The Museum has recently finished a year-long project with local Egyptologist, John Sarr, to catalog and digitize its important collection of over 1,350 ancient Egyptian scarabs and seals. Sarr is an independent scholar, writer, and teacher, specializing in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic language and funerary arts; he is also the founding president of the Oregon chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt.
Sarr rediscovered PAM’s collection when he moved to Portland in the 1990s and—realizing the collection’s significance from its history and content—set about to document the collection by creating a catalog of drawings of each item. This work led to the public display of approximately 100 scarabs during the Museum’s 1998 exhibition, Splendors of Ancient Egypt. Although PAM’s scarab collection is one of the oldest collections at the Museum—having been accessioned in 1929—and a significant collection in the Egyptological field, it has been little understood and documented over the years.
Through a year-long partnership between the Museum and Social Venture Partners, Portland, Sarr has spent over 1,000 hours working closely with members of PAM’s Library and Collections Information and Collections Management teams to examine each individual object, perform new research, and create complete catalog records in the Museum’s collections database. The result of this work is a publicly accessible, digital catalog of the Museum’s extensive collection, which is now freely available online for viewing and research.
Catalog records include core object information, including measurements, materials, dates, and detailed descriptions of the typology and design of each individual scarab or seal. Many scarabs in the Museum’s collection date back as far as 5000 years and most are smaller than one inch in length. These objects were used during life as seals or amulets and in death as a means of securing an afterlife; the motifs and inscriptions on these carved gems reveal much about ancient Egyptian life and beliefs. The Museum plans to continue adding scholarly content to this online collection, including illustrated glossaries of stylistic and design motifs, definitions of important terms and historic figures, and improved photographs.
To learn more about the fascinating history of The Gayer-Anderson Collection of Ancient Egyptian Scarabs and Seals at the Portland Art Museum, please join us for a free, public lecture, presented by John Sarr on March 7th at 6:30pm. Click here to reserve a ticket and see additional details.
Sarr’s invaluable scholarly contribution to PAM was made possible thanks to an Intel sponsored Encore Fellowship through Social Venture Partners, Portland. To learn more about the outstanding work Encore Fellows do with non-profit organizations across sectors, please visit the Social Venture Partners website.