Tribune: Sphinx from 1923 'Ten Commandments' film to be unve

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Tribune: Sphinx from 1923 'Ten Commandments' film to be unve

Unread post by silentfilm » Tue Jun 09, 2015 9:38 pm ... dunes.html

Sphinx from 1923 'Ten Commandments' film to be unveiled at Dunes Center

By Kaytlyn Leslie

[email protected]" target="_blanke 9, 2015 Updated 48 minutes ago

Amy Higgins, left, an art restorer, and Christine Muratore, a freelance artist, put the finishing touches on a new exhibit at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center featuring relics unearthed from the 1923 filming of Cecil B. DeMille's silent film epic, “The Ten Commandments.” DAVID MIDDLECAMP — [email protected]" target="_blank

Shifting sands reveal 'Ten Commandments' artifacts in Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

If you go …

“The Ten Commandments” exhibit featuring a sphinx body and other artifacts will be on display at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center starting Saturday, June 13.

The center at 1065 Guadalupe St. in Guadalupe is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A special 1920s-themed unveiling party will be held Friday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the center. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at

For information, call 805-343-2455 or visit

Less than a mile south of the Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo county line sits a blue house with a secret: Inside rests a 92-year-old headless sphinx.

The plaster sphinx is a set piece left over from Cecil B. DeMille's silent film epic “The Ten Commandments,” which was filmed in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in 1923. And now it lives in the unassuming Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center in Guadalupe.

The sphinx was recently removed from the dunes as part of a $120,000 excavation project, and a new exhibit opens Saturday featuring the 10-and-a-half-foot sphinx body, customized artwork, a separate sphinx head from a 2012 excavation and artifacts such as tobacco tins, bottles and photos from DeMille’s film set.

Lost in time

DeMille chose the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes for the prologue of “The Ten Commandments” because of its similarity to the Egyptian desert. He constructed 100-foot-tall gates, four 35-foot pharaoh statues and 21 sphinxes; a temporary city camp also set up shop near the set to house the workers.

Though the camp was marketed as “wholesome” in contemporary newspaper articles, artifacts from the recent excavation show workers still managed to sneak in contraband, Dunes Center Executive Director Doug Jenzen said.

“In reality, it looks like everyone was having a pretty good time,” he said.

Jenzen said a number of Guadalupe residents also were enlisted as extras for the movie — the center has several photos from the filming that they are asking locals to look through and identify relatives or friends.

After filming concluded, DeMille left the gigantic set out in the dunes for unknown reasons, even though he was under contract with Santa Barbara County to return the dunes to the state they had been before filming, Jenzen said.

Some speculate that he went over budget and couldn’t afford to disassemble and truck the large sets back to Hollywood. Others say he simply didn’t want it being used again in other films (a common practice in the movie industry at the time).

Whatever the reason, the “Lost City of DeMille” was left to be covered up by the sands of time.

A ‘buffalo wing’ in the sand

In 1990, shifting winds uncovered parts of the set, and local historical and conservancy groups began a 25-year excavation of the site.

In 2012, the Dunes Center and San Luis Obispo-based archeological firm Applied Earthworks Inc. uncovered parts of a giant sphinx head, which it took back to the center’s museum for restoration and display.

Initially, the center planned to return to the site to remove the rest of the sphinx’s body once it obtained more funding, Jenzen said.

When they returned in October 2014, however, Jenzen and his team found that the winds had moved the sand, and exposed the plaster statue to the elements, spreading pieces everywhere and making it difficult to handle them. When they attempted to pull the statue from the sand, the pieces crumbled, he said.

“It's just so sad when that happens; it just crumbles in your hands,” Jenzen said. “And then it’s frustration. It’s just a roller coaster of emotion."

Luck was on their side, however, when Jenzen and Burbank-based art restorer Amy Higgins noticed what looked like a “giant white buffalo wing” in the sand, he said.

“It was just sticking out of the sand,” Jenzen said. “We pointed it out to the archeologist and were like, ‘Hey, what is this thing?’”

After some excavation, the group uncovered “Nora,” a roughly 10 1/2-foot section of one of the 21 original sphinx statues that was soon named after Jenzen’s late grandmother. A portion of Nora’s back leg had been sticking out of the sands — the “buffalo wing” Jenzen and Higgins had spotted.

Nora on view

Nora looks a little worse for wear compared with the shining white spectacle she once was: Through the cracks and plaster, a bullet hole is evident in her stomach, as well as some graffiti saying “May 1930.” Her head and front legs are still somewhere under the dunes.

But that doesn't lessen the excitement for Higgins, who has spent the past year painstakingly piecing Nora back together for the exhibit.

“I hesitate to say we’ve ‘restored’ her,” Higgins said as she pulled back a plastic tarp covering the sphinx body last week. “Restore implies that you are going to see something looking brand new, like we would take it back to its primo condition in 1923, but that's not what we wanted to do here. We wanted it to look like an artifact.”

The rest of Nora may still be underneath the sands, and Jenzen said he hopes to get back out there in October and excavate the top half of the sphinx before it can be exposed to the air like the other excavated sphinx.

