Chapter 19: The Detroit Episode
In 1970, Alfred was planning to attend the Kiwanis International Convention in Detroit, so he began to correspond with Dr. William H. Peck, the young Egyptologist in charge of the Ancient Art Department of The Detroit Institute of Fine Arts. It was agreed that they would meet in Detroit and that Alfred would bring three pieces with him. None of the Mansoor brothers had ever met Peck, but Peck knew of the excellent relations they had always had with his museum and particularly with Messrs. Robinson and Richardson.
Alfred met him in Detroit. He was impressed with his visit. Dr. Peck pulled a file from his filing cabinet. It contained all the available scientific reports at that time, and other articles which had been published regarding the Mansoor Amarna Collection. Dr. Peck examined the pieces very carefully and asked several questions regarding the Collection, and indicated a strong desire to see the entire Collection. Alfred invited him to come to California, but Dr. Peck was due to leave for Egypt soon thereafter, and asked if it was possible to bring the entire Collection to Detroit. Alfred told him he would consult with his brothers and would get back to him. Dr. Peck informed Alfred that when in Egypt he would see Dr. Zaki Iskandar and discuss the Collection with him.
Upon his return, Alfred told the rest of the family that Peck was a very enthusiastic and talented Egyptologist with a definite interest in the sculptures. Peck was well aware of the fact that Robinson, the former Curator of Ancient Art at the Institute, had seriously considered buying some of the Amarna sculptures, but had been forced to set the matter aside because of the mounting opinion against them in the 1950's.
Peck had several months to study the photograhs of the sculptures as well as all the scientific reports. Naturally, photographs were not enough to judge the Collection stylistically. He wanted to see the entire group of sculptures. This pleased the Mansoors. They knew, then, that Peck, as a scholar, wished to examine the Amarna sculptures. The Mansoors decided to bring the remaining Collection of some forty-five pieces to Detroit.
William, Edgard, Alfred, and Henry left in late summer 1971.
Peck met them at the back entrance of the museum and the cases were moved to a specially prepared room. One by one, they unwrapped the precious sculptures; now and then, Peck stopped to admire one or two pieces. So as not to overwhelm him, it was decided that Edgard and Henry would view the Museum's collections.
According to the Mansoors, never before in this country, with the exception of Lansing and Stevenson Smith, had an Egyptologist examined these sculptures as they deserved to be. From the very beginning, Peck was totally absorbed by their beauty. He knew they were ancient and repeatedly told the brothers so. He made intelligent remarks and observations that Drioton, Varille and other Egyptologists had pointed out before. He said they were perfect.
Dr. Peck asked questions and the Mansoors answered all they could. He was so enchanted with all the sculptures that he began to put aside the pieces which interested him the most. Right away he said that he would not be able to buy the entire Collection, but he thought that he could convince the authorities of the museum to purchase at least a few.
As for the scientific reports, he read them, and unlike the dissident Egyptologists, he was not afraid to discuss them openly. He said they justified his feelings. It was now twelve noon. Peck excused himself for a luncheon apointment and asked the brothers to return at two o'clock.
Alfred and William were so delighted that they could not wait to tell the other brothers. When they briefed Edgard and Henry, they too could not conceal their excitement. When they saw Peck again, Alfred and William immediately felt that something was wrong. This feeling had been secretly with the Mansoors for years now and they were used to it. They suspected foul play, but they waited for Peck to talk. He tried not to look at the sculptures which were baring their souls. He could not even make real eye contact with any of the brothers.
The Mansoors waited patiently. Finally, he spoke. He said he did not believe Cooney felt the way he did. He had thought that after publication of "Je Cherche un Homme...", Cooney might have changed his mind. After all, it contained the favorable opinions of several scholars of Egyptology as well as the irrefutable and overwhelming evidence of science. So he had called Cooney to inform him that the Mansoors were presently in the museum with the sculptures and that he was considering the purchase of some of them. Only Peck knows what Cooney told him then.
Gone was his enthusiasm of just two hours earlier. Now he didn't know what to say. He insisted that he knew the sculptures were ancient, outstanding masterpieces, but sadly, he added that he was new at the museum. He ended by saying that he would not be able to keep any of them for the museum, even if the Mansoors gave them as a gift. They were not about to do any such thing.
A terrible, but common practice had prevented this Egyptologist from acting according to his belief, his knowledge and his conscience. The loss was now for the people of Detroit too. The few who saw to it that these pieces would never be glorified in a museum were now the people of power and influence. Their long arms hovered over many.
Peck kept apologizing and wishing that circumstances could have been different; perhaps they would change later, but how much later? The Mansoors left very early next morning disillusioned once more.
A network of individuals in Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Cleveland and Munich were preventing the world from enjoying the sculptures of Tell-el-Amarna. It was as sad as it was frustrating.
Strangely enough, the Mansoor brothers say that they were not angry at Peck. Insofar as the sculptures were concerned, he had done his job as an Egyptologist. If he could not achieve his aim, that was not of his doing. He was a young and developing Egyptologist in this mixed-up world of museums, and like everyone else, needed his job. They felt sorry for him, for Egyptology, and for his museum.
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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