SF State's "Tree of Life" exhibit features family heritage, mummies

Jessica Goss
The mummy of Nes-Per-N-Nub displayed in the Tree of Life: Preserving 3,000 years of Family History museum exhibit at SF State. The exhibit is open Monday-Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. until December 7 in Humanities, Room 510. Photo by Jessica Goss.

There is a mummy in the Humanities building. And the reason it’s there is actually a bit cute.

Before there were digital cameras and online photo albums, people kept track of their family histories in different ways: millennium-old coins, miniature stone sculptures, and yes, mummies. A new student-run museum exhibit on campus, called Tree of Life: Preserving 3,000 years of Family History, shows these techniques.

“The idea behind it was how people document ancestry and relatives,” said Linda Ellis, a co-curator who helped design the exhibit. “We wanted to show how different cultures documented family history in different times.”

The showcase is home to Roman coins with chiseled imprints of emperors, velvet-covered family photo albums from 19th century America, the many painted sarcophagi of Nes-Per-N-Nub, and a 12-foot-long Chinese scroll, which are all artifacts owned by SF State.

Ellis got the inspiration for the exhibit while teaching an archives class. And while faculty designed the exhibit, the students of the museum studies graduate program performed the restorations, set up the exhibit and are responsible for making sure that it runs smoothly. They can be found in restoring pages and bindings in Victorian and Civil War era photo, or touching up paint on the scroll.

“I hope [visitors] walk away with the importance of family heritage across time and cultures,” said Melinda Hickman McCrary, a museum studies graduate student who helped with the exhibit. “To want to preserve your family heritage is a basic human activity, whether we practice that in stone, metal, or paper. Some cultures went so far as to preserve the actual body of their family–in the case of mummification.”

The students and faculty want students to participate and feel welcomed to the museum, and the exhibit involves activities that visitors can interact with and add to. There’s a top hat, white wig, vest and throne, for example, where guests can dress up, and sit perfectly still for two minutes to experience what taking a picture was like in the past.

“We want to encourage a lot of interactivity,” said Christine Fogarty, the other co-curator of the exhibit. “We want them to feel like they’re a part of our family just by stopping by.”

Tree of Life: Preserving 3,000 years of Family History is open Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. until December 7 in Hum. 510.