I've never exactly been enamored of statues. My reason for being in the foyer of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts was not to admire a figure made of marble-textured granite that stands there limbless and silent. It is, says a plaque, the likeness in stone of King Achoris, a ruler in Egypt's 29th dynasty.
Interesting. But I was there just to meet a friend who was visiting the museum's shop. He buys objets d'art in the same way fashion-conscious people purchase clothing: There has to be some kind of identification readily recognized. Not able to afford the real thing, he surrounds himself with condensed versions. They serve as bookends, bacon presses, doorstops, or containers for some exotic plant or other.
King Achoris was too big for a doorstop, and much too large for a bacon press. I tried to imagine what use my friend might find for a reproduction of such a work. Something to tie horses to perhaps, but impractical for an inner-city apartment. Two of them on top of each other would make a good ceiling support in the cellar. Perhaps the king would not serve any purpose except to be admired!
Seeing him here in the foyer, indeed, I felt that the king demanded to be admired, even insisted that I make some effort to communicate. In an attempt to do so, I ran my fingers across the sculptured stone. A guard said, ''Would you please refrain from touching the statue!'' Faced with authority far exceeding that of an ancient Egyptian king, I drew back.
But it was impossible not to reach out. Both the beauty of the statue and my appreciation of it had to be nourished. The opportunity to commune with something that had seen more than 2,000 years of history was too irresistible.
This statue, I began to think, was the product of its own kind of research and development. How many pieces of marble had been shaped not quite right, or broken or lost? How many weaknesses, eradicated faults, reduced imperfections had the artist been through before reaching this final thing of beauty? Perhaps none at all. It might have been something that had emerged whole, this way, the first time. Such works are not products of chance. They are emanations of who we really are - of beauty, affection, and a striving for perfection.
Although the sculpture is without complete form, time has healed the wounds of the king. Was this likeness as special to those who originated it as it is to museumgoers now, or was it just another statue? In the objects we use, whether houses, street lamps, furniture, or fashion, there is invested a piece of our own existence; a kind of personal stamp in many ways.
We are shaped by places and people that move us; this does not detract from our own originality but adds to it. Such originality lies within us all, as within the sculptor of the statue. It is originality that we yearn for, whether to adorn our living room in protest against the dead-tech artistry of modern manufacture, or whether simply to have it around to admire and appreciate.
I wondered what kind of legacy would be found three thousand years from now. I wondered if someone then would want to ''touch'' pieces of our culture in the way that I wanted to touch this royal statue.