With its gray industrial tile, stationary labels and faux-wood shelving, the Egyptian mummy exhibit room - deep in the basement of the Putnam Museum - has looked the same since about the 1970s.

"So, since about the `Partridge Family,' " Davenport artist Steve Banks, 36, said out of the blue, sending those around him into fits of laughter, "or maybe the `Brady Bunch.' "

"These shelves look like they could've been made by Mike Brady," chimed in museum history curator Christina Kastell, referring to the father on the old "Brady Bunch" TV show.

Well, not anymore.

In less than two weeks, on Aug. 22, a newly renovated - and completely transformed and updated - Egyptian mummy exhibit will open to the public.

Visitors will enter between two ancient-looking pillars, right into what Kastell hopes will feel like an undisturbed Egyptian tomb.

"My goal is to make the visitor feel like they're an Egyptologist studying this," she said.

But it won't be completely ancient.

The display will include surprising new information, gleaned from rare CT, or computed tomography, scans of the mummies that were donated two years ago by Genesis Medical Center, and it will do so with computerized touch-screen technology.

Transformation under way

Right now, the mummy room is empty and dark.

The Putnam's two Egyptian mummies, still in their old cases, have been moved carefully into the room that connects to their exhibit room downstairs, but you'd have to crawl around and over shelving units to see them.

Things are definitely out of place everywhere downstairs.

But just wait. Big changes are on the way: more than $50,000 worth of work, paid for with lots of help from grants and in-kind contributions, said Betsy Matt Turner, the Putnam's development director.

"When people hear it's for the mummies, they want to help," she said. "This is the iconic exhibit in the museum."

This display is Kastell's pride and joy, too.

What else at the Putnam draws as many loyal visitors? One of the biggest draws for educators taking their students (of all ages) on field trips is the mummy display, she said.

She expects the renovation to have an even bigger impact on visitors.

Instead of focusing on the culture's after-life practices, as the old one did, the new exhibit will focus more on how the ancient Egyptians lived, she added.

"I want them to understand more about the life of the people," Kastell said. "We want it to be a more cohesive cultural experience when they come in here."

An artist hired on a contractual basis, Banks has been making his magic in the old mummy room for several weeks now, cutting hieroglyphics into wooden walls, which he's building and painting to look like old stone carvings.

The symbols are real. They're copied from those discovered on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs, and the drawings represent a funeral procession, he said.

"Look at how that pops," Kastell said, watching Banks paint the hieroglyphics. "I didn't know it was going to be as detailed as that. It looks great."

The room seems much darker, thanks to a new, deeper color painted on the ceiling.

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Then look down. The floor is different, too. The industrial tile is gone, and now the floor has "more of a sand and stone feel to it," Kastell said.

Other changes include a new forensic reconstruction of the female mummy's face, created from information discovered in the CT scans, and new "plaques" made of fabric and paint, she said.

Not-so-noticeable changes: The mummies will be placed in new climate-controlled cases to help preserve them longer. And the museum is going to install a permanent "mummy-cam" so people around the world can visit the mummies 24/7 via the Internet, spokeswoman Lori Arguello said.

Next generation of museum displays

The transformation was a natural step after the Putnam got the chance to glean new information about the mummies.

But the staff thought long and hard about how to present that information.

This was a chance to bring modern technology into a permanent display at the Putnam, following a trend among museums to incorporate new with the old, Kastell said.

Putnam officials even talked about whether, someday, visitors would no longer want to see old artifacts in real life. Kastell believes they will always want to view them.

"People still want to see the stuff," she said, "but they do like the computers and showing them additional information that way."

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