SHAWNEE An exhibit of ancient gold jewelry on display through Oct. 31 at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art will leave behind some unexpected riches, a museum official said.
"Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures, a rare exhibition of jewelry and artifacts from the private collections of Italian Prince Fabrizio Alliata and the Gregorian-Etruscan Museum of the Vatican Museums is nearing the end of its only stop in the United States.
Museum Director Debby Williams said the exhibit features more than 200 pieces of Etruscan gold jewelry and 30 Etruscan marble and terra-cotta artifacts.
The Mabee-Gerrer exhibit is the first time that the Vatican Museums' marble and terra-cotta pieces have traveled outside Italy, and the first time the prince's gold jewelry has been publicly shown, Williams said.
"The gold jewelry is from a private collection, and not even the people of Italy have ever had a chance to see it, Williams said.
Because of the rarities on display, Williams said, she wants to remind people to see this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit before it closes.
The golden jewelry on view once adorned women of privilege who reclined while they ate pomegranates, gambled on dog racing and danced to flute music, Williams said.
When they died, the Etruscans' ashes were buried in elaborate tombs built into hillsides, where, like the Egyptians, they awaited the afterlife surrounded by objects they loved and murals of their extravagant lives, she said.
"The Etruscan ruling class lived a life of amazing luxury, Williams said. "The quality of their artwork and jewelry is comparable to anything our wealthiest citizens can buy today.
But almost as breathtaking as the gold jewelry on display has been the public response to the exhibit and the museum so far, Williams said.
Since the Etruscan exhibit opened in June, nearly 50,000 people have toured the Mabee-Gerrer, more than double the 20,000 in attendance that the museum tallied for all of last year, she said.
"The attendance has been phenomenal it's created a fabulous new awareness about our museum, Williams said.
Williams said the exhibit's popularity also has brought about some long-lasting changes.
The museum added a gift shop to sell books and memorabilia associated with the Etruscan exhibit, she said.
A museum store has been so popular with patrons that it's being made permanent, Williams said.
Another welcome change is that the Mabee-Gerrer's standing and visibility within the national museum community has increased, she said. The result is the Mabee-Gerrer is being offered the chance to display some "really significant national and international traveling exhibits, Williams said.
"We've always fought people's assumptions about a museum being in a rural area of Oklahoma, Williams said. "But with the Etruscan exhibit, we've come of age.
"This museum has proved it's professional and can handle an international exhibit in a first-class manner, she said.
Williams said the exhibit also has helped the museum's volunteer base to "grow tremendouslyfrom less than 100 a year ago to a pool of more than 250.
"Our volunteers are having a good time greeting people from all over the state and nation and from around the world, Williams said. "They're becoming Oklahoma ambassadors and tour guides for other things to see in central Oklahoma.
For more information about the Etruscan exhibit, log onto the museum's Web site at www.mabeegerrermuseum.org.
What: Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures Where: Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, 1900 W MacArthur Drive, on the campus of St. Gregory's University in Shawnee When: Through Oct. 31 Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays Cost: $14 for adults; $12 for tour groups and seniors, ages 65 and older; $10 for youths, ages 6 to 16, and those with a student ID; and free for children, ages 5 and younger Information: 878-5300Archive ID: 2086485