October 11, 2008 Elin Danien, PhD., "HOW TO CATCH A PAINTED METAPHOR: Creating an exhibition out of pots, gods, and chocolate, with a little obsession on the side"

On April 5th, 2009, Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya, will open at the Penn Museum. Maya Weekend attendees and Museum members will preview the exhibit on April 3rd. Curator Elin Danien  took PCS members behind the scenes for an illustrated look at the development of this exhibition.  She shared some previously unknown anecdotes about the unusual people whose work is the basis of the exhibition.  The exhibit was designed to spotlight the collection of polychrome vases, carefully excavated at the site of Chama, Guatemala, which were sent to the Penn Museum by linguist and man in the field  Robert Burkitt.  These vases are extremely important because they are the only known Chama polychrome vases with full provenience. Dr. Danien has been on the trail of Burkitt, and the story of the vases, for many years; early in her research she made a trip to scan his diaries on a ranch in Guatemala, and later, flew in a very small plane to the village of Chama to retrieve local clay in order to ascertain the true physical source of the pots.  In her investigation of the career of Robert Burkitt, Dr. Danien encountered the work of M. Louise Baker, the Museum artist who painted a gorgeous roll-out series of watercolors of the pots. Among the many details of their lives revealed by Dr. Danien was the fact that the two actually met in Guatemala, and liked each other! The eagerly anticipated exhibition has been expanded to include additional pottery vessels which will shed light on the role of fine ceramics in the political and ritual life of the ancient Maya. All look forward to attending the opening of the exhibition, fittingly scheduled at the opening of the 2009 Maya Weekend.
          Dr. Elin Danien is a Research Associate in the American Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, where she was responsible for the recent renovation of the Mesoamerican gallery.   She earned her Ph.D. in 1998, with a dissertation on the collection of Maya polychrome pottery in the University Museum.  That collection forms the core of the upcoming exhibition.  Her recent publications include the web publication,  Paintings of Maya Pottery: The Art and Career of M. Louise Baker, posted 9/5/06 at: http://www.famsi.org/reports/03029/index.html,  and two edited volumes:  Maya Folktales from the Alta Verapaz, and, with John M. Weeks, The Lost Notebooks of Robert Burkitt,  Maya Linguist.

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