Art history comes to life for grad student
Mary Katherine Scott went to Mexico to learn more about the wood carvings sold at various archeological sites.
âMy graduate research focuses on the handicraft tradition in the Yucatan peninsula,â Scott said. âWood carvers create reproductions of ancient Mayan carvings. They look at stone carvings, take those images, reproduce them with a different material and then turn around and sell them. Itâs really interesting, and visitors might not know the significance of those pieces.â
Scott, who already has a masterâs degree in Spanish, is one of several NIU graduate students in art history who have journeyed overseas to experience first-hand the art theyâve studied in books.
âEvery day,â Scott said, âwe were meeting with the local Mayan families. Theyâd invite us into their homes to have lunch with them. Weâd make tortillas around the fire with the women.â
Before she could leave, though, she needed to learn more about the language of the artisans. They speak Yucatec-Maya, an indigenous language from pre-Hispanic times.
âItâs nothing like Spanish at all,â she said. âItâs still spoken by about 700,000 people in the Yucatan peninsula. Itâs still very much a living language, but not many people know about it.â
That knowledge was available through the Consortium for Latin American Studies between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.
The program begins with two weeks in North Carolina and then sends students to Mexico for four weeks, immersing them in the language. They spend great amounts of time with Mayan families in their homes and villages, places where Spanish often is not spoken.
âItâs very intensive. You cover the equivalent of two semesters,â said Scott, who had a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship and a generous summer research grant from the NIU Center for Latino and Latin American Studies.
But the intensity pays off.
âItâs like any kind of relationship you build with someone. If someone is not a native speaker in your language, itâs harder for them to open up to you. Itâs harder for them to articulate what they want to say,â she said.
âFor me to do interviews with these people when Iâm more fluent in their own language would make them more comfortable. It shows them Iâm serious about what Iâm doing and that I want to create a comfortable atmosphere in which to learn about their culture, their beliefs and their artistic motivations.â
-- by Mark McGowan, NIU Public Affairs