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Nichols: Art, politics go hand in hand through history
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The main symbols of the two political parties in the U.S. are the donkey for the Democratic Party and the elephant for the Republican Party. Both appear to have been made popular by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s.

Last year's nominating convention halls appear to have been designed by applying art symbols to the size and shape of the theater. I may be wrong but I think the Democratic Party planning architects made a more dramatic setting for their nominating convention than the Republicans did.

The Democratic podium was not flat against a wall, but built out into the crowd of delegates with a sort of gangway designed to let the candidates get closer to the people on the floor. The Democratic setting was more people oriented, with Roman columns in the background bringing a hint of historic Roman authority to the events of our current time and place. The Republican convention seemed very traditional not much different from earlier conventions.

Art relates directly to politics of today, as well as to the society of ancient times.

Recently, I joined a group of tourists from Cornelia and vicinity who went to Atlanta to see two fantastic exhibitions: "King Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs" at the Civic Center, and "The First Emperor, China's Terracotta Army" at the High Museum of Art.

King Tut and Emperor Qin each ruled for about a decade; both were buried in special tombs that remained hidden for more than 3,000 years for Tut and 2,000 years for Qin. Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922. A couple of farmers digging a well discovered the terra cotta soldiers in 1974 near Xian, China.

Both exhibitions are extremely well-designed, and with the help of audio equipment, you can walk through the exhibitions at your own pace with commentary describing the background of the object at which you are looking. Just type in the number showing at the top of the display and listen one or several times if you wish.

Nearly two decades ago, I took students on January travel seminars to Egypt and to China. In Egypt, we explored the Nile, Karnack and the Valley of the Kings. In that valley on the eastern side of the Nile, we toured several of the tombs, but the most striking was the tomb of King Tut.

Outside his tomb several mirrors collected sunlight which was reflected down into the tomb (no electricity down there). Though it was January, the tomb was warm with so many tourists and no air conditioning. The huge paintings on the wall depicted King Tut both here and in the afterlife. Only the outer coffin remained in the tomb.

All the other relics that Howard Carter discovered in 1922 were in Cairo, some on display in the National Museum. So back in Cairo we visited that Museum and I was disappointed. Everything was displayed under dusty glass cases. No special lighting. Little information was provided about the object on display.

The exhibition in Atlanta, (which moves later this summer to Indianapolis), is far better than what we saw in Cairo. More than 140 art treasures from the tomb are on display, with breathtaking jewelry with gold and precious stone inlays. You can see the bed in which King Tut slept, with his feet to the headboard. He stood 5-feet, 8-inches tall and was killed possibly for religious reasons. Was there only one god, or many?

Another year, I also took students to visit China where we saw in Xian the life-sized terra cotta soldiers in pits guarding the Emperor Qin, who unified China and ruled from 221 B.C. to 210 B.C. The emperor's tomb still is unopened and guarded by a nearby army of more than 8,000 terra cotta soldiers with weapons, chariots and horses. The bodies of the warriors are obviously made from molds, but each face is different. Better to bury terra cotta soldiers than real live ones.

The Atlanta exhibition of the terra cotta soldiers has outstanding lighting and informative explanations of all items. And like the King Tut exhibition, the display in High Museum is better presented than if one sees the originals in China or Egypt.

These two exhibitions in Atlanta take us into another time and place, so beautiful, yet so different from our world today. Art speaks about life as it was lived 2,000 and 3,000 years ago. Go to Atlanta and listen to the voices of artisans from centuries past.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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