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Sarcophagus to rise over courtyard

Museum wraps up preparations for ancient Egypt exhibit

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Kim Forrest works on a detail.

It's fascinating, and a bit creepy, to gaze upon the ancient face of the dead.

That's exactly what everyone can do when a three-metre sarcophagus goes up on Main Street in front of the Manitoba Museum on Tuesday.

Two local artists and an architect have created a huge sarcophagus -- the ornate container ancient Egyptians used to house the coffin containing the mummified body of a deceased individual.

It will be a towering four metres once mounted and will herald the Manitoba Museum's Wrapped: Mummy of Pesed temporary exhibit running Oct. 25 to April 6.

Pesed was a woman born around 350 BC and is believed to have died 55 to 70 years later. The exhibit will include 60 ancient Egyptian artifacts, cat and falcon mummies, and forensic facial reconstructions of human mummies.

The sarcophagus will be set at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the museum's courtyard, next to the Planetarium, where a 4.6-metre animatronic model of a dinosaur stood earlier this year, where the public can view it.

"I've done everything from movies, to houses to hats but this is a first for me. I'm just thrilled, we all are, to be part of this project," said Kim Forrest, the veteran artist who hand-painted the sarcophagus. She used a historically correct deep orange overlaid with intricate designs, scenes and figures inspired by research on ancient Egypt, but with a flavour of Manitoba's indigenous people in the colours and detail.

"I hope it draws people to the museum. There's a whole new energy around the museum right now. This was made and manufactured in Winnipeg, so this is something for the whole community to share," Forrest said.

The sarcophagus was designed by Anne Armit of Winnipeg, internationally renowned for her 30-year career as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's wardrobe director. The creation of the sarcophagus also involved architect Peter Hargraves of Sputnik Architecture and the University of Manitoba. At the U of M, the design was laser-cut into layers of dense foam to build the structure which was then sprayed with a truck-bed liner coating to seal it. The finished product was sprayed with a protective clear coat.

"We tried to find a balance; we didn't make it a dead representation of history. We had some artistic licence, but it had to be something people would recognize and have some appeal for children," said Armit, who drew 15 concepts before this one was chosen.

"It was a bit daunting for me to think outside of the box and come up with this, but I've had so much support and the museum has been fantastic to work with."e

The ancient Egyptians believed people needed their bodies in the afterlife, so great care was taken in protecting the body. Sarcophagi were usually for prominent people of the time, such as royalty, and elaborately decorated to show the dead person's talents or achievements.

Features of the person were often painted where the face would be. Some contained items thought to be needed in the afterlife, such as pets or valuables.

This sarcophagus can't be opened, but one only needs imagination to think of what would be inside if it could be opened.

"I really hope that every child in Winnipeg wants to be photographed with it. This is the beginning of the museum spilling out of its doors and greeting Winnipeggers and Manitobans and saying, 'Come and see what we've got going on here,' " said Greg Klassen, the museum's marketing and communications manager.

"This is a really great way to engage people, to create an energy outside of the museum to draw people in, be visually exciting and colourful. I really believe in outdoor art and that it should be accessible to everyone."

There will be QR codes on its base for people to scan with their smartphones to link to the museum's website for information about the exhibit.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A15


Updated on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 1:26 PM CDT: Corrected engineer to architect

10:23 PM: Correction re: job description.

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