Tales of Cyprus
Eventually, time consumes everything, leaving only relics behind. The world will change and our ways of life will be obscured. It will be left to archaeologists and historians to piece together our culture from what remains. Recently, a significant collection of ancient ceramics from Cyprus went on display at The Hallie Ford Art Museum. This hodgepodge of ancient pots, figurines, and vases have not only survived 4,000 years but have all somehow ended up in Salem, Oregon.
Dr. Ann Nicgorski, a professor of Art History and Archaeology at Willamette University, organized and curated this exhibition. “I was looking around the area to find artwork in collections that I could use in my classes,” said Nicgorski. “I discovered they had some Cypriote ceramics at the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington…Over the years I have bumped into Cypriot ceramics and came into the realization that there are thousands of pieces of these ceramics on the west coast, and I thought, ‘one day it would be interesting to do something with those ceramics.’’’
The primary focus of this exhibition is the stories of how these pieces of Cypriot culture ended up scattered over the Western United States. Colorful characters from history like Italian-American Luigi Palma di Cesnola and Queen Elizabeth of Greece helped bring the ancient pottery to The U.S.
“I mean it really started with this guy, Luigi Cesnola, who in the late 19th Century went to Cyprus and dug, rather unscrupulously, and took away some thirty-five thousand objects from the island,” Dr. Nicgorski said. “He really kind of raped the island and took an excessive amount of antiquities out of the island.”
A large portion of the ceramics Cesnola took from Cyprus would end up at Stanford. “Something very tragic happened to the pieces at Stanford. They were all displayed at the museum when the 1906 earthquake hit. A lot of things were destroyed completely, but a lot of things were just damaged and needed to be repaired.” Dr. Nicgorski said. “This classics professor there spent most her life working with generations of Stanford students to glue things back together.”
Queen Elizabeth of Greece and her mother Queen Maria of Romania both donated many Cypriot ceramics that ended in the Pacific Northwest. The reason for the donation was Quaker, Sam Hill.
“[Hill] wanted to establish a Quaker farmer community in the Columbia Gorge. It didn’t work out, but he had kind of constructed this mansion there. His friend, Loïe Fuller, who was a pioneer of modern dance in Paris, convinced him to turn it into an art museum. She knew Queen Marie of Romania,” Dr. Nicgorski said.
Queen Maria visited the Pacific Northwest in 1926 and donated many of the ceramics. “Her daughter [Queen Elizabeth of Greece] kind of followed suit and donated things to The Maryhill Museum, but also to the San Francisco Legion of Honor. So, many more pieces ended up in the collection in San Francisco,” Dr. Nicgorski said.
The exhibition is small, but there’s quite a lot on display. The show includes an ancient mouflon sheep figurine, a ceramic man holding a tambourine, a man on horseback and countless ancient jugs. Each is a display of human ingenuity, but the best example of them all was the mouflon sheep trick vase. “If you pour liquid into the mouth of the mouflon sheep, there’s a hidden channel in the rim of the bowl, so that the liquid then emerges from the lizard inside of the bowl,” Dr. Nicgorski said.
Mouflon sheep featured prominently in the display, the entire show almost functioning as an ode to this animal. The sheep cameoed on various figurines, drawings, and jugs. “[The mouflon sheep] has been native to Cyprus since the bronze age. They still exist and were on the verge of extinction. They’re represented on stamps from Cyprus, coins from Cyprus. They’ve become a sort of symbol for Cypriot identity,” said Dr. Nicgorski.
The present is an echo of the past. A symbol for Cyprus in 2,000 BCE is still a symbol for the island in 2019. What remains of an ancient culture has been displaced from its origin and put on display for people of a radically different society to judge. What will be left of our culture 4,000 years from now? What relics will endure as the mouflon sheep has in Cypriot culture? The past is an echo of our future.
The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is located on 700 State St. and is open Tues. – Sat.: 10 a.m – 5 p.m. Sun: 1 – 5 p.m. The exhibition will continue until April 28, 2019.
Admission is free on Tuesdays.
$4: Senior (55 and older)
$3: Educator or College Student (age 18+ with school ID)