By Christina Kaplanis
This spring, the Classics and Art History departments came together to offer a fascinating, exciting and relevant course, Greek Vase Painting, taught under the instruction of the Classics Department chair, professor Carla Antonaccio. As a graduate-level seminar, the course objectives were stimulating and challenging from the start. As Professor Antonaccio established, throughout the semester we would focus on studying Greek ceramics to make progress on part of the Nasher Museum’s holdings that arrived in a bequest in 2006 and to plan the next exhibition of classical materials, scheduled to open at the museum this fall of 2010. Lofty as these goals may seem, the course attracted a broad range of students, including myself, an art history major and religion minor, and throughout the semester we have all fostered a profound interest and excitement for Greek antiquity and its proper preservation.
With limited time in the spring semester, my classmates and I immediately immersed ourselves in the course curricula by using Nasher Museum resources. Indeed, upon the initial meeting of the semester, we visited the current classical exhibition, The Past is Present, to gather knowledge about and appreciate the current work in order to then exchange ideas about what we would like to see in the upcoming show. We also became familiar with the Nasher Museum’s study storage, including all the objects of Greek antiquity currently not on display. Time spent in study storage proved to be especially valuable for our class, because it allowed us to really become knowledgeable of the museum’s collection and engaged with individual pieces; actually, we all endeavored research on unpublished objects in the collection. One of my favorite pieces I worked on included a late Geometric or early Protoattic feeder cup—the equivalent of the modern bottle or sippy cup for infants and toddlers. Aside from being adorable in its quaintness, I was struck by the practicality and simplicity of the preserved piece of antiquity.
Pursuing individual research on items, such as my feeder cup from the 2006 gift, and sharing our findings with one another excited my peers and me and inevitably launched us into discussions for the exhibit.
With research underway, we began to make decisions regarding the pieces that would go on display with overarching themes and groupings. In choosing the objects, we had to further keep in mind each object’s limitations be they display difficulties, restoration costs, etc. During this time, we all kept in regular communication with museum curators and exhibition preparators. The guidance and encouragement of the museum staff has been crucial for the development of the exhibition. Actually, with such a range of classical and art historical knowledge as well as museum exhibition experience our class and the Nasher Museum have worked collaboratively to develop new and exciting features for the show and its design.
Ultimately, Professor Antonaccio’s course, Greek Vase Painting, has proven to be a class both interactive and stimulating for my peers and myself. The involvement with the Nasher Museum has been an especially rewarding privilege. Above all else, this grand project to design a new exhibition has reinforced to me that these ancient objects of the Nasher Museum are not just mere artifacts of the past, but are living objects, with a continuing history. The exhibit to open in the fall recontextualizes and brings together all sorts of dynamic, interesting and aesthetically intricate and praiseworthy pieces, thereby contributing a new element to each unique piece’s story. My classmates, Professor Antonaccio and I could not be more eager to share these stories with other students, professors, and staff of the Duke community as well as the public this fall.
IMAGE: Prof. Antonaccio’s class meets in the Nasher Study Storage Center with Chief Preparator Brad Johnson to review details for the upcoming exhibition. Photo by Lee Nisbet.