Monday, May 18, 2009
Villanovan Hut Urn, ca. 800–700 BC; terracotta; The Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund, 79.15a/b (Photo © 2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
Odd things turn up on the Internet, like a Web page for a place called “Lemuria,” supposedly a lost kingdom in the South Pacific analogous to Atlantis. Wikipedia has a great deal of trivia on this island, which, apparently, was invented in the 19th century to explain “discontinuities in the biogeography.” These days, plate tectonics explain the discontinuities.
The name, though, is something else. By intent or by chance, Lemuria is also the name of an important Roman holiday (not, to my knowledge, celebrated by Audrey Hepburn). The holiday was observed on May 9, 11, and 13 with the goal of appeasing the spirits of the dead. The origin of the term is unknown, but Ovid, in his poem on the Roman calendar, says the name derives from “Remuria” (Fasti V.455-480), a festival supposedly instituted by Romulus after he slew Remus. Though Ovid names his source for the derivation as none other than the god Mercury, modern scholars have rejected this explanation – without, however, reaching any consensus on an alternate explanation.
Among other rites performed during the Lemuria is what might be called the casting of the beans, when the pater familias (head of household) went about his home throwing black beans over his shoulder and calling out nine times: “I cast these and with these beans I redeem myself and my family.” The ghosts are thought to follow after the pater familias and gather up the beans. At the end of the rite, with a clatter of bronze pots and pans, the ghosts are asked to leave with the incantation “Spirits of my ancestors, go forth,” chanted nine times.
Ovid (Fasti 5.428) reports that the rite is old, so perhaps it is something adopted from the distant past when the peoples of Italy lived in huts similar to those modeled in a hut urn in the VMFA. The urn itself is from the Villanovan period (10th–8th centuries BC), a time before the beginning of recorded history in Italy, when the ancestors of the Romans and other Italic peoples were preserving the cremated remains of their dead in specially made containers.
Dr. Peter Schertz, Jack and Mary Ann Frable Curator of Ancient Art, VMFA
Friday, May 15, 2009
(Photo © 2003 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
During my 20 years at the VMFA Studio School, I’ve been amazed by how much enjoyment people get from making time to create something with their hands. It might seem simple enough, but in this increasingly technological age, many people have forgotten what it is like to make from clay a coffee cup that they can drink from, or a painting or photograph of a family member or a favorite travel spot.
The friendships and camaraderie that develop in classes is also impressive. Many Studio School students have put in enough studio hours over the years to have earned several art degrees. People are encouraged by our teachers to develop at their own pace and skill level. The student painting exhibition on display now in the Studio School Gallery is a testament to the wide variety of painting styles and subject matter that one painting class can produce. The exhibition of paintings is on view through May 22.
For more information on Studio School summer class offerings, click here.
Thomas C. Gordon Jr. Director of the Studio School
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Angelina Jolie, not VMFA's Dr. Jennifer Foley, stars in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."
Beginning in June of 2000, I spent two and a half years conducting field research in Southeast Asian art history. It was a wonderful time, an incredible opportunity, and I am grateful for every day.
Which is not to say that my time there was without frustrations – from a fruit-bat infestation in my house to an “invitation” to visit the immigration office about my visa. The most pressing frustration was the perpetual reassessments and readjustments to my dissertation topic. What had seemed fabulous back in Ithaca was less so when I was knee deep in a rice paddy. Changes included a country shift from Vietnam to Cambodia.
Soon after arriving in Vietnam, I realized that I would need a rugged form of transportation to deal with my off-road visits to temples. I settled on a Minsk, a Belarusian motorcycle with a design that hadn’t changed since Stalin was in power. And it was cheap. But … Minsks are workhorses, used almost exclusively by farmers to haul things to market. The guy who sold me the bike asked if I wanted one-pig shocks or two-pig shocks. That’s right: the shocks were measured by how many pigs one could carry to market.
I am also a woman. In Vietnam, women drive small scooters with automatic transmissions. Motorcycles that require manual shifting are masculine; automatic transmissions are feminine. Motorcycles are, in fact, gendered on the registration. One line reads loai xe, meaning type of vehicle. The options were nu (female) or nam (male). My Minsk was listed as being a boy.
