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UC Berkeley Press Release

Egyptologist Cathleen Keller dies at age 62

– Cathleen "Candy" Keller, an associate professor of Egyptology in the University of California, Berkeley's Department of Near Eastern Studies, died of pancreatic cancer on April 18 at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She was 62.

Cathleen Keller
Cathleen Keller
Keller specialized in Egyptian art and language. Much of her research focused on the craftsmen who painted the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1170) royal tombs for pharaohs such as King Tutankhamen and Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, and their own tombs in the ancient village of Deir el-Medinah, where the craftsmen lived. Her research extended to the craftsmen's work, their village and relationships.

"She was a consummate scholar, a generous, warm-hearted colleague and friend with a wry sense of humor and highly developed sense of the absurd. She also was a gifted and much-loved teacher whose passing left a huge hole in the department," Carol Redmount, chair of UC Berkeley's Near Eastern Studies Department, said of Keller. "She will be greatly missed."

Keller was one of three editors of "Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh." Published in 2005 in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the book offers an in-depth treatment of the controversial Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh who sometimes was depicted as male.

When the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park reopened in October 2005, it featured a crowd-pleasing exhibit on Hatshepsut. Keller developed the concept for "Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh" and was its co-curator. The exhibit also was featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1990, Keller guest curated "From Palace and Province," an exhibit at UC Berkeley's Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive that highlighted objects from the Hearst Museum's Egyptian collection.

In the 1990-1991 academic year, Keller served as the Wellcombe Lecturer in Egyptian Civilization in the Department of Fine Arts at Harvard University.

The faculty curator of Egyptian art and epigraphy at UC Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology since 1987, Keller co-curated "Sites along the Nile: Rescuing Ancient Egypt," a 1999-2001 exhibit at the Hearst Museum.

She and students in UC Berkeley's Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program a launched a major project to digitally document the Hearst Museum's Egyptian collection. Led by Keller, the students in recent years took digital photos of the objects and converted them into data files for the museum's online catalog and Web site. They also transferred the photos into hard copies for the museum's photo archive and helped to create the first corpus of digital images ever made of the museum's objects.

"All of her students shared her enthusiasm for the Egyptian past, and a reverence for the historical objects they worked with at the Hearst Museum," said Terry Strathman, director of UC Berkeley's Office of Undergraduate Research.

Strathman noted that Keller's freshman seminar on reading hieroglyphics "really pulled in the budding Egyptologists."

"I am still in awe of her ability to sit down and literally read the inscriptions on the scarabs (jewelry made of gems cut in the shape of a beetle)," Hilary Campbell, a student in the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, said of Keller in 2006 in comments submitted to the program office. "I never would have imagined that, as a science major, I could still spend time working with this amazing person who was so knowledgeable that she could even teach ancient Egyptian language."

Keller earned all of her degrees at UC Berkeley. Her 1978 Ph.D. was in ancient history and Mediterranean archaeology, with a thesis on the painters of the Egyptian village of Deir el-Medina. She earned a master's degree from the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology in 1971 and a B.A. in Near Eastern languages in 1967.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Atherton, Calif., she graduated from the former Crystal Springs School for Girls in Hillsborough in 1963. She was an assistant professor of classical archaeology at San Francisco State University from 1976-1977 and also curator there of the Sutro Egyptian Collection from 1975-1977. From 1977 to 1983, she served first as assistant curator and then as associate curator of Egyptian art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, then returned to UC Berkeley to teach. In addition to the "Sites along the Nile: Rescuing Ancient Egypt" exhibit, Keller curated several other exhibits at the Hearst Museum, working with colleague Redmount and UC Berkeley students.

Keller served as chair of the Near Eastern Studies department in the mid-1990s and as acting chair for the academic year 2006-2007.

Keller was a member of the American Research Center in Egypt, the Egypt Exploration Society, the Egyptological Seminar of New York and the International Association of Egyptologists. She served as a member of the board of governors and of the executive committee of the American Research Center in Egypt in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Keller was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2007 and underwent chemotherapy and other treatments before being hospitalized on April 15.

"She was an inspiration because she was as cheerful as could be through all this," said Joan Knudsen, registrar of the Hearst Museum and a close friend of Keller's.

A campus memorial service is being planned for 2-6 p.m., Sept. 6, in the Lipman Room on the eighth floor of UC Berkeley's Barrows Hall.

Contributions can be made in Keller's honor to the Department of Near Eastern Studies' Klaus Baer Library of Egyptology, home to a non-circulating collection of approximately 8,000 volumes primarily for use by UC Berkeley students and faculty pursuing serious study of ancient Egyptian culture, Coptology and papyrology. Checks should be addressed to UC Regents, with Klaus Baer Library of Egyptology in the note line, and sent to Betsy Stern, Near Eastern Studies Department, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1940.

Donations also can be made to the Cathleen Keller Fund to support high-achieving students in their study of Egyptology. Checks made out to the UC Regents, with a note about the Keller Fund, can be sent to Sharlene Mulder, Near Eastern Studies Department, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1940.

Donations also can be made in Keller's honor to the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society. Keller's border collie, Danny, who was adopted from the East Bay Humane Society, has been taken in by Redmount.

Keller is survived by a sister, Susan Keller, of Redwood City, Calif.