KORSYN ANNUAL LECTURE

ARCE-PA's Korsyn Annual Lecture Speakers:

ARCE-PA is proud to host the Annual Korsyn Lecture. This annual lecture event is in honor of Felix J. Korsyn, a beloved volunteer of the Penn Museum's Egyptian Section. Our first Korsyn Lecture was in May 2006, and has been held regularly since 2008.

May 2006
Dr. David O'Connor (Institute of Fine Arts, NYU)

March 2008
Dr. Ellen Morris (Columbia University; currently Barnard College)

March 2009
Dr. Edward Bleiberg (Brooklyn Museum of Art)

March 2010
Dr. Eugene Uribe-Cruz (University of Arizona; currently Indiana University East)

March 2011
Dr. Suzanne Onstine (University of Memphis)

March 2012
Dr. Nadine Moeller (University of Chicago)

March 2013
Dr. Peter der Manuelian (Harvard University)

March 2014
Dr. John Baines (Oxford University)

March 2015
Dr. Ronald J. Leprohon (University of Toronto)

March 2016
Mr. Andrew Oliver (Author)

March 2017
Dr. James Allen (Brown University)


FELIX KORSYN
A Retrospective*
by JJ Shirley, PhD

The Felix J. Korsyn Fund was established in 1993. It is dedicated to promoting scholarship in ancient Egypt through a Prize in Egyptology, awarded to a graduate student in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as through the annual Korsyn Lecture, hosted by the American Research Center in Egypt-Pennsylvania Chapter. The Fund was established by Felix’s wife, Irene Korsyn, to honor both his memory and his devotion to the University Museum and its Egyptian Section, where he worked as a volunteer for nearly 20 years.

Felix Korsyn’s interest in “old things” was a life-long one.  Although professionally he was an advertising executive, he was an avid traveler to parts of the world as disparate as Nepal, Kenya, Greece, and of course Egypt. His general interest in history led him to become an expert in early American antiques, particularly pre-Revolutionary furniture and architecture. Felix amassed quite a collection of furniture, which, as his son Kevin recalls, was used to furnish one of the family's early homes. It also gave Felix a very detailed knowledge of different types of wood, which types were used during which period, and for what purpose, and the ability to distinguish whether furniture or architectural pieces had been tampered with in any way.  His expertise in this area was utilized by St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, for whom he contributed time and expertise in the restoration of their pre-Revolutionary schoolhouse.

In 1975 Felix Korsyn retired from his “day job” and begin volunteering at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. Ancient Egypt held the most fascination for him, and he joined a group of volunteers, many of whom worked nearly full-time, under the direction of the “Keeper of the Collection,” Charles Detwiler. Called the Ushabtis, after the servant statues placed in the tombs of ancient Egyptians to assist them in the afterlife, the volunteers held a variety of skills, all of which were brought to bear for the benefit of the Museum’s vast collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts.  Felix contributed his architectural knowledge to building new shelving for the artifacts, and as a side project of his own created a reproduction of a coffin lid.

His skills as a photographer, gained through his world-wide travels, made him the ideal person to begin the photographic record of the Egyptian objects held by the Museum.  Over a period of about 5 years (1988-1993), Felix photographed a wide variety of the Egyptian section’s objects, resulting in some 80 rolls of film and nearly 3000 images.  During this time his specialty became the photography of inscribed objects, including nearly all of the inscribed material from the University’s excavations at Denderah and Abydos, as well as a number of coffin boards.  The difficulty of producing high-quality photographs of this material was a challenge that Felix gladly took on.  According to his son, Kevin, Felix invented many kinds of specialized equipment as the need arose, including special lighting to produce readable photographs of hieroglyphic inscriptions.  The resulting high level of quality and detail is demonstrated by the fact that his work continues to serve as a reference tool for scholars within and outside of the museum. 

In an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 1987) on the importance of the Museum’s Egyptian section volunteers, Felix is quoted as saying “Handling these objects is a privilege. We’re not spinning our wheels here, we’re making an important contribution.”  This is especially so for Felix’s work at the museum, and continues to be true today through the Korsyn Fund, which has enabled ARCE-PA to host prominent scholars for our members and guests.

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*I would like to thank Kevin Korsyn for providing me with family anecdotes and history, and Jean Walker, an Assistant Keeper in the Egyptian Section, for providing material and photographs relating to Felix’s time at the museum.