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King Tut Returns

After a 30 year absence the King Tut exhibit returns to the De Young Museum in San Francisco


courtesy of the de young museum

This summer, thousands of art and history buffs will flock to San Francisco’s de Young Museum to see the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit, three decades after the 1979 Tut exhibit shattered the museum’s attendance records. Of the art lovers awaiting the boy king’s return, Kensington resident Elisabeth Cornu might be the most excited. After all, Cornu—the de Young’s head of objects conservation—has King Tut to thank for her job.

How did you come to the museum?
I received a scholarship from the National Endowment for the Arts and came from England to work at the de Young. I was just getting ready to leave, when the Tut One exhibition came. The museum recruited me to be the exhibition conservator, and the exhibit was so successful that I established a position at the de Young.

I remember seeing the 1979 exhibit, and the enormous lines as much as the sarcophagus.
It was a hugely popular exhibit—1.4 million visitors. The museum was open until midnight every night.

What will be different about this exhibit?
This exhibit will offer more information about who this boy king was as a person. There is so much new information about him and quite a lot more objects. Amazing stone and wooden objects, throw sticks (Egyptian boomerangs), perfume bottles, wooden ships. And objects that he would have used: his game boards, his furniture, the mannequin that he used to hang his clothes on when he went to bed.

What is your favorite memory of Tut One?courtesy of the de young museum
We were preparing a catalogue of photography for the next exhibit, which would be in Germany. At one point, they took his ruler’s staff from the display case, but the photographer wasn’t quite ready to shoot it. So I had to hold his staff for about 20 minutes. This was the staff he used for ruling—I was just awestruck, not on any kind of power trip, but when you physically hold it in your hand for that long, you recognize what it represents, and it translates into you. It gave me such a feeling, a mixture of elation and horror.

Are you feeling excited or nostalgic about reuniting with King Tut?
I was kind of a kid in the museum business, and Tut One taught me so much. After 30 years, Tut Two is helping me come to terms with this huge richness that is the Egyptian world. He has enriched my career so much, so it is going to be an unbelievable thrill to reunite.

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs will be on display at the de Young Museum through March 28, 2010. For tickets, call (877) 888-8587 or go to tutsanfrancisco.org.

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