Mar on ancient artifact doesn't mar the closing days of "Egypt" for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 

Street Talk

Scratches Mar Portal, But Not Reputation
Controversy Resurfaces over VCU McDonald's
Olympic Boxing Trials Begin Here This Week
Lowe's Searches for Downtown DigsScratches Mar Portal, But Not Reputation

For 4,460 years, Princess Wen-shet's tireless servant carried her victuals for the great beyond unspoiled. Then the mystic bread basket got gouged, and for a few moments, the perfect success of the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts seemed in jeopardy.

The show, the museum's largest by any measure, ended its six-month run Nov. 28. It attracted more than 200,000 visitors — including 85,000 students on SOL-based field trips — and brought in about $2 million. Equally important, it raised the profile of the museum another notch or two on the international exhibits circuit. (Next major display: "Monet, Renoir and the Impressionist Landscape," for which VMFA will be the only East Coast venue, in September 2000.)

But there they were: the scratches, two small scars really, on the white limestone surface of the princess' portal. William Peck, curator of ancient art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, spotted them on a visit here Nov. 19. They weren't there before, he said, certainly not when the exhibit was displayed at his museum two years ago.

The bright, obviously recent scratches, about two inches in length and within grade-schooler reach, were mortifying, but not particularly mystifying: All those kids, thought VMFA staff.

Called the False Door of Princess Wen-shet — it was designed to let her spirit return to the material world for food left at its base — the seven-foot, several-ton limestone slab came from Giza, home of the great pyramids. (Fun fact: at 481 feet, the Great Pyramid was the world's tallest structure until the Eiffel Tower was erected, in 1889 — a reign of more than four millennia!)

Juvenile vandalism here seemed the open and shut case. But Kathleen Schrader, associate director for collections management at VMFA, crossed her fingers and checked the records. "They were there before it got here," she says, noting the scratches first were recorded in August 1998, when the exhibition would have been packed up in Portland and heading to Phoenix. (German experts believe the buckle of a strap used to hoist the massive slab is the culprit.)

Not our fault, after all. And so neither Princess Wen-shet nor anyone else may say to Richmond: "Tut tut."

— Rob Morano

Controversy Resurfaces over VCU McDonald's

"Did somebody say McDonald's?" Not Marc Redmond and The Union for Student Rights at Virginia Commonwealth University. They say the menu of extra-value meals at the VCU Student Commons McD's provides little value and doesn't satisfy student dining needs.

Redmond, a VCU sophomore, and the rest of the volunteers of The Union for Student Rights have been trying since their formation in September to convince the VCU administration to terminate its contract with McDonald's. "We don't want a corporate university, we don't want a McDonald's commons, and, as our flyer states, we don't want a McVCU," Redmond says, referring to the "McVCU No More!" flyer his group has plastered around VCU's campus.

The location has had a history of problems since opening in August 1997. By November 1997, the franchise took down the 12-foot glowing arches at its entrance inside the commons as well as three large golden arches on the outside walls after students said the signs were too garish.

Redmond and his group say that's not enough. They want the whole franchise removed, and say they won't rest until VCU terminates the contract and establishes a university-run service with more food choices in its place.

However, the contract assures McDonald's up to 20 years of competition-free operation as long as the franchise does not violate its terms.

The Union for Student Rights obtained more than 1,300 student signatures in support of their position during a four-day petition drive this month. They presented the signatures Nov. 21 to Henry Rhone, vice provost for student affairs. Rhone says the administration considers early termination of the contract one of the options, but added that breaking the contract would be difficult.

Giving students more food choices is the priority, Rhone says. "Street vendors [around the commons] are the best example of the need for diversity because they are doing quite well," he says. Rhone says President Eugene Trani is not comfortable at all with the debate and level of dissatisfaction on campus, and thought the decision to bring in McDonald's was a good one.

Trani was unavailable for comment.

The ultimate decision for VCU, Rhone says, rests with Paul Timmreck, vice president for finance and administration. Timmreck also was unavailable for comment.

In a faxed statement, McDonald's owner David Traub wrote that McDonald's wants to cooperate with the university and is open to suggestions for improving services. "In fact," Traub says, "we recently brought in six different sandwiches, not normally part of our menu, to cater to the needs of the community we serve."

Says Redmond: "we're going to push as hard as we can to get the best situation for the students."

- Wayne Melton

Scratches Mar Portal, But Not Reputation

Jerry Royster's newest boxer was born last week — "It's a boy, with great big hands." Jerry Royster Jr.'s got some sibling success to live up to, though: brother Chris is 3-0 on the pro circuit, and Jamil has amassed a 136-1 amateur record.

And while it's never to early to start training, Jr.'s dad has been busy putting together the Richmond team to enter in the state's Olympic Boxing Trials, which will be held Dec. 4 and 5 at the Bellemeade Recreation Center, 1800 Lynhaven Ave. This is "the real deal," Royster says, the first step for promising pugilists on the road to Sydney 2000. (Each weight division's winner and runner-up alternate will go on to regional and national contests early next year.)

Royster runs the city's boxing program and has been coaching for about 20 years. And even though his 12-member team mostly is made up of novices — fighters with fewer than 10 amateur bouts under each of their belts — Royster thinks this time one or more of the Richmond natives could go all the way. (He's also trying to convince a few past pupils to rejoin the squad, which will face 18 teams from around the state.)

Even if all of his protégés don't make the national cut, "it's a great experience for them. It teaches practice and discipline and how to win and lose graciously," he says.

That's something a few recent so-called champions might want to brush up on.

— Rob Morano

Lowe's Searches for Downtown Digs

Next year, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse is moving into Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.

It's also moving deeper into downtown Richmond.

With new locations at Innsbrook and just off Powhite in South Side, Jimmy Tavenner, general distract manager for Lowe's Richmond stores says the store needs a little recovery time before jumping into its next project.

But when it does, its has its eye on downtown. According to Tavenner, the Broad Street Lowe's just east of Staples Mill has outgrown its space and needs new digs. But instead of venturing to the 'burbs, the company's looking at any sizable lots even further downtown. "We want to keep our customers here. It's a great market," says Tavenner. One rumor puts the new Lowe's at the old Farmer Jack grocery near Broad and Lombardy. Tavenner says he can't confirm that Lowe's has looked seriously at the property, but he does concede it's likely. "We definitely want to stay downtown."

— Brandon Walters

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