May 25, 2006

 Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

Make no mistake—this exhibit is a magical piece of theater.

But the problem we found comes in the story you may believe you are going to see, that of the boy king Tutankhamen, and the story the exhibit is telling, that of the culture and grandeur of Egypt’s 18th dynasty. This is all about the time of the Pharaohs—an age so different and distinct, it is hard for us to imagine it without seeing these more than 130 amazing artifacts.

The confused expectation is a result of the marketing and hype surrounding the exhibit, which opens tomorrow and runs through January, 2007 at the Field Museum. 

Anyone who has seen the commercials, banners or posters has seen what looks like the impressive gold sarcophagus of the king. 

Yet, what we are seeing is actually a canopic coffinette, an 18-inch vessel for the king’s mummified liver. This beautiful artifact is a spectacular insight in and of itself: Here is a culture that deified their king so much that they would create a piece of valuable art for a vital organ.

But it sets up an expectation not met. It makes you believe as you walk through the exhibit that you are building up to something.

And it is important to know: There are no mummies here. No solid gold coffin mask and no sarcophagus belonging to the boy king. (Although one of the 11 galleries does contain the very impressive golden sarcophagus of what is possibly King Tut’s great grandmother.)

Kids love mummies. They are fascinated by this process—including the removal of the organs by a wire inserted through a nostril. But this exhibit is really not about death, it’s more an exhibit about life—the richness of the daily life of the Pharaohs, the struggles of changing a country’s beliefs. 

My two boys and I walked through this exhibit with a fifth grade class and the comments the kids made always came back to the idea of death and preservation. 

I loved this exhibit, which is history and showmanship. It is substantive and breathtaking: The life and times of the Egyptian rich and famous, including the artistry of an inlaid chair, impressive stone statues and the gold flotsam and jetsam that any royal clearly had to have. 

My boys were very disappointed and said that while they enjoyed what they saw, they think the hype made them believe it would be more about the mummy. And even I was disappointed thinking we were building up to something and finding that when we entered the second to the last room—what you might call Tut’s tomb room. The focal point is what looks like a Xerox of the king’s mummy laid out on a slab. Yes, there was more there, such as the gold dagger and sheath found on the mummy and the National Geographic films of all the many gold boxes and coffins protecting the king’s body.

So, am I saying don’t go? Not at all. Even if we were saying that, it would be silly since ticket sales are already close to 200,000. Indeed, I think this should be mandatory viewing for next year’s fifth and sixth graders since Egypt is a part of the state mandated sixth grade curriculum.

What I am saying is that the key to enjoying is preparation. Visit the Field Museum’s Web site. There are great prompts here. Good questions to ask children. This can be a great experience if you know what you are going to see. I especially like the story of Tut, which is empowering to kids. He became king at age 9. Talk to your kids about it. And while those in the education department suggested that this would work for age 7 and above. I disagree. Think of this as 10 or 11 and above. There is a lot of walking and the crowds will be massive. Plus, it’s a pricey ticket. Susy Schultz


Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs. The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-922-9410; Tickets include museum admission: $25; $22, seniors and students with ID; $16, children 4-11. Discounts for Chicago residents. Look for great kid activities throughout.


Kohl Museum of Greater Chicago opens “Habitat Park”

As if opening a new $18 million facility last fall were not enough, Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago has now opened a beautiful new outdoor exhibit, “Habitat Park.” Children can explore two acres of land covered in indigenous grasses, plants and trees and dotted with interactive sculptures, all the while kept safe within secure sets of fences.

While the open grass and fresh air are nice, the nine interactive sculptures are what turn this space from a park to an exhibit. Commissioned from a variety of media including stone, wood, granite and fiberglass, the sculptures are completely open to visitors from all sides. Unlike most museums, Kohl encourages kids to climb, feel and explore the art. One of the first sculptures my family encountered was a round stone piece, beautifully smooth and pink, something I would consider abstract. My five year-old ran right past, deeming it too girly. My four year-old on the other hand straddled it cleanly and declared it his pony. It was my first lesson in sculpture that is “more than meets the eye.”

While I appreciated the nine sculptures for their artistic beauty and creativity, my sons appreciated that each gave them the opportunity to explore. “Hidden Deer” is especially fun. What appears to be just a bunch of logs and sticks from afar turns out to be a deer at rest as you approach. This bronze optical illusion then offers more animal discoveries camouflaged in its nooks and crannies. You’ll have to see for yourself.

I was impressed by the park’s layout which made it possible to keep an eye on all my kids even as they explored different areas. Admittedly, we were not there with large crowds of kids, but still the hills and paths afford good lookout points. There are a few groupings of trees which will provide some shade, but I highly recommend sunscreen.

The outdoor exhibit will be open year-round providing seasonal programming like bug-hunts, water painting, autumn leaf-matching and hopefully, fun in the snow. The new exhibit fits perfectly with the museum’s mission to inspire children with a life-long love of learning. Without a set path and with no restrictions on their ability to run, touch or climb, children can explore and play, not realizing they’re learning about nature and art. Alena Murguia

Kohl Children’s Museum is located at 2100 Patriot Boulevard, in Glenview, IL.  The Museum is open on Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. (open until 5p.m. June to August), Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Special members-only hours are from Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Admission prices are $6.50 for children and adults and $5.50 for senior citizens. Children under 1 year old and members are free. Visit the Museum’s website at or call (847) 832-6600.


Summer Fun Contests

Kiddieland and Six Flags. Already hearing “I’m bored?” Well fret no more. From June 5 to August 7, 2006 Chicago Parent magazine will be giving away tickets for Kiddieland and Six Flags Great America. One lucky Chicago Parent reader will receive a family four-pack of tickets each week. Only one entry per person. Winners will be notified by e-mail each week.

How Southside Are You? Prove your neighborhood know-how in our South Suburban Where’s Waldo-esque game.  We've captured our readers enjoying the May issue of Chicago Parent at several spots throughout the south. Identify at least one of these family-friendly locations and you could win ticket vouchers to the Joliet Jackhammers, or 4 activity passes to Hidden Cove or 4 tickets to Kiddieland. Contest ends June 9th. Winners will be notified by June 14th. Winners and answers will be listed in the July issue of Chicago Parent.

Click here to enter both our Summer Fun Contests.



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