Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections

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Press Release

Museum brings art of the ancient Near East to the Northwest

SALEM, Ore. — “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections,” showcases 64 ancient works, created thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent, an area stretching from Turkey to Iran, often called “the cradle of civilization.” This exhibition runs Aug. 31 to Dec. 22 at Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Ore. and will be the sole venue for this important collection of cultural treasures. 

Visitors will find exquisite pieces created between 6000 BCE – 500 BCE. The museum will present the ancient work thematically, by the “Divine Realm,” the “Human Realm” and the “Animal Realm.” Drawn from over 20 distinguished collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth” tells the stories of Babylonians, Israelites, Persians and other ancient Near Eastern people and cultures. 

Quintessential pieces include the head of Gudea, one of the earliest examples of royal portraiture, as well as lesser known works of artistic and cultural significance.  

“This exhibition represents a rare opportunity to view many culturally significant ancient artworks that are not normally available or accessible to audiences in the Pacific Northwest,” says John Olbrantz, museum director. “While we often look to Greece and Rome as the birthplace of our Western culture, it is the even older cultures of the ancient Near East to whom we owe an equally important cultural debt.”   

The exhibition includes a variety of special activities. A lecture series features experts such as Dr. Brian Fagan, one of the foremost archaeologists in the United States. A film series focuses on several of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries that were inspired by her work at archaeological sites. Gallery tours will be offered every Tuesday and several Saturdays. A family activity day will provide art-making and archaeological activities for all ages. Storytelling sessions will introduce audiences to the literature and poetry of ancient Mesopotamia. 

Olbrantz and Trudy Kawami, Director of Research at the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, co-organized the exhibition and authored a full color book including illustrations and essays about the art, cultures, themes and the American discovery of the ancient Near East. To learn more about the exhibition, visit willamette.edu/go/ancient.

Financial support has been provided by an endowment gift from the Hallie Ford Exhibition Fund, an "Art Works" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and by general operating support grants from the City of Salem’s Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission. Additional support was provided by the Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology and the Verda Karen McCracken Young Art Exhibition Fund of the Department of Art History at Willamette University.

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Oregon's third largest art museum features works by Pacific Northwest and Native American artists, and includes a diverse collection of traditional European, American and Asian art, as well as artifacts that date from antiquity. Frequently changing exhibitions include lectures, special events, tours, artist demonstrations and educational opportunities for children and adults.

The museum is located at 700 State St. in Salem. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Monday. General admission is $6, $4 for seniors and $3 for students 18 and older. Students 17 and under and children are admitted free. Admission is free for everyone on Tuesdays. For more information call 503-370-6855 or visit willamette.edu/arts/hfma.

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Related Special Events

Lecture Series: Sept. 6 - Nov. 7 

A lecture series, featuring ancient Near Eastern art scholars and archaeologists from across the United States, will explore and provide insights into various aspects of the exhibition "Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections." Lecturers include: Dr. Trudy Kawami, Director of Research at the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation in New York and co-curator of the exhibition; Dr. Brian Fagan, one of the foremost archaeologists in the United States and the author of over 60 books on the history and theory of archaeology; Dr. Jean Evans, Research Associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; Dr. Marian Feldman, Associate Professor of Art History and Near Eastern Studies at The Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Ronald Wallenfels, Adjunct Associate Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University and a consultant in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and Dr. Holly Pittman, Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania and curator in the Ancient Near Eastern section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. All lectures are free and open to the public. 

More details and full schedule

Film Series: Oct. 1 - Nov. 12

Step into Agatha Christie's archaeologically inspired murder mysteries with this film series, featuring her famous sleuthing character Hercule Poirot. Christie married archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and actively participated in her his archaeological digs that spanned more than 20 years. Christie was was involved in labeling, cataloging, cleaning and conserving objects from various sites that included the excavations at Nimrud, Ur and Ninevah. Her archaeological adventures inspired a number of the murder mysteries that will be featured in this film series that includes: "Death on the Nile," "Murder in Mesopotamia," "Appointment with Death" and "Murder on the Orient Express." All film showings are free and open to the public. 

More details and full schedule

Gallery Tours

Join a museum docent for a guided tour of the exhibition.

Tuesday tours will take place between Sept. 3 through Dec. 17 at 12:30 p.m. at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Maribeth Collins Lobby. Admission is complimentary.

Saturday tours will be held on the following dates: Sept. 7 and 21, Oct 5 and 19, Nov. 2 and 16, and Dec. 7 and 21. Tours will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Maribeth Collins Lobby and are included with museum admission.

Family Activity Day

On Oct. 12 from noon - 4 p.m. at the Hallie Ford Musuem of Art, join education curator Elizabeth Garrison, Salem artists Sonia Allen and Helen Nute Wiens, and the Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology coordinator April Miller as they guide parents and children through a variety of art-making and archaeological activities related to the exhibition. Children will learn about cylinder seals, repoussé and chasing, and a number of different archaeological practices and techniques. This event is free and open to the public. 

More details and full schedule

Stories from Ancient Mesopotamia

On Sept. 28, Oct. 26 and Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, join Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Jeanne Clark and her students and step into the past as they present the ancient literature, proverbs and fables of Mesopotamia.

