Ceramics exhibit recounts life, beliefs of the Mayan civilization through art

Mitchell Gallery show includes 56 pieces, writing workshop

Four thematic sections

March 15, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bloody sacrificial rituals to the contrary, the Mayans developed one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world.

They came up with the most complicated system of writing the Americas had ever seen.

Mayan astronomers and mathematicians put their European counterparts to shame, calculating the duration of the year to within a day of its true length while predicting eclipses and the risings and settings of the planets with uncanny accuracy.

Such achievements did not confer temporal immortality, though, for the ninth and 10th centuries saw a collapse of the Mayan way of life that still has archaeologists baffled.

This enduring mystery continues to feed our fascination with these remarkable people who lived to our south, and it is in that spirit of continuing inquiry that the Mitchell Gallery is presenting "Worldviews: Maya Ceramics from the Palmer Collection."

Four themes

A total of 56 ceramic, jade and stone pieces including vases, bowls, urns, pendants and figurines will be on display though April 20 at the gallery on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis.

"Worldviews" is divided into four thematic sections, each representing a different aspect of Mayan life and culture.

"Palace Life" transports us back to the world of the Mayan scribe. Living in posh surroundings and working in royal workshops, the scribes depicted scenes of palace life and ritual.

"The Cosmos" examines the vessels and trinkets for insights into Mayan cosmological beliefs, and a vast panoply of gods, myths, spirit entities and rites are depicted in their art.

"The Underworld" features images produced by artisans living near the place held by Mayans to be the traditional entrance to the alternate plane of existence.

Finally, "The Natural World" examines the meaning of animal images on Mayan ceramics. Gods in the form of monkeys, reptiles and fish are common in Mayan art, and we learn in the exhibit that animals often were pictured to represent their human counterparts.

Writing workshop

Indeed, some Mayan descendants of the present day continue to believe that every individual has an animal counterpart, and that in order for a person to live, his corresponding animal must be protected from harm.

Poet Jean Nordhaus will lead a two-part writing workshop and poetry reading inspired by the exhibit at 10 a.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. April 1. Registration for the workshop is required, and a $10 fee will be collected from those who are not St. John's students, faculty or staff members.

Potters Ebby and Rick Malmgren will give a gallery talk titled "Two Potters' Views: The Language of Mayan Ceramics" at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Art educator Lucinda Edinberg will offer a lunchtime tour of the exhibit from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. April 4.

Unless noted, all Mitchell Gallery events are open to the public, free of charge. Registration is suggested for all events.

For registration and information, call the gallery at 410- 626-2556.

The gallery - at St. John's College, 60 College Ave., Annapolis - is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday.

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