Art of the Ancient Americas

Art of the Ancient Americas

Ancient and Indigenous Art of the Americas

At Princeton, Museum visitors can view the range of artistic production from the ancient American past as well as Native American arts from more recent times. Geographically, the collection ranges from Chile (Diaquita culture) to Alaska (esp. Eskimo and Tlingit) and Greenland (Inuit). The chronological and spatial ranges include hallmark examples from major ancient American cultures and a number of masterpieces of Mesoamerican art, particularly from the Olmec and Maya cultures.

The core of the ancient American collection was formed in the 1960s by Gillett G. Griffin, whose keen eye was attracted to elegant Olmec ceramics and jades as well as Maya Jaina figures in the earliest days of collecting such material. His enthusiasm for small-scale objects—sculpture, jewelry, and other costume elements—has been the source of inspiration for several generations of Princeton alumni and friends to collect ancient American art, many of whom have given significant objects and generously supported new acquisitions.

The museum has organized several important exhibitions of ancient American art, accompanied by scholarly catalogues, including Art of the Northwest Coast (1969); Xochipala: The Beginnings of Olmec Art (1972); Jaina Figurines (1975); Lords of the Underworld (1978); and The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership (1996). 

Recent exhibitions, each with its own website, include: 

Triple FluteMusic from the Land of the Jaguar (2004)

Effigy censer (Xantil)Sorcerers of the Fifth Heaven: Nahua Art and Ritual of Ancient Southern Mexico (2007)

Gifts from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories of Bering Strait (2010)

Bryan Just

Peter Jay Sharp, Class of 1952, Curator and Lecturer in the Art of the Ancient Americas

Bryan R. Just is the Peter Jay Sharp, Class of 1952, Curator and Lecturer of the Art of the Ancient Americas. Just received a B.A. in archaeological studies and the history of art from Yale University (1995) and an M.A. (1999) in art history and a Ph.D. (2006) in art history and linguistics, both from Tulane University. A specialist in ancient Maya art history, his recent publications include Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vases of the Ik’ Kingdom (in preparation, 2012); “Printed Pictures of Maya Sculpture” (in Past Presented: Archaeological Illustration in the Americas, in press, 2012); “Mysteries of the Maize God” (Record of the Princeton University Art Museum, 2009); “Modifications of Ancient Maya Sculpture” (in Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 2005); and “In Extenso Almanacs in the Madrid Codex” (in The Madrid Codex: New Approaches to Understanding an Ancient Maya Manuscript, 2004). He also contributed to the Princeton University Art Museum’s Handbook of the Collections (2007) and is currently involved in its revision (to be published 2012). Just served as in-house curator for the exhibition Gifts from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories of Bering Strait, co-curated by William Fitzhugh and Julie Hollowell, presented at Princeton from October 2009 to January 2010. He is currently developing the exhibition Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vases of the Ik’ Kingdom (October 2012–February 2013) as well as future exhibitions on Princeton’s collections of Southwest art and on the art of Peru’s Early Horizon. Just’s teaching at Princeton has included seminars on Maya, Olmec, and American Southwest art as well as introductory lecture courses on the art of Mesoamerica.