More details and full schedule

Special Travel Package with the Grand Hotel in Salem Oregon

Package your trip to the exhibition with an overnight stay at the Grand Hotel, located only blocks from the Hallie Ford Museum of Art and right in the heart of downtown Salem. The package includes: two tickets to the exhibition “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections,” overnight accommodations for two in a King Deluxe Room, early check in at 1 p.m., a $50 gift card to Bentley’s Grill and Lounge, a complimentary continental breakfast buffet, a late checkout of 1 p.m., and 20% off the price of the exhibition book.

Package starts at $175 
Suite upgrades available for an additional $20 plus tax.

Find out more information or book now

High Resolution Photos for Media

Copyright Notice:

The following images posted on this page are for publicity purposes only, intended for use by journalists in media-related publications. Use of any image must be accompanied by its credit line. Use of these images by any other parties or for any other purposes, private or commercial, is strictly prohibited unless the express written consent is obtained directly from Hallie Ford Museum of Art. For information regarding educational, personal and commercial use of images, please visit our Copyrights & Reproductions page.

For assistance contact Andrea Foust 503-370-6867 or at afoust@willamette.edu.

Standing male figure_private collection

Standing male figure; Lebanon, from Jezzine, late 3rd–early 2nd millennium BCE; copper; H: 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm), W: 4 in. (10.2 cm), D: 2 in. (5.1 cm); Private collection, New York. Photo: Maggie Nimkin.
To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save. 

Male figure_University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology

Male figure; Iraq, excavated from the Nintu Temple, Level VI at Khafaje, Mid-to-Late Early Dynastic Period, 2700–2500 BCE; alabaster; shell, and lapis lazuli; H: 9 in. (23 cm), W: 3 1/8 in. (8 cm), D: 2 3/4 in. (7 cm); University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Joint Bagdad School/University Museum Expedition to Mesopotamia, 1937, 37-15-28. Photo: Penn Museum image no. 152346.
To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save. 

Head of Gudea_Brooklyn Museum

Head of Gudea: Iraq, from Telloh, Second Dynasty of Lagash, reign of Gudea, 2144–2124 BCE; diorite; H: 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), W: 3 1/2 in. (9 cm), D: 3 1/2 in. (9 cm); University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, purchased from Hagop Kevorkian, 1927, B16664. Photo: Penn Museum image no. 152768.
To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save. 

Gudea was a ruler of the state of Lagash in southern Mesopotamia from 2144 to 2124 BCE. He was a great builder and social reformer who established extensive trade relations with his neighbors. There are approximately 20 statues of Gudea that have survived and his likenesses are considered to be among the earliest examples of royal portraiture found in the ancient Near East.

relief_seattleartmuseum

Relief fragment with a battle scene; Iraq, excavated by William Kennett Loftus in August of 1854 from the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, Neo-Assyrian Period, reign of Sennacherib, 705–681 BCE; limestone or gypseous alabaster; H: 10 in. (25.4 cm), W: 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm); Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection and Hagop Kevorkian, 46.49. Photo: Seattle Art Museum.
To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save.  

57

Statuette of a monkey; Iran, first half of the 3rd millennium BCE; limestone; H: 2 1/8 in. (5.4 cm), W: 1 7/16 in. (3.7 cm), D: 1 3/4 in. (4.5 cm); Brooklyn Museum, purchased with funds given by Shelby White, 1991.3. Photo: Brooklyn Museum.
To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save.

Sherd with stags_Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago

Sherd with stags; Turkey, excavated from Alishar Hüyük, 800–700 BCE; ceramic with slip; H: 6 in. (15.3 cm), W: 7 3/8 in. (18.8 cm); The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, A10266. Photo: Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save.

Interviews

Interviews are available with the co-organizers of this exhibition. 

Trudy Kawami
, Director of Research at the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation. A specialist in ancient Near Eastern art, Dr. Kawami is the author of several books on ancient Iranian art and over 40 articles, encyclopedia entries, book reviews, and catalogue entries on various topics related to the art of the ancient Near East. In addition, she is currently serving as an art advisor/consultant to the Emir of Kuwait.   

John Olbrantz
, Director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. A specialist in ancient art with a keen interest in the history of archaeology, Mr. Olbrantz has been working on the exhibition on and off for the past ten years, first with the late James Romano, curator of ancient art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art with whom he co-organized "In the Fullness of Time: Egyptian Art from American Collections" in 2002, and since 2006, with Dr. Kawami.

To arrange for an interview: contact Andrea Foust 503-370-6867 or at afoust@willamette.edu. 

Exhibition Catalogue

Breath of Heaven Cover

To download a high resolution image: click on the image above to open the photo in a new page, then right-click and save.

Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections  
by Trudy Kawami and John Olbrantz

This lavishly illustrated book explores the art of the ancient Near East that has been brought together in this exhibition co-organized by Trudy Kawami and John Olbrantz. The artworks range in age from approximately 500 BCE to 6000 BCE and include works from the geographic regions of Mesopotamia, Syria and the Levant, Anatolia and Iran. This time period laid the foundation for Western civilization. Kawami examines the art, culture and themes of the exhibition while Olbrantz delves into how the ancient Near East captured the imagination and interest of America and how this fueled the growth of ancient Near Eastern art collections in the United States. The book is dedicated to the late James Romano, curator of ancient art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The book will be distributed by the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.  

ISBN: 9781930957688
Price: TBD

Public Exhibition Webpage: 

http://www.willamette.edu/arts/hfma/exhibitions/library/2013-14/breath_of_heaven.html