Carlos receives Mellon Foundation challenge

The Michael C. Carlos Museum has been awarded $475,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a challenge grant. The museum must raise an additional $375,000 to receive the gift, and the total will be used as an endowment for the museum’s teaching and training programs, such as the visiting conservator program and student internships.

Law and Religion Program turns twenty

The Law and Religion Program is celebrating two decades of pioneering research and teaching with two new grants: the first explores America’s land bank authorities as community development tools; the other examines social justice philanthropies in Muslim societies.

Emory student named Truman Scholar

Christopher M. Richardson was selected as a National Truman Scholar for 2002, one of seventy-seven students in the country to receive the fellowship, meant to foster careers in government and public service. Richardson, a bone cancer survivor, received a $30,000 grant–$3,000 for his senior year and $27,000 for graduate studies.

Gender and
women’s health

The School of Medicine has been chosen as one of eleven institutions in the country to receive a five-million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to explore how gender affects women’s health. Zachary Stowe, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Women’s Mental Health Program, and his team plan to study the effects of psychotropic medications on women who are suffering neurological ailments–from depression to epilepsy–before, during, and after pregnancy.































































Depictions of humans and monkeys, birds and snakes, jaguars and crocodiles weave their way through the new Art of the Ancient Americas galleries at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, transforming one to another like a shared hallucinatory vision. The objects reveal composite images–a bowl with elements of a stingray and a boa constrictor; a goblet with a human head and feline fangs–that capture many layers of self and embody a unity of nature and all creatures.

To fully experience this ancient art, says faculty curator Rebecca Stone-Miller, a modern observer must let go of rigid Western categories and presumptions and, as Proust urged, “see with new eyes.”

Clear distinctions between humans and animals are obliterated in the exhibit, “which displaces the human from a central position . . . [and] reverses a Western assumption that animals and plants lie beneath the human in the cosmic scheme,” says Stone-Miller, associate professor of art history.

The Art of the Ancient Americas galleries, which opened in September 2002 after more than a year of renovations under the direction of architect Michael Graves, houses one of the most important collections of such art in the Southeast and one of the key collections of art from ancient Costa Rica in the country.

The exhibit displays more than five hundred of the museum’s nearly 2,200 works from ancient Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Crafted from clay, stone, metal, wood, fiber, bone, and shell, the pieces reflect the belief systems and lifestyles of the Maya, Aztec, Inca, and other ancient American cultures.

About one-fourth of the objects, which include effigies, jewelry, ritual artifacts, vessels, and textiles, have never been displayed before.

Part of preparing the exhibit involved identifying the animals depicted on the objects. This often proved trickier than it might seem, given that many animals were in dual or transforming states. An image of a toad with ears, for example, must have been achieved by blending in characteristics of a human or other animal, since toads don’t have ears.

A person might even be combined with a plant, as evidenced by a South American stirrup spout vessel showing a round-bodied musician/peanut playing a flute. “The unity of person and peanut is neither humorous nor trivial, but represents . . . [that] the plant and the person are inexorably linked,” says Stone-Miller. “More colloquially, ‘You are what you eat.’ ”

A good amount of detective work was involved in determining the meaning or use of the pieces. For example, outlines of a textile print on a South American female effigy tells that the effigy was dressed, just as a real person would have been; wear on the surface of an oval ceremonial grinding platform from Costa Rica shows that the stone grinding platform was actually used before burial; and yellow-brown swabbed residue inside a watering vessel indicates that, rather than water, maize beer was poured through the device.

Emory scientists in related fields contributed their expertise as well. Associate Professor of Environmental Studies William B. Size conducted a groundbreaking geological analysis of greenstones (“jades”) for the catalogue; William Casarella, chair of Emory Hospital’s Radiology Department, assisted in X-raying various ceramic pieces; and Robert Wirtz, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helped interpret a vessel depicting a survivor of leishmaniasis–a disfiguring disease caused by a parasite carried by animals, including rats and dogs, and transferred to humans by the sandfly.

The museum’s emphasis on acquiring art from the ancient Americas began in 1988 with pieces from the collection of Atlantans William C. and Carol W. Thibadeau.

William Thibadeau, who died in November 2002 at eighty-two, donated seven hundred pieces and sold the museum another six hundred at a bargain price. Valued at $1 million in 1992 and now worth three times that, the collection comprises an “interesting, wide-ranging, and idiosyncratic grouping of works,” says Stone-Miller, and was the impetus behind the museum’s 1993 expansion.

“So many works of such quality,” says President William M. Chace, “deserved to be seen in spacious and handsome galleries.”–M.J.L.

Other Précis articles:

A return to scholarship

End of an era

• Triumph of imagination

• A not-so-modest proposal

• Seeing with new eyes

• Faculty author resigns

• Way cool

• SAT prep made easy

• Remembering Michael C. Carlos

• Remembering Sanford S. Atwood

• Henry who?

• Awakening the demon

• Bringing science to life




© 2003 Emory University