- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

Betsy M. Bryan, guest curator of "The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt" at the National Gallery of Art, greets exhibit visitors with a ready smile and perfectly coifed short blond hair. She stands in the re-created, elaborately inscribed tomb of Thutmose III, a 15th-century B.C. Egyptian ruler.
The curator, 52, points to painted rows upon rows of red-and-black figures and hieroglyphics from the simulated Amduat, the great text that describes the sun god's journey through the underworld during the 12 hours of the night. He emerges victorious over his netherworld enemies and achieves rebirth as he rises again over the eastern horizon. The text here is the first known complete copy of the Amduat.
Ms. Bryan, chairwoman of the Department of Near Eastern Studies and the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, warms to her subject as she points to text sections describing the geographical layout of the underworld and the sun god's travels. Funerary texts have been her specialty from the time she earned a doctorate from Yale University's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures.
"I fell in love with Egyptian art while visiting the mummy display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, where I grew up," she says. "My sister Laney and I would part at the front door. She'd head for the Faberge eggs, I the Egyptians. My father was interested in history, and this also influenced my career choices."
She majored in history at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. The scholar says her minor in geology was beneficial because different kinds of stone are very much a part of Egyptology.
"I married young, at age 20. I met my husband, Charlie Bryan, at a University of Virginia summer course, and he worked as a stock clerk the next year while I finished Mary Washington. We literally flipped a coin for graduate school, and he won out with Yale Law School," Ms. Bryan says.
She had wanted to pursue Egyptology at the University of Chicago but found similar courses at Yale. She worked a night shift running a machine that folded boxes in order to support herself and her husband and studied Egyptian culture during the day.
After several research and teaching jobs, she joined Johns Hopkins in 1986. She has held various Egyptian art and archaeology positions and takes her graduate students on archaeological expeditions to Egypt for two months each year.
When the National Gallery approached her last year about being the guest curator for the "Quest for Immortality" show, Ms. Bryan was just finishing the reinstallation of Egyptian art for the reopening of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. She also had co-curated the exhibit "Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and his World," which appeared at museums in Cleveland and Fort Worth, Texas, and the Grand Palais in Paris.
"We started in 1986 for a 1992 opening and had the luxury of time and travel. We studied and researched the objects, and it was a great way to learn about doing an exhibit," Ms. Bryan recalls.
When the National Gallery queried her about the current exhibition, she says she felt a conflict especially with the one-year time frame for organization. "The concept was so terrific that getting the objects wasn't going to be a difficulty, but I had to work fast by the seat of my pants; there was no dawdling," she says.
The Bryans have three children, Hardy, 24; Elizabeth, 20; and Hale, 14.
She says that combining parental responsibilities with a job is not easy. "It helps being in academia, but [its] complicated by the fieldwork. I go every year for two months. When the children were younger, I took them, and they love Egypt. My husband went once, but one of us has to be here."
She adds, "I'm a good multitasker. I can change gears quickly. I don't always do as well as I want to, but I just push."
Ms. Bryan cut off the interview in Washington so she could attend her son's soccer game in Baltimore and the Orioles-Yankee baseball game that evening. She hastened to say that all the members of her family are baseball fans.

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