s family — his copy of a rare 16th-century edition of Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura,” recently given to the University by Kelsey’s grandson, and family papers and photographs given by his granddaughter—help paint a fuller picture of Kelsey’s love of rare books and his personal life. (Photo right: Kelsey begins the climb on a mountain in Yalvac, Turkey.)

Kelsey’s expeditions to Europe, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Tunisia encompassed scholarly exploration as well as humanitarian activity. His expeditions charted the course for much of the Kelsey Museum’s current archaeological fieldwork and yielded a large part of its artifact collection. Throughout the museum, the exhibition highlights objects that Kelsey was responsible for acquiring.

Beyond the Kelsey Museum’s own collection, the exhibition showcases examples of rare manuscripts and ancient papyri now housed in the Special Collections and Papyrology Collection at the Hatcher Graduate Library, many of them purchased with funds Kelsey raised from major donors in Detroit—among them Charles L. Freer and Horace H. Rackham. From the Visual Resources Collection of the Department of the History of Art come lantern slides of archaeological sites and artifacts made by George R. Swain, the photographer with whom Kelsey collaborated for decades to build the University’s slide and photograph collection. Also on display is a selection of volumes of the University of Michigan Humanistic Series, which Kelsey was instrumental in establishing and editing. This series planted the seed of what is now the University of Michigan Press.

(Photo right: Kelsey, third from right, and others among the ruins at Pompeii, circa 1901.)

As a lover of music and president of the University Musical Society from 1891to 1927, Kelsey worked tirelessly to bring the best performers and programs to Ann Arbor. Vintage concert programs and archival photographs of Hill Auditorium and the Ann Arbor School of Music illustrate this side of Kelsey’s accomplishments. Few today realize that Hill’s present location was decided in discussions between Kelsey and the architect, Albert Kahn, and that the Frieze organ now in Hill came there as a result of Kelsey’s fundraising efforts.

Educator, scholar, explorer, builder of collections, international figure in his profession, humanitarian, lover of music, and devoted family man, Francis Willey Kelsey was truly a man of many parts. This exhibition honors an extraordinary human being and his legacy, which shaped the University of Michigan and the archaeological profession of today.




PHOTOS: Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Todd Gerring is community outreach coordinator for the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.