August 20, 2013 through February 23, 2014
Members’ Preview Monday, August 19

Our Work: Modern Jobs – Ancient Origins, an exhibition of photographic portraits, explores how cultural achievements of the ancient Middle East have created or contributed to much of modern life. To show the connections between the past and today, artifacts that document the origins or development of professions such as baker, farmer, manicurist, brewer, writer, astronomer, or judge in the ancient world are paired with a person who is the modern “face” of that profession. The resulting 24 photographic portraits represent the diversity of Chicago residents, ranging from ordinary workers to local luminaries. The portraits are accompanied by commentary on the specific contribution of the past and remarks from the modern representative, resulting in fascinating new insights into how members of the public view their relationship to the past.

The photographer for the project is Jason Reblando, whose work is in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Union League Club of Chicago, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. To visually connect the present with the past, he produced tintype portraits using a 19th century photographic process. Reblando worked with Chicago arts journalist Matthew Cunningham who documented the sessions with interviews of five of the subjects, the resulting videos forming a multi-media component to the exhibition.

This exhibit is supported by Kitty Picken, the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, John B. Simon, Norman and Virginia Bobins on behalf of the Robert Thomas Bobins Foundation, and members of the Oriental Institute.

The exhibit is curated by Jack Green and Emily Teeter.

The exhibit catalog is available at

Translations of featured portraits are available in Mandarin and Spanish in the Special Exhibits gallery.

Gloria Margarita Tovar is a nail technician at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon in Chicago. She is shown with an architectural element from the tomb of an Overseer of the Palace Manicurists, ca. 2430 BC. OIM E10815. Robert Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago and professor of mathematics, with a clay cylinder from Mesopotamia, ca. 2000-1600 BC, inscribed with a table of reciprocals and thirty-seven separate multiplication tables. It is the oldest known collection of mathematical formulas known on a clay cylinder. OIM A7897. Mario Silva, a baker at the Medici Bakery on 57th Street is shown with an Egyptian bread pan from about 2630–2524 BC. OIM E1986 Kelly Nicholas, M.D., Ph.D., who runs the Neuro-oncology (brain tumor) Program at the University of Chicago Medical Center is shown with a clay tablet inscribed with texts from a Mesopotamian diagnostic and prognostic handbook (ca. 750–500 BC) that describes symptoms that can be compared with strokes and seizures. OIM A3441 Ron Vasser, a cowboy who has been involved with horses on the competitive level for over twenty years poses with a bronze horse bit from Persia dating to 550–330 BC. OIM A22945 Norm Bobins, the retired chairman of the board, president, and CEO of the LaSalle National Bank is shown with the earliest accounting records in the world – clay balls that enclose small tokens that probably acted as receipts for deliveries. The clay balls are from Iran. They date to about 3400–3100 BC. OIM A32567, A64606 Dr. Haki Madhubuti is an author, educator, and poet, and the founder and publisher of Third World Press. In front of him is a tablet with part of one of the world’s oldest literary works, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and a figurine that may represent Gilgamesh. The tablet and figurine, both from Iraq, date to about 2000–1600 BC. OIM A22007, A9325 Portrait of Kenneth Clarke, President and CEO of the Pritzker Military Library, with a prism incised with the accounts of the battles of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (689 BC) and a notebook detailing the daily activities of Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division in the battle of Baqubah, Iraq (2007) complied by First Sergeant Robert S. Colella, retired. Portrait of real estate broker Margie Smigel with the Chicago Stone, a record of land transfers from 2600 BC.