Exhibitions: Mayan Models

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    Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
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    Luce Center for American Art

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    Mayan Models

    Press Releases ?
    • May 22, 1933: Maya temples and civic palaces, miniature in size but perfect in shape and decoration, are now being constructed at the Brooklyn Museum by skilled men under a project approved and supported by the Architects’ Emergency Committee. Some of the finest examples of ancient American buildings of stone and mortar construction are included in the planned exhibit which calls for models on the uniform scale of one half inch to the foot. The reconstructions are being made under the direction of Mr. Herbert J. Spinden, Curator of Ethnology at the Brooklyn Museum, who in many field trips has gathered the necessary measurements of the original buildings and taken photographs and sketches of their decorative features. The exhibit when completed will be placed on view at the Brooklyn Museum and should prove of great interest to architects and of general educational value.

      The Architects’ Emergency Committee of 115 East 40th Street organized in 1930, is comprised of representatives of the Architectural Societies of New York City including the five boroughs also parts of Westchester and Nassau counties. Its purpose is to secure employment for members of the architectural profession who are unemployed. The work to which they are assigned includes non-profit making projects of diversified character. The funds to pay for this will be contributed by the public or secured through various fund raising activities of the Women's Division of the Architects' Emergency Committee composed of the wives of leading architects and others. The entire receipts of this emergency fund are used for relief work, no deduction being made for administration or other expenses, these running costs being contributed by the Architectural Societies and individual members.

      Specially qualified men have been selected to make the miniature Maya buildings under the project presented by the Brooklyn Museum and it is expected that each man will finish single-handed at least two examples of Maya architecture making a total of 16 or more unit buildings. Afterwards it is planned to make small reconstructions of two or three of the great communal edifices of the Mayas which will call for united effort. Also there will be some diagrammatic models illustrating the principles of Maya construction especially that of their famous pointed vaults as well as a number of perspective drawings showing the appearances of Maya cities.

      As regards method of procedure: the walls of these model buildings are first formed in plastolene then moulds are made and plaster casts which are finally assembled and painted in realistic fashion. Interesting technical points come up which will be decided by experiment with the aid of Museum preparators so that for architectural draftsmen the project has a distinct educational side. Each man's work will be kept as separate as possible so he will be able to use this construction as a demonstration of ability. The entire history of Maya architecture passes in review in this project which covers the developments of approximately 1300 years from the earliest known building of the First Empire of the Mayas (100 BC to 630 AD) down to those in use when the Spaniards arrived off the east coast of Yucatan in 1517. While the typical pointed vault was used throughout this long range of time, there were great improvements in its construction. Maya temples were often erected upon lofty pyramids and trellis-like walls were placed upon the roofs of these temples designed to carry sculptural decorations. There are several periods during which typical styles of decoration were developed in Maya cities producing a really tremendous variety in the complete survey. Maya architecture is an independent growth of the New World in which cut stone masonry, rubble with limestone mortar and fine work in stucco and fresco decoration were achieved.

      The first set of buildings including examples of the simplest sort of all periods is now well advanced. Among the models is a temple of Holmul, perhaps built as early as 300 A.D, which served as a royal tomb and as such was completely buried by an enlargement of the pyramid. It was excavated by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University a number of years ago and the decoration of the walls was revealed in a fine state of preservation making reconstruction easy. Another early building is a five-storied structure of Nakum of plain but impressive type. A small but beautiful building with decoration in columns and frets comes from northern Yucatan and belongs to a the Second Empire of the Mayas [unclear handwritten addition]. Also this later period is a temple at bacche with a lattice-work elevation of the front wall called a flying façade. A model is being made of the Temple the Panels at Chichen Itza details of which have recently been published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, while the latest construction is that of the Temple of the Frescos at Tuluum, a city on the east coast of Yucatan which was inhabited when the Spaniards arrived.

      A second series will attempt more elaborate examples after the technical difficulties have been mastered by the men.

      Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 07-09_1933, 064-6. View Original 1 . View Original 2 . View Original 3

    • Summer approximately 1933: Maya temples and civic palaces, miniature in size, but perfect in shape and decoration, are now being constructed at the Brooklyn Museum by skilled workmen under a project approved and supported by the Architects' Emergency Committee. Some of the finest examples of ancient American buildings of stone and mortar construction will be included among these exhibits in which all the models will be scaled uniformly to one half inch to the foot. These reconstructions are being made under the direction of Dr. Herbert J. Spinden, Curator of Ethnology, who in many field trips has gathered the necessary measurements of the original buildings in situ and taken numerous photographs and sketches of their rich deco ration. The group of models when completed will be placed on view at the Brooklyn Museum and should of great interest to architects and students of American History.

      The method of creating these models should be interesting. The walls are first formed in plastolene from which plaster-casts are made and finally assembled and painted in realistic fashion. There will be at least sixteen building units and it is planned to supplement these with diagramatic models, illustrating the principles of Mayan construction, especially that of their famous pointed vault.

      The entire history of Mayan architecture passes in review in this project which covers the developments of approximately thirteen hundred years from the earliest known buildings of the First Empire of the Mayas (100 B.C. to 630 A.D.) down to those in use when the Spaniards arrived off the east coast of Yucatan in 1517.

      While the typically pointed vault mentioned above, was used throughout this long range of time there were great improvements in its construction. Maya temples were often erected upon lofty pyramids and trellis-like walls designed to carry sculptural decorations were placed upon the roofs of these temples. In various periods typical styles of decoration were developed in Maya cities producing a really tremendous variety in the complete survey. Maya architecture is classed by archaeologists as an independent growth of the New World, in which cut stone masonry, rubble with lime stone mortar and fine work in stucco and fresco decoration was achieved

      The first set of models, including examples of the simplest sort of buildings of all periods, is already advanced. Among these models. is one of the temple of Holmul, perhaps built as early as 300 A.D., which originally served as a royal tomb and as such was completely buried by an enlargement of the pyramid. It was excavated by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University a number of years ago and the decoration of the walls when revealed was in such a fine state of preservation that reconstruction had been easy.

      The charming little building which is reproduced above is described by Teobert Maler in his "Investigations of the Ruins of Yucatan". He describes his approach to the mountain on which the building stands and gives the native name for the mountain X-kal-u-pococh which means "his knots holds fast", derived from the difficulty of ascent. The little building is of elaborate construction on three sides but the remaining narrow side has only a rude wall of quarry stone, an unfailing sign that the original intention was to build additional rooms on that side.

      These careful models is fast becoming [unclear] with the subject, as archaeologists solve new mysteries connected with that civilization.

      Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12_1933, 081-2. View Original 1 . View Original 2

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