After more than a year of researching, I decided to move to Phnom Penh. I had grown very attached to my Minsk, and since Cambodia had far fewer paved roads, I decided to bring the motorcycle. There were no Minsks in Cambodia, so I thought it might be good to learn about maintenance from my mechanic in Danang, Anh Dan. The day before I started my drive to Phnom Penh, I stopped by Anh Dan’s shop to pick up my motorcycle, which he had been giving a final tune-up. When I arrived, he was very excited.
“I saw you! I saw you last night!”
He said he’d seen a movie about me. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he ran into his house behind the shop and returned with a (pirated) DVD. On the cover was a picture of Angelina Jolie in shorts and a tank top with a gun strapped to her leg.
“You’re Tomb Raider! You’re Tomb Raider!”
I thought he’d lost his mind. Angelina Jolie I am not. But, he explained, the movie was clearly about me.
“Look! She is a Tay (Westerner), she has a braid like you, she drives a boy motorcycle like you, and she goes to Cambodia! For art and sculptures and temples! Just like you!”
His logic was impeccable. How could I argue?
Jennifer Foley, Ph.D.
VMFA Paul Mellon Collection Educator
Dr. Foley will speak on the topic “Walking the Royal Road: the Ancient Cambodian Kingdom of Angkor” May 14 at 6 p.m.
Monday, May 11, 2009
In March of 2006, heavy equipment, not mules, was used to clear the way for construction of the VMFA expansion project. (Photo by Travis Fullerton, © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
I can look out the window of my office in the Pauley Center at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and watch as our expansion, opening next May, continues. It’s a scene chock full of heavy equipment and huge cranes, and it reminded me the other day of something I found a while back in the VMFA library’s archives. Our librarian dug it out for me. It was an eight-page summary of what the site looked like when the original VMFA was constructed. Here’s a portion of what Jimmy Boehling and his younger brother, Dan, who both grew up in our neighborhood, saw back in the early 1930s when they were little boys:
“That deep, large hole in the ground was all done by teams of mules and manpower. The mules were used first to plow the area for a depth of eight or 10 inches, then the pans or scoops, each about four or five feet square, pulled by two mules, came in and dragged the dirt out. The pan had two handles behind, held by the mule driver, who, with both hands busy holding the pans, directed the mules mostly by voice commands. Layer after layer was removed in this way, and as trenches for the sewer lines and concrete foundations were all dug by laborers using picks and shovels and wheelbarrows.
“The excavating required several months and had to be completed before carpenters could begin building the temporary forms for the concrete walls and inner support columns. The carpenters had no powered hand tools back then, so [they] had to saw all the boards by hand.”
Wow! Mules! Imagine that. We’ve come a long way since the early 1930s.
Don Dale, VMFA Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009
This video is from VMFA's social capital luncheon in the Arts Café in April.
Social capital takes on greater meaning as we prepare for VMFA's grand re-opening next May. What is social capital, anyway? The central premise is that social networks have value. To learn more, click here.
Thus, hosting a luncheon at VMFA is more than sharing a salad or sandwich in the Café. It's harnessing the power of social networks to benefit the museum, particularly vibrant networks that exist in important constituencies that VMFA is eager to embrace. The ingredients are food, fun, fantastic art, fabulous people and a welcoming environment that transforms guests into members who claim the museum as myVMFA.
In February, VMFA's community affairs office hosted 30 professional women, mostly African American, to a dutch-treat networking luncheon in the Arts Café and enjoy the popular Labor and Leisure exhibit. The response was sensational! Those unable to come begged for an encore, and we eagerly responded again in April.
VMFA is the perfect place for professional women, particularly those involved in nonprofit and community-based circles, to enlarge their base of networks and contacts to move their organizations forward and to spread the word about VMFA. Newcomers to the Richmond area find these lunchtime connections helpful in building an information base to ease their transition in a welcoming way.
Join us for the next dutch-treat networking luncheon on June 11 from 12 to 2 p.m., just before the museum's galleries go off view to prepare for the grand re-opening in May 2010. The gathering is inclusive, so bring a friend or two. VMFA is increasing its social capital in the community, and we're promoting civic engagement through these networks to help talented professionals increase their social capital as well.
Carmen Foster, VMFA Director of Community Affairs
For more information on the June 11 luncheon, telephone (804) 340-1430 or click here to send an e-mail to Carmen Foster.