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 at the Princeton University Art Museum. 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 ancient Maya art history, his publications include Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vases of the Ik’ Kingdom (2012) and “Printed Pictures of Maya Sculpture” (2012). He 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, from October 2009 – January 2010 at Princeton.  His 2012 exhibition Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vases of the Ik’ Kingdom was one of five finalists for the Association of Art Museum Curators 2012 Outstanding Exhibition in a University Museum. In 2015, he reopened the completely refurbished ancient Americas galleries at the Princeton University Art Museum. Just’s teaching at Princeton includes seminars on Maya and Olmec art, as well as introductory lecture courses on the art of Mesoamerica. Just chairs Princeton University’s NAGPRA committee. He is currently writing a handbook of the Museum’s collections from Mesoamerica.