Terracotta warrior museum delegation visits Dayton

Don’t be surprised to visit the Museum of Terracotta Soldiers and Horses in China someday and see kids donning warrior costumes and building chariots.

Earlier this week, two Chinese officials from the famous museum came to town to observe local museums and exchange thoughts and ideas with local academic and museum professionals.

“I have a nine-year-old daughter and I know the best way children learn is from interaction,” said Rong Bo, the museum’s chief chemist who works in conservation and restoration, as he watched kids splash in the water at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

Accompanying him was Wang Mingsheng, the vice-curator of the Chinese museum.

The two said their museum introduced some interactive elements in an exercise last May when university students were able to uncover buried relics in a mock excavation site. The next phase, they said, would be coming up with activities for elementary and middle school children.

This week’s Dayton visit resulted from the exciting new partnership between Wright State University and the Museum of Terracotta Soldiers and Horses of Shi-Huang-Di near Xi’an, China. The world-class museum, which attracted 5 million visitors last year, is part of an archaeological site and mausoleum in which thousands of terracotta soldiers and other figures depicting the armies of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, were unearthed.

The funerary art was buried with the emperor in 210-209 B.C. to protect him in the afterlife and was discovered by some farmers in 1974.    The museum’s labs are working to restore and preserve the terracotta figures, made of a clay-based ceramic.

Wright State connection

That’s where Wright State comes in. Under the agreement, there are plans for Wright State experts to go the site in China to conduct research aimed at expanding the excavation and better protecting and displaying the mausoleum. The university will also accept students from the museum seeking to learn more about conservation, historic preservation and exhibition preparation.

According to Stephen Foster, Wright State’s associate vice president for international affairs, there are a variety of ways in which the university State can be helpful to the Chinese museum.

One example? The College of Science and Mathematics has geophysics experts who can discuss new ground-sensing techniques that could aid in excavating the relics without damaging them. Most of the soldiers that were excavated had colors, but the colors can fade quickly when exposed to the air. Humidity levels must be kept high enough to help preserve the color, but low enough so as not to spur the growth of mold.

Wright State’s College of Liberal Arts, Foster said, can offer experts in archaeology, art history and public history, a program that trains archivists to maintain archives and work at museums.

“Our computer science people may get involved because we’re interested in virtual tours of their museum,” said Foster, who has visited the Chinese museum twice.

Yi Li, the dean of the college of Science and Mathematics at Wright State who was instrumental in establishing the initial relationship, said the Chinese officials arrived with samples they wanted the college’s experts on surface and composite chemistry to analyze.

Around town

The men also visited the Asian collection at the Dayton Art Institute and the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

“Some of the things they saw at the Dayton Art Institute they thought were similar to some of the things in their museum and they talked about an exchange of artifacts,” Foster said. “We had to pull them away from the ceramic samples at the Boonshoft.”

Lynn Hanson, Vice President, Collections and Research at the Boonshoft, escorted the delegates through her museum and said their visit “provided a wonderful opportunity for us to share how we use both high- and low-tech interactives to make learning memorable.”

Reaching out

In addition to their cultural tour of Dayton, Bo gave a public presentation at Wright State in which he shared the history of their museum, talked about the relics that have been uncovered, and explained their research and the excavation and preservation process.

“Their Powerpoint talk was fantastic,” says Foster, about the 90-minute presentation that included a lot of illustrative slides and extensive background about the chemistry of their conservation and preservation work.

The 80 students/teachers/administrators who attended learned that only three of the excavation pits of more than 600 have been opened to the public so far. They also learned that the terracotta warriors were larger than life-sized and that the torsos, hands and feet were produced separately and then joined together. The sculptures were fired at temperatures of more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and then painted.

“Everyone enjoyed their talk immensely,” said Foster. “People are really excited about this exchange and their visit stimulated a lot of interest and enthusiasm.”

Wright State is the only U.S. university to have such a partnership with the museum, which has similar agreements with the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, Germany; Oxford University and University of London, England; and the University of British Columbia, Canada.

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