To do that, the Dunes Center is looking for about $85,000 to fund the next phase of excavation.

In the meantime, Nora and several other artifacts from the site — including tobacco tins, “cough syrup” bottles, a piece of preserved burnt toast from the film camp, the 2012 restored sphinx head and several photos from the film set — will be on display at the Dunes Center starting Saturday. The new exhibit will also feature art-deco themed travel posters, created by artist Steve Thomas.

The center will hold a 1920s-themed unveiling party for the new exhibit on Friday.

"It's really great," Jenzen said of the project. "Even though (the set) is a replica of ancient Egypt, it's, you know, our own local version of ancient Egypt. It's a piece of the local history."

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Re: Tribune: Sphinx from 1923 'Ten Commandments' film to be

Unread post by silentfilm » Fri Jun 12, 2015 7:18 pm ... phinx.html

Forgotten 1920s 'Ten Commandments' Sphinx Gets a Hollywood Ending
by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | June 11, 2015 04:25pm ET

After spending more than 90 years in the sandy dunes of Guadalupe, California, a majestic plaster Hollywood sphinx, created for the 1923 blockbuster silent film "The Ten Commandments," is making its 21st century debut.

Researchers excavated the fragile plaster of Paris sphinx from the dunes in 2014, and let it dry for several months before art restorers used Elmer's Glue to piece it back together. It's now housed at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center in Southern California, and goes on display for the public tomorrow evening (June 12).

"It's been pretty phenomenal," said Doug Jenzen, the executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center. "We're putting the final touches on the exhibit right now." [See Photos of the Old and Refurbished Hollywood Sphinxes]

The sphinx and its companions were the brainchild of director Cecil B. DeMille and his film crew. The silent movie had an enormous set to show the grandeur of Pharaoh's City, which was lined with 21 regal sphinxes, each standing 35 feet (11 meters) tall when they were on their pedestals.

Artifacts left by the crew suggest they had a good time on the set while making the movie. Archaeologists found tobacco tins and medicine bottles — the latter likely a ruse that carried moonshine because "The Ten Commandments" was filmed during America's Prohibition Era (1920-1933), when alcohol wasn't allowed, Jenzen said.

After filming ended, the crew apparently left the movie set to the elements. The statues were weathered by the rain, fog and wind and eventually buried by the sand on the ever-shifting dunes.

"In the process of putting [the sphinx] back together, the art restorer also found graffiti on it that said 'May 1930,'" Jenzen told Live Science. "It corresponds to all of the photos we have of people in the 1930s going out to the dunes and posing with these Egyptian statues that are sticking out of the sand."

The researchers also found evidence that people used the sphinxes for target practice, Jenzen said. They also uncovered a burned piece of toast, likely from an uneaten 1920s sandwich.

"Somehow this piece of toast made it through the elements of being exposed," Jenzen said. "It's definitely not edible anymore."

Sphinx restoration

Artifacts stay better preserved under dry desert conditions. But Guadalupe is naturally humid, giving researchers a unique challenge.

"The minute the plaster statuary is exposed to the humidity in the air, it turns to mush and crumbles," Jenzen said. "So you need to have a team of people there who are able to pull the sand away and excavate it all simultaneously."
hollywood sphinx dig, restoration

The team works to repair damage from more than nine decades in the desert.
Credit: Dunes Center, Guadalupe, CA.

But hiring a large crew of people is expensive; the small team involved only had time to excavate part of the sphinx — half of its chest and hind legs. [Photos: Uncovering Sphinxes from 1923 'The Ten Commandments']

They also excavated it in a very California-like way. They wrapped the plaster in foam and pillows to protect it, and the placed it on plywood that had surfboards underneath it.

"The surfboards acted as sleds," Jenzen said. "It's an ecologically sensitive area and we couldn't have any cars or vehicles on it."

They let the partial sphinx sit inside for several months, letting it dry out and shrink to its original size. Then, restorers spent about five weeks piecing the chucks together with Elmer's Glue, largely because it's reversible, said Amy Higgins, an art restorer who worked on the sphinx.

The sphinx was in about 50 pieces, and she called "the fragility of it" the most challenging part. But now it sits about 10.5 feet long, 4.5 feet high and 3.5 feet deep, (3.2 by 1.4 by 1 meters).

In the meantime, researchers took a trip to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, and ended up looking through about 1,500 photographs that DeMille had taken of the set so they would have a better idea of the sphinxes' production, Jenzen said.

"There's one picture that we found, it's kind of funny. It's a bunch of guys going to work one morning out in the dune, and the whole dune was just littered with sphinx parts."

The new exhibit will show photos from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as the sphinx body, and a sphinx face and paw.

After seeing the exhibit, enthusiasts may also want to see "The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille," a new movie about the making of the movie by Peter Brosnan, Jenzen said. They can also see a paw of another sphinx that the researchers mailed to the U.S. Department of the Interior's POP! Exhibit in Washington, D.C., he added.

Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Unread post by Scoundrel » Fri Dec 01, 2017 10:43 am

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