Many thanks are due to our faithful community. Their tweets helped us get in touch with @TrueBloodHBO, the official True Blood twitter feed and they set up a coast-to-coast conference call Tuesday evening between Suzuki Ingerslev, Production Designer for the show, Shelley (who has seen every episode), and me (who has read the books and will now go out and rent Season 1).
Getting to ask Suzuki our questions directly was incredibly exciting and the answers we got were pretty thrilling too! How cool is this…
How True Blood found the “Bird Lady”
The script for Episode 1 of Season 2 called for “a primitive piece of art; like a dancing girl” to be placed on the character Maryann’s coffee table. Suzuki and Cat Smith, Art Director, went to Google to look for images that fit these requirements, hoping to find something that inspired them. They looked at many different types of ancient images including Mycenaean, Etruscan, and Minoan examples. Entering search terms something like “Egyptian female statues,” they came across our very own “Bird Lady.” They printed out a selection of appropriate images and presented them to Alan Ball, the show’s creator.
He was immediately drawn to the “Bird Lady,” seeing something so elegant, beautiful and perfect in her form that she became the obvious choice. As Suzuki pointed out, though she is not the first to do so, this ancient figure looks both modern and primitive at the same time. In terms of the show, she said using it helped to emphasize that Maryann’s character is timeless.
We also found it interesting that Suzuki said they looked at a lot of Egyptian images and chose this one precisely because it is not a “typical” ancient Egyptian representation. This was precisely the thinking behind curator James F. Romano’s choice of the “Bird Lady” as the signature image for the reinstalled Egyptian galleries, which opened in April 2003. As usual, he wanted to get people to stop, look and think twice.
How True Blood created their “Bird Lady”
As part of Alan Ball’s vision for the show, which involves going the distance to add a level of authenticity, an artist was hired to make a version of the “Bird Lady” based on renderings off the web. Cindy Jackson made three statues in case one got broken during filming. Suzuki wanted a base that let the figure float and emphasized its sense of movement. So the artist drilled a rod into the bottom of the statue that connects to a flat base. We explained that we obviously couldn’t do that to a 5,500 year old object but we do have a special mount that safely produces the same floating effect.
Lastly, a few final bits of “Bird Lady” and True Blood trivia.
One of the characters refers to the statue as “Mycenean or something.” Maryann intentionally raises her arms in the same pose during the episode; this gesture was directly inspired by the choice of the “Bird Lady” for the statue. And yes, the “Bird Lady” can be read as a clue to Maryann’s eternal nature, but no, there is not necessarily any further connection.
Many thanks to HBO’s True Blood team for responding so quickly and warmly to our questions. We are glad you love the “Bird Lady” as much as we do.
Madeleine Cody is a Research Associate for Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art. She has a B.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College, an MA in Egyptology from Brown University, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has worked on excavations in Italy, Yemen and Egypt. Since coming to the Museum in 1997, she has been involved with numerous projects and assisted the late James F. Romano, Project Director, with the second phase of the reinstallation of the Egyptian Galleries, which opened in 2003. With Jim and Richard A. Fazzini, she is a co-author of Art for Eternity: Masterworks from Ancient Egypt (Brooklyn, 1999) and has written about other Egyptian objects from the Museum’s collection. Currently, she is working with the ancient Middle Eastern Art collection, her other area of expertise. She is co-curator of the Herstory Gallery exhibition, The Fertile Goddess, (December 19, 2008 – May 31, 2009).