USask’s Museum of Antiquities features a collection of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern sculpture in full-scale replica. (Photo: David Stobbe)

Ask the Alumni Expert: Dr. Tracene Harvey (BA’98, MA’02, PhD)

USask graduate Dr. Tracene Harvey, director/curator of the Museum of Antiquities, talks about the museum to commemorate International Museum Day on May 18


The Museum of Antiquities at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) features a collection of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern sculpture in full-scale replica, including the Charioteer of Delphi, panels from the frieze of the Parthenon, and the Venus de Milo, as well as original ancient glass, pottery, and coinage.

USask graduate Dr. Tracene Harvey (BA’98, MA’02, PhD) is the director/curator of the museum, located in the Peter MacKinnon Building on the Saskatoon campus. Her expertise is in ancient Greek and Roman coins, and she also serves as the numismatics specialist for the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project in Thessaly, Greece, a collaborative effort between the 15th Ephorate of Prehistorical and Classical Antiquities at Larissa, Greece, and the University of Alberta. 

Dr. Tracene Harvey (BA’98, MA’02, PhD) is the director/curator of the Museum of Antiquities. (Photo: Chris Putnam)

Harvey completed a PhD in classical archaeology at the University of Alberta after studying in USask’s College of Arts and Science, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts (honours) degree in 1998 and her Master of Arts degree in 2002. In 2019, she published her first book, Julia Augusta: Images of Rome’s First Empress on Coins of the Roman Empire, a comprehensive study on the image of Livia Drusilla on existing Roman coins. 

May 18 is International Museum Day, which aims to raise awareness that “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures, and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” In advance of this international day, the Green&White asked Harvey some questions about the Museum of Antiquities, its artifacts, and how the museum supports education and research at USask.

May 18 is International Museum Day. From your perspective as the director and curator of the Museum of Antiquities, why is it important to commemorate International Museum Day?

Museums are at the heart of every community, preserving culture, heritage, history, and memories. Recognizing museums locally, nationally, and internationally through International Museum Day generates awareness of the very important role museums play in our communities. At the Museum of Antiquities, staff and volunteers are proud of the work we do to bring ancient world heritage to the Canadian Prairies.

Please describe a visit to the Museum of Antiquities. What should people expect to see?

When people walk into the museum, they’ll be greeted by some of the most famous sculptures from the ancient world. We have the Sleeping Hermaphrodite and the Venus de Milo front and centre in our gallery, alongside a few other monumental sculptures of the Greek gods. As they explore, they’ll get to see a selection of artifacts from the different cultures in our collection. We have a large variety of Greek sculptures and Roman busts, some of our Near Eastern pieces mounted on the wall, and our Egyptian False Door displayed with our replica of the Rosetta Stone. We currently have our most recent exhibit, “Not Set in Stone: An Exploration of Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome,” on display, and it includes a digital guide accessible through the touch screen in the main area of the gallery. There are three more digital guides for specific pieces in the exhibition set up on iPads. We switch out the artifacts in the gallery every once in a while, but right now we’re displaying some of our original Roman glasswork from the Minden Collection, some Near Eastern artifacts, including a statuette of the Demon Pazuzu, and some original Egyptian amulets. There’s room to sit down and enjoy the art, and plenty from our exhibits to read—so we encourage people to stay for a little while and take it all in.

What are some of the most unique artifacts on view at the museum?

Perhaps the most unique artifacts in the museum are the plaster casts themselves, representing some of the most famous Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern sculptures in full-scale replica. The museum’s collection of plaster casts is the only one of its kind in Canada and boasts more than 125 plaster-cast sculptures from the workshops of famous museums around the world, such as the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the Archaeological Resources Fund of the Greek Ministry of Culture. The museum’s replica panels from the Parthenon frieze in Athens are particularly special, in that they preserve the originals from when the molds were taken of them in the early 1800s—originals which, in modern times, have deteriorated due to pollution.

The Sleeping Hermaphrodite at the Museum of Antiquities is a replica of the original sculpture located in the Louvre in Paris. (Photos: Chris Putnam)

What are some of the pieces that the museum has acquired recently?

The museum has acquired many new pieces in the last couple of years. In 2021, we acquired a full-scale replica of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite sculpture. The original is in the Louvre and it’s a first-century Roman copy of a Greek original. Many people are impressed by the cushion that Hermaphroditus is laying on, and it’s actually an addition that was made to the sculpture by the famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini during the Renaissance. We’ve also acquired eight replica Cycladic idols from the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. Cycladic figurines were produced from the fourth to second millennium BCE. The style of the idols is unique, and to many people they have a very modern look. That’s probably because 20th-century artists like Picasso were actually influenced by Cycladic art when creating their own art. Also, from the Museum of Cycladic Art, we also recently acquired two figurines from Mycenae and three Tanagra figurines, which are currently on display. We’ve also acquired some new original pottery, including some stunning Etruscan and Cypriot pieces.

Your research has focused on Greek and Roman coins, and you authored the book "Julia Augusta: Images of Rome’s First Empress on Coins of the Roman Empire". What interests you about ancient coins?

Ancient coins have been dubbed as “monuments in miniature” by many modern scholars, who see them as precious works of art in and of themselves—beautiful treasures thousands of years old that you can hold in the palm of your hand. What I find most fascinating about ancient coins is that ancient city-states, kings, and emperors used them as a type of mass media for communicating ideologies about their ruling regimes—not only to their subjects and citizens, but also to their rivals. Coins also reveal a culture’s identity, what they deemed important about their gods, their lands, and the rulers who maintained them.

This year’s theme for International Museum Day 2024 is “Museums for Education and Research.” How does the Museum of Antiquities support education and research on campus?

This year’s theme really hits home for us. The museum was founded as an educational resource, and we have worked hard to stay true to that vision. Other than myself, all the museum’s staff are students here at the University of Saskatchewan, as are our volunteers. We see the value in hands-on education, and we’ve seen from our student staff and volunteers how valuable their experience here has been for their careers. Our former staff and volunteers have gone on to do incredible things; we have former students working in museums and galleries, getting master’s degrees or PhDs, and so much more—and we’re so proud of them. We also work with students and professors across campus to support their research and their teaching work. We provide tours, workshops, and engaged learning opportunities to classes from many different disciplines, including history, archaeology, CMRS (Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies), art and art history, and English. Before the pandemic, we partnered with the Canadian Light Source (CLS) to facilitate a senior-level research course.

Admission is free at the Museum of Antiquities, located in the Peter MacKinnon Building on the USask campus. (Photo: David Stobbe)

The Museum of Antiquities has been running children’s summer camps since the late 1990s. Why is this an important part of the museum’s mission?

The summer camps are so important to our mission and our mandate, since we’re looking first and foremost to being a partner in educational, artistic, and cultural awareness on campus, in Saskatoon, and in Saskatchewan. Cultivating an appreciation of history, different languages and cultures, and the ancient world is something that is very important to us and the summer camps allow us to encourage this appreciation in a way that’s fun for young kids. Providing an opportunity for children to really immerse themselves in the ancient or medieval world is immensely rewarding and inspires children to be engaged learners who are interested in and respectful of other cultures. We’ve seen children come back year after year with this absolutely incredible passion for learning and such a positive mindset about the world around them. I think that shows us that we’re doing a good job here.

Is there anything else you would like add about the Museum of Antiquities or about International Museum Day?

While International Museum Day is observed on May 18, the Museum of Antiquities celebrates its role as cultural partner not only to faculty, students, and staff on campus, but also to the wider community throughout the year through our collections and educational programs. We welcome people to reach out to us any time for a tour or to take part in our workshops, camps, and other events held multiple times a year. Follow the museum on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date on the museum’s many activities. 

The Museum of Antiquities is located on the USask campus in Room 106, Peter MacKinnon Building, 107 Administration Place. It is open from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm and on Saturday from noon to 4 pm. It is closed during long weekends and on statutory holidays. Admission is free.