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Greece wants the originals of the Elgin Marbles – they already have plenty of copies

There are many copies of the Parthenon Sculptures about – some are better reproductions than others, depending on whether they were a first or later generation cast. But there is only one original set, which Greece hopes to be able to house in the New Acropolis Museum once it opens.

Norwich Bulletin [1]

Sunday, November 17, 2002
Slater’s Parthenon replicas impress — despite Greek snub
Norwich Bulletin

NORWICH — Copies? We don’t want your copies. We have plenty of copies. We want the originals.

That’s how a spokesman from the U.S. Greek Embassy responded when asked by a reporter if Greece had any interest in borrowing the Slater Museum’s plaster-cast replicas of the disputed Parthenon marbles.

Greece wants the original marbles returned in time for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The originals have been housed in the British Museum in London since it acquired them from Lord Elgin in 1811.

Elgin, who was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, took the originals from the Parthenon in the early 19th century “to save them from the Turks.”

It’s understandable that the Greeks want the originals over any fakes, and anything less would be seen as an insult. But that doesn’t take away from the Slater Museum’s collection.

“As far as plaster casts go, they are outstanding pieces,” Chris Steiner, director of museum studies at Connecticut College, said.

“People who look at them are in awe when they see them,” Mary-Anne Hall, the interim director of the Slater Museum on the Norwich Free Academy campus, said. “They’re valuable resources.”

Hall said people from England who have seen the originals have visited the Slater and are impressed with the replicas.

Since 1888

The casts are molds made from the originals and the Slater has displayed them since 1888.

In 1887, NFA’s third principal, Dr. Robert Porter Keep, initiated the idea for the Slater to house a cast collection. Keep, a noted Greek scholar, appointed Edward Robinson of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to select, purchase and install a collection of Greek, Roman and Renaissance casts for the museum.

The Slater unveiled its collection in 1888 and the distinguished guest list at the opening included Boston Museum of Fine Arts President Martin Brimmer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Francis Walker, as well as the presidents of Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University.

A decade after the Slater obtained its collection, museums around the country began to disregard their replica exhibits. They put them in storage or threw them out, believing that if they didn’t have the real thing, they shouldn’t display it.

“The use of plaster casts went out of fashion in 1895 or 1900. And in Norwich, we now have a time capsule of what museums looked like at the end of the 19th century,” Steiner said. “The reason to show replicas in the first place was because a museum was seen as being educational and it should instruct everyone in society from the working class man to the elites.

“People now get money and use some museums as their own playgrounds to house their own collections. (They become) more of an elitist institution that isn’t really reaching out.”

Resurgence in replicas

Mainly because of its affiliation with NFA, the Slater has remained an educational-style museum. Hall, however, said she notices a resurgence in plaster casts and replicas. Many museums are borrowing the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

“I think people are re-examining the past,” Hall said.

“Everything is cyclical,” Sue Frankenbach, Slater’s collections manager, said. “And here we are now poised to take advantage of this renewed interest.”

That’s all well and good. Just don’t expect any phone calls from Greece.

Norwich Bulletin [1]

Monday, November 18, 2002
Slater Museum has glorious ‘Elgins’ exhibit

The Elgin marbles are in the news. Those who would like to know more about these treasures should pay a visit to the Slater Memorial Museum on the campus of the Norwich Free Academy.

The Elgin marbles are pieces of the Parthenon, the building atop the Acropolis hill in Athens. The Parthenon was built in the fifth century B.C. and is an architectural wonder, a prime example of the glory that was Greece of antiquity.

In 1811, Britain’s Lord Elgin acquired the marbles, 56 sculpted friezes. Elgin at the time was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire — the Turkish regime that controlled Greece at the time.

Since then, Greece has tried several times — to no avail — to persuade the British to return the sculptures. The latest attempt — for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the 2004 Olympics there — is ongoing.

The Slater Museum has exact replicas of the Elgin marbles, duplicates that were cast from the originals in 1888.

Those duplicates of the Elgins and untold other examples of fine art are on display at there, as are original works of art.

The Slater is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and closed Sundays and holidays. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children and senior citizens. Museum members, NFA students and children under 12 are admitted free.

Slater Memorial Museum members know well all that the museum has to offer. But for too many residents of this city and nearby communities the museum remains an undiscovered treasure trove.

Pay a visit to the Slater and appreciate what a marvel we have in our midst.