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ARTplay: “Lucky Charms”

By Marianne Ruggiero
Coordinator of Family Programs at The RISD Museum



What do all the above things have in common? Think for a minute…

Got it? If not, look for a minute at the title of this article… That’s right, they are all good luck charms, also called “amulets.” Jaguar tooth might have fooled you, but if you lived in the Amazon rainforest, chances are you might wear a jaguar tooth around your neck for extra protection.
Different types of amulets can be found in most cultures and throughout history. The ancient Egyptians believed very strongly in the power of amulets that would protect the wearer in the afterlife. These objects were worn in life and also in death. Archaeologists have found them in tombs, sometimes tucked into the bandages wound around mummies.

Magic Bugs and Fish
Note: The images of artwork from The RISD Museum collection will remain on the  Kidoinfo website for only 3 months as requested by the Museum.  Although the images have been removed, kids may still enjoy doing some of  the following projects.
Take a look at pictures of some ancient Egyptian amulets made more than 2000 years ago! Why do you think they would have been considered lucky objects?

Egyptian, New Kingdom (around 1200 BCE)
Scarab (beetle)
Gold and enamel
1. 25″ x .875″
Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth

The “dung beetle” or scarab had the habit of laying its eggs inside a ball of manure. Egyptian people, seeing the baby beetles emerge from manure, may have thought the insect was born magically. It became a symbol of rebirth.

Egyptian, New Kingdom (around 1391 — 1335 BCE)
Fish Amulet
1 9/16″ x 13/16″
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund

The fish was also a symbol of rebirth and long life in ancient Egypt. A hole in the dorsal fin of this little blue fish tells us it was once a pendant on a necklace.

Egyptian , Ptolemaic Period (around 250 BCE)
Coffin of Nesmin
Wood, gesso, gilding
70 ½” x 17″
Museum appropriation and Mary B. Jackson Fund

A priest named Nesmin was laid to rest in this wooden coffin. The artists who painted the coffin wanted to make sure that Nesmin would have some powerful protection in the afterlife. Can you find an amulet just above his face?


For extra protection against goblins and ghouls on Halloween!

Make an Egyptian Amulet
Using Sculpey clay (available at most crafts stores) to form an amulet of your choice. Use one or more colored clays. If you are going to wear your amulet as a necklace, make a little clay loop at the top for cord or ribbon. Have an adult bake your amulet in the oven following the instructions on the Sculpey wrapper. After your amulet comes out of the oven and cools, you can apply some details with permanent markers or acrylic paint.

ARTplay is a monthly column by Marianne Ruggiero from The RISD Museum in which various themes and activities will introduce kids and parents to the museum’s collection both online and off. Each month Kidoinfo will help spark your children’s interest in art — they can learn about different works at the museum and download a related activity to create offline. Be sure to visit the museum and explore the art in person. On Free-for-All Saturdays (the last Saturday of every month), kids may continue their exploration through a variety of hands-on workshops, performances, videos, and special gallery quests throughout the day.

All additional inquires or requests should be directed to: Melody Ennis, Coordinator of Photographic Services, The RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903. 401 454-6535. E-mail inquires to: mennis@risd.edu

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