Q+A with Lucia R. Henderson (Ph.D. in Art History, 2013)
Thu. February 25, 2016
Lucia Henderson received her Ph.D. in Art History from UT Austin in 2013, specializing in Precolumbian art. Henderson holds a B.A. in anthropology from Harvard, an M.A. in art history from UC San Diego, and is a trained archeological illustrator. She has published on stone sculpture, cave art, volcano imagery, the Maya, the Aztecs, and the ancestral Hopi of the American Southwest. Henderson was a Coleman Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2014–2015 and is currently a Mayer Fellow at the Denver Art Museum.
She answered questions by email.
You finished your Ph.D. in Art History in 2013. Describe your thesis topic and why you chose to study at UT Austin.
Lucia Henderson: I wrote my dissertation on the sculptures of Kaminaljuyu, an early Maya site now buried under Guatemala City. Although considered one of the most significant sites of the early Maya world, no comprehensive sculptural catalog had ever been gathered or studied. My dissertation project involved hunting down, photographing and illustrating these sculptures, then interpreting them to better understand early Maya religion, ritual and incipient authority.
As for coming to UT Austin, I had studied with David Stuart as a Harvard undergrad. I widely blame him for irrevocably hooking me on the ancient Maya! After graduation, I was hired as an illustrator for the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions at the Peabody Museum. Its founder, Ian Graham, and David Stuart were my supervisors, training me in technical drawing (black and white inked illustrations of bas-relief sculptures). We first spoke about the importance of illustrating the sculptures of Kaminaljuyu in 2001—there was a rising interest in the early Maya, and the site remained understudied and under-published. When I was searching for a Ph.D. program in 2005, UT Austin rose to the top—not only was David there, but so, too, was Julia Guernsey, an expert in early Maya art. It was a perfect fit.
How did you learn about the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fellowship? What did it mean for your research to become a fellow? What did your time at the Met teach you?
LH: As I neared the end of my doctorate, I began to consider how my graduate career would translate into the “real world.” Museum collections seemed particularly intriguing. No one could tell me much about how the museum universe “worked,” though, so I began cold-calling people—literally talking to anyone who was willing to do an informational interview with me. I reached a woman who worked at the Met in exhibitions and gave her my CV. A few months later, Joanne Pillsbury was appointed the Curator of the Ancient Americas, which prompted an email from my contact suggesting I apply for a fellowship. It was a general pool, meaning I was in competition against art historians in all other specialties. No one in my field had occupied a postdoc fellowship at the Met in recent history, so I put my chances at near zero.
It was a magical year—enriching beyond measure to be exposed to a world of outstanding scholars beyond my specialization. It was also immensely humbling. And productive: I submitted 4 articles for publication, wrote 10 online catalog entries for the museum, gave 6 professional talks, and made major progress on my Kaminaljuyu book.
You recently started a postdoc at the Denver Art Museum. What has that been like?
LH: If I could have written my own dream job description, this would be it. My time is divided between museum hours and my own research hours, so it’s the best of both worlds. Though the Denver Art Museum (DAM) is much smaller than the Met, their Maya collection is nearly twice as large, covering an almost encyclopedic range of time periods, styles, geographies and object types. My Met position was an academic one—I chose to catalog the objects I personally found compelling. At the DAM I am more deeply involved in the curatorial aspects of the museum world. My project is also more holistic and comprehensive, planning the pathways of future studies and creating frameworks with which we can begin to understand these extraordinary, understudied objects. The idea is to identify the broad, thematic categories represented by the collection first, then add in the more specific narratives as we go. Every day is one of adventure and discovery. These objects have so many stories to tell, and it is a rather remarkable thing to find myself in the position of giving those stories a voice.
On top of it all, you are working to finish a book manuscript. Tell us a little about your book and how you’ve juggled the writing and research for it with everything else you’ve been doing.
LH: As I mentioned, my position at the DAM is part-time museum work and part-time research, so I have been extremely fortunate in that regard. That said, I understand why people take year-long sabbaticals to write books! It’s a full-time job.
When combined with my DAM research, publications and conference talks, it can be overwhelming. This kind of schedule is more the rule than the exception in academia, though. We are all in constant multi-tasking mode. What has made this book a particular challenge is that in 2014 (the year after I submitted my dissertation) scholars revised Kaminaljuyu’s chronology—shifting the site’s sculptures about 200-300 years forward in time. Debates are raging and we are working to fully understand the implications of the revision. By rather accidentally ending up as a Kaminaljuyu specialist, I have found myself in the midst of the academic maelstrom. It’s been spectacular fun but also incredibly difficult to navigate—the book must balance the necessity for a coherent narrative while emphasizing that we have just undergone a seismic shift in the field.
The years to come will certainly be interesting ones. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii co-curated by John R. Clarke and Elaine K. Gazda
Fri. February 12, 2016
An exhibition co-curated by John R. Clarke and Elaine K. Gazda, entitled Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii, opens at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. It will be on view February 19 – May 15, 2016 then will travel to Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies and the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Organized by Clarke in cooperation with the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii and the Oplontis Project in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin, the exhibition explores the lavish lifestyle and economic activities of ancient Rome’s most powerful and wealthy citizens, who vacationed along the Bay of Naples. Since 2009, Clarke has overseen every detail of the exhibition, including the conservation of the 122 fragments on display—seen for the first time by the public. Major sculptures found in the gardens of Villa A (perhaps the property of Nero’s wife, Poppaea), as well as gold coins and fine jewelry found on the skeletons of victims gather in Villa B (a commercial center), will also be featured.
On February 19, John R. Clarke will give the opening lecture for the premier of Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis at Pompeii. The title of Clarke’s lecture is: “Studying the Villas of Oplontis: Archives, Excavation, 3D Modeling, and an Exhibition.”
Gazda and Clarke have contributed to and edited a major scholarly catalog to accompany the exhibition. Seven department alumni have participated in the Oplontis Project and its publications and contributed essays to the exhibition catalog including:
Michael L. Thomas, Ph.D. in Art History, 2001
Nayla K. Muntasser, Ph.D. in Art History, 2003
Regina Gee, Ph.D. in Art History, 2003
Ivo van der Graaff, Ph.D. in Art History, 2013
Lea Cline, Ph.D. in Art History, 2013
Lauren H. Petersen, Ph.D. in Art History, 2000
Jennifer L. Muslin, Ph.D. candidate in Art History
John L. Warfield Center presents exhibition curated by Phillip Townsend
Wed. February 17, 2016
The John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies presents an exhibition curated by Phillip A. Townsend (M.A. candidate in Art History). The exhibition, Light and Life: St. Louis Cemetery No.1 through the Lens of John Pinderhughes, will be on view through May 